Benjamin Compson

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Benjamin Compson
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Compson, Benjamin
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Benjy Compson is one of the most original characters in American literature. To Mrs. Compson, who originally named him Maury in honor of her brother, Benjy's severe mental handicap is shameful, and a reason to change his name to Benjamin - apparently on her son Quentin's suggestion, though tellingly he gets the Biblical significance of the name Benjamin wrong. To Faulkner, Benjy's mind is a brilliant way to begin his high Modernist novel The Sound and the Fury by dropping his readers into a world where the past is always present, a world that has lost just about everything, including that Bible, that once gave life meaning, a world where reality is the sound and the fury that signifies nothing. Benjy's 'reality' is defined by his incomprehension and his memories from a childhood that is gone, especially his memories of his sister Caddy. His section ends as he remembers the moment thirty years earlier when Caddy promised their father that she will "take good care of Maury" (75). But Caddy - like that name - is gone, and Benjy spends his thirty-third birthday (as presumably he spends every day since she left) trying in vain to find her again. The golfers on the land that once was his beloved "pasture" keep calling "Here, caddie" (3), but even the sounds of words are empty tokens of what is absent. Although it takes readers some time to orient themselves inside Benjy's 'reality,' once they do it is impossible not to be deeply moved by his embodiment of the metaphysics of absence, "trying" and failing "to say" what he has lost (53). Given how much he means to that novel's project, it's not surprising that Faulkner doesn't even mention him in the other early stories with his three siblings in them ("A Justice," "That Evening Sun"). As BENJAMIN he has an entry in the "Appendix Compson" that Faulkner wrote 16 years later, which is somewhat surprising in its business-like rehearsal of the sad outlines of his home life, especially the way it seems to agree with his brother Jason about why the adolescent Benjy accosted that school girl (The Sound and the Fury, 52-53; "Appendix," 339). Still more surprising is the new ending to the story that Faulkner adds three decades later. In The Mansion Benjy's mother - apparently in a very rare fit of maternal concern - makes Jason bring his brother home from the state mental institution in Jackson; "less than two years" later Benjy starts a fire that destroys both himself and the Compson house.