Basically the novel presents the story of the decline of a family. The family shown in the novel has traits which
can be perceived as signs of decadence resulting from regional history. Compson’s family comprises of long line of men full of decency and pride. But after civil war in America the family’s fortunes and abilities declined rapidly.
The Compson family consists of Mr. and Mrs. Compson, their four children Quentin, Caddy, Jason and Benjy. Mr. Compson is the first clear sign of decay in the family oppressed by the traditions. His self-pitying wife is a terrifying example of the functionless southern lady. Their children depict different degrees of degeneracy. Benjy is an idiot, Caddy is promiscuous and her daughter afterwards takes her path. Quentin drives himself to suicide by an obsession with his sister’s dishonour. Jason is villainous. Faulkner thus identifies the sources of destruction of the family in their individual character, which are full of self-destructive urges and impulses.
One aspect of the deterioration in the Compson family is the lack of parental love. Mr. Compson’s cynicism and nihilistic views have a very disturbing effect on the sensitive Quentin. Compson has a negative attitude towards time. He wishes to escape from time and regards his watch as a “mausoleum of all hope and desire”. To him victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools.
Mrs. Compson always seems to be complaining about her sickness and children. She believes that Benjy is a punishment for her and Jason is a source of “joy and salvation”. As a mother, she is a nonentity and we find Quentin lamenting in his monologue upon the fact that there was no one to which he could call Mother. Mrs. Compson’s hypochondria inflict sufferings on the family. She is chiefly the cause of the family’s misfortunes and disaster.
Benjy is the born idiot, incapable of speaking and expressing and almost all the time mourning and slobbering. Benjy is a grotesque character representing the degeneracy of an upper class white family.
Caddy, whom Faulkner adorned most, does not give any cause for rejoicing or even enthusiasm. When seventeen, she becomes promiscuous and becomes pregnant unaware of her seducer. She married in haste and soon becomes discarded by her husband. In this way she becomes a “fallen woman”. She is not allowed to visit her parental home and the very mention of her name is forbidden by her mother. Caddy certainly possesses some redeeming quality. She shows a great affection for Benjy and looks after him. She also possessed certain feminine charm which attracts different man and even her own brother. But these qualities cannot redeem the essential corruption of her nature. Thus she is the great cause of degeneration of the Compson’s family.
Quentin started as a very promiscuous boy. He was sent to Harvard even though the family had to sell a part of estate to pay for his expenses. But he proved an incestuous passion for his sister. His unfulfilled incestuous love and his terrible sense of disappointment of Caddy’s dishonour give rise to the feeling of despair in him. This leads him to commit suicide. He is also a string reason for the fall of the Compson’s family.
The youngest child of the family grows into a villain. The only positive aspect of his nature is his sense of humour. He deceives his mother by giving her fake cheques to burn while he uses to deposit the genuine cheques sent by Caddy in his account. He defrauds his niece Quentin for small amount of money. His treatment towards his niece shows his cold heartedness and callousness. He constantly suggests that Benjy should be sent to metal asylum. The moral sense is totally missing in him. His attitude towards Dilsey’s loyalty is unique.
The girl Miss Quentin proves to be much worse than her mother. Whereas, her mother shows great affection for Benjy but Miss Quentin even does not like to sit with him and does not care even for her grand mother. She becomes promiscuous at early age. Although her action in stealing Jason’s money is the punishment which Jason richly deserved yet her theft for the money and her flight from her house with a lover leaves a very bad taste.
Mrs. Compson, Quentin and Jason are the protagonist of chaos. Each of three characters are bent upon self-pitying and self-justification.
Sexual perversion and violation of conventional behaviour play significant role in the story of the Compson’s brother. Uncle Mauray was beaten by neighbour for carrying on an adulterous affair with the neighbour’s wife. Jason has a mistress called Larrine but he is averse to marriage. According to a critic, in a Freudian sense both Benjy and Jason might unconsciously be attracted sexually by Caddy.
This degeneracy of the Compson family is heightened by the striking contrast between the member of this family and the servant Dilsey. She is a symbol of fidelity, companionship, love, devotion to duty, power of endurance, religious piety and much more as against the chaos of the Compson family.