Mrs. Caroline Compson

bedroom1Mrs. Caroline Compson is the wife of Mr. Jason Lycurgus Compson III. She is the mother of the four Compson children, Quentin, Candace, Jason IV, and Benjamin. She and her husband have one grandchild, Quentin the daughter of Candace. Caroline comes from the Bascomb family. The only other member of the Bascomb family featured in The Sound and the Fury is Caroline’s brother Maury. Following the birth of her children Caroline fell into deep depression and paranoia, but considers herself to be a victim of illness and punishment instead of admitting that her troubles are psychological. Although in reality she may more appropriately be counted as a hypochondriac she acts as if she is truly suffering from poor health. The majority of her time is spent confined to her bedroom in the Compson house. Caroline is the mother of the house, but has tremendous trouble providing adequate care for her children; instead most of the chores associated with motherhood are delegated to her domestic servant Dilsey.

The subject of Caroline’s poor health is a theme of her character that runs throughout the novel. Regardless of what timeframes or events appear in The Sound and the Fury it will always be found that the mother is miserable. Contributing factors to this attitude include the impaired mental state of her youngest son Benjamin, who possesses the mind of a small child even into his adult life; the unruly behavior of her daughter Candace, and the suicide of her eldest son Quentin. The difference between Caroline’s impression of these circumstances and that of her husband’s, and even Dilsey, is that Mr. Jason recognizes these events as tragedies of life and, although painful, are not uncommon. Whereas Caroline believes these occurrences to be nothing short of divine retribution. Oddly though, as much as she laments about her “punishment” we do not hear her grieve over any particular sin or personal failure. Instead she feels that she is bearing the burdens of her lost children, she tells her son Jason, “You don’t understand…I know you don’t intend to make it more difficult for me. But it’s my place to suffer for my children” (138).  So although she believes she is being punished, she constantly justifies herself and denies any sort of responsibility for her wayward children. It is difficult to tell whether this absolving of personal responsibility is done consciously or unconsciously, but it nonetheless prevents her from trying to correct any of her family’s poor decisions.

Another possible explanation for her futility may lie in her estimation of the Compson family heritage. She seems to feel a sort of inferiority complex caused by her husband’s obsession with Compson superiority. The result of her low self esteem produces an almost superstitious contempt for the Compson way of life; more that a few times she expresses gratitude that her son Jason is more Bascomb than Compson. Jason is the only child in which Caroline is able to instill this belief, in one instance in The Sound and the Fury she even tells her son Jason while at her husband’s funeral that if one of her sons had to die she was glad that it was Quentin instead of him, “Every night I thank God for you…Thank God if he had to be taken too, it is you left me and not Quentin. Thank God you are not a Compson, because all I have left now is you and Maury” (126). Here it is evident that Caroline’s dislike for the Compson personality borders hatred. She exalts the Bascombs at the expense of her own deceased child.

The character of Caroline is a problematic one. She often ascribes insanity to the Compsons, but in doing so she displays some of the worst behavior in the family. However we must still consider whether it is possible for anyone other than a Compson to maintain sanity in a Compson household. Perhaps she was only driven mad by the eccentricities of the Compson Family, if so then she may be a true victim indeed.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury an Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism. New York: Norton, 1994.

For a guide to more resources see the Annotated Bibliography of Works Pertaining to the Compsons

Published on May 1, 2009 at 6:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

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