Jason Compson III

Character Key Number: 
Display Name: 
Jason Compson III
Sort Name: 
Compson, Jason III
Ever Present in Yoknapatawpha?: 

The third Compson named Jason and the father of Quentin, Caddy, Jason and Benjy was born around the time the South was defeated in the Civil War and as a result, his story suggests, grew up to become what Faulkner's "Appendix Compson" calls a "cultured dipsomaniac" (335). His story, however, is never directly told. Instead, his character is defined chiefly by his role in the life and death of his oldest son, Quentin. "Father said" is a phrase that sounds again and again from the first to the penultimate page of Quentin's section in The Sound and the Fury (76, 178). What Father says are variations on the idea that all human desires, including the longing for any kind of meaning, can be reduced to the "reducto absurdum of all human experience" (76) - but, as he reminds his son on that penultimate page, a Compson must go through the motions of being a gentleman: "no compson has ever disappointed a lady" (178). Behind his nihilism is actually a set of humane impulses, and we are meant to understand that he is actually trying to give his son good advice; as the "Appendix" notes, he "sold the last of his patrimony not to buy drink but to give one of his descendants at least the best chance in life he could think of" - a Harvard education, or at least the prestige associated with the sound "Harvard" (335). But Quentin's decision to kill himself before finishing even his freshman year can be understood as both the only way he can think of to drown out his father's internalized voice and his ultimate determination to prove his father wrong. Mr. Compson's voice also plays a major role in Absalom, Absalom!, not just in the three chapters where he and his son sit on the veranda of the Compson house talking about Thomas Sutpen and the Southern past but also in the chapters set in Quentin's Harvard dorm room. In that setting, hundreds of miles away from Mississippi, both Quentin and his roommate Shreve note how each of them sounds "just like Father" (147, 210). Mr. Compson's reconstructions of the Sutpen story are inflected with his skepticism, but there may be a detectable note of envy and nostalgia for the lost South in the way he sexualizes the life of his 'Charles Bon,' the young aristocrat who knows the "secret and curious and unimaginable delights" that can be purchased in the slave market in New Orleans (89). While many commentators on Absalom! give more credence to Mr. Compson's narrative than to the other narrators' accounts, it's hard to see any objective reason for locating his perspective outside his own frustrations and desires. He is not named in three of the other four texts that mention him, though again as "Father" his humane instincts are perceptible in "That Evening Sun," where despite his wife's scolding he tries (while staying within the boundaries of race and class and his own indolence) to help Nancy, the black servant who is afraid for her life. The other two short stories depict him in the context of Major de Spain's annual hunt for the bear; in "Lion" what 'Father says' about good hunting practices actually is good advice.