American Literature books summary
town and walks into a bakery; there is nobody behind the counter, but there
is a little Italian immigrant girl standing before it. A woman enters
behind the counter and Quentin buys two buns. He tells the proprietress
that the little girl would like something too; the proprietress eyes the
girl suspiciously and accuses her of stealing something.
Quentin defends her and she extends her hand to reveal a nickel. The woman
wraps up a five-cent loaf of bread for the girl, and Quentin puts some
money on the counter and buys another bun as well. The woman asks him if he
is going to give the bun to the girl, and he says he is. Still acting
exasperated, she goes into a back room and comes out with a misshapen cake;
she gives it to the girl, telling her it won't taste any different than a
good cake. The girl follows Quentin out of the store, and he takes her to a
drugstore and buys her some ice cream. They leave the drugstore and he
gives her one of the buns and says goodbye, but she continues to follow
him. Not knowing exactly what to do, he walks with her toward the immigrant
neighborhood across the train tracks where he assumes she lives. She will
not talk to him or indicate where she lives. He asks some men in front of a
store if they know her, and they do, but they don't know where she lives
either. They tell him to take her to the town marshal's office, but when he
does the marshal isn't there.
Quentin decides to take her down to her neighborhood and hopefully someone
will claim her. At one point she seems to tell him that a certain house is
hers, but the woman inside doesn't know her. They continue to walk through
the neighborhood until they come out on the other side, by the river.
Quentin gives a coin to the girl, then runs away from her along the river.
He walks along the river for a while, then suddenly meets up with the
little girl again. They walk along together for a while, still looking for
her house; eventually they turn back and walk toward town again. They come
across some boys swimming, and the boys throw water at them. The hurry
toward town, but the girl still won't tell him where she lives.
Suddenly a man flies at them and attacks Quentin; he is the little girl's
brother. He has the town marshal with him, and they take him into town to
talk to the police because they think he was trying to kidnap the girl. In
town they meet up with Shreve, Spoade and Gerald, Quentin's friends, who
have come into town in Gerald's mother's car. Eventually after discussing
everything at length, the marshal lets Quentin go, and he gets into the car
with his friends and drives away.
As they drive Quentin slides into a kind of trance wherein he remembers
various events from his past, mostly to do with her precocious sexuality
(to be discussed later). While his is lost in this reverie the boys and
Gerald's mother have gotten out of the car and set up a picnic. Suddenly he
comes to, bleeding, and the boys tell him that he just suddenly began
punching Gerald and Gerald beat him up. They tell him that he began
shouting "did you ever have a sister? Did you?" then attacked Gerald out of
the blue. Quentin is more concerned about the state of his clothes than
anything else. His friends want to take the cable car back to Boston
without Gerald, but Quentin tells them he doesn't want to go back. They ask
him what he plans to do (perhaps they suspect something about his suicidal
plans). They go back to the party, and Quentin walks slowly toward the city
as the twilight descends.
Eventually Quentin gets on a cable car. Although it is dark by now, he can
smell the water of the river as they pass by it. As they pass the Harvard
Square post office again, he hears the clock chiming but has no idea what
time it is. He plans to return to the bridge where he left his flatirons,
but he has to wash his clothes first in order to carry out his plans
correctly. He returns to his dorm room and takes off his clothes,
meticulously washing the blood off his vest with gasoline. The bell chimes
the half-hour as he does so. Back in his darkened room, he looks out the
window for a while, then as the last chime of the three-quarters hour
sounds, he puts his clothes and vest back on. He walks into Shreve's room
and puts a letter and his watch in the desk drawer. He remembers that he
hasn't brushed his teeth, so he goes back into his room and takes the
toothbrush out of his bag. He brushes his teeth and returns the brush to
the bag, then goes to the door. He returns for his hat, then leaves the
Quentin's memories are not as clearly defined or as chronologically
discernible as Benjy's. There are three important memories that obsess him.
Benjy's name change, 1900: Dilsey claims that Benjy can "smell what you
tell him;" Roskus asks if he can smell bad luck, sure that the only reason
they changed his name is to try to help his luck.
Quentin kisses Natalie, undated: Natalie, a neighbor girl, and Quentin are
in the barn and it is raining outside. Natalie is hurt; Caddy pushed her
down the ladder and ran off. Quentin asks her where it hurts and says that
he bets he can lift her up. [a skip in time] Natalie tells him that
something [probably kissing] is "like dancing sitting down" (135); Quentin
asks her how he should hold her to dance, placing his arms around her, and
she moans. Quentin looks up to see Caddy in the door watching them. Quentin
tells her that he and Natalie were just dancing sitting down; she ignores
She and Natalie fight about the events that led to Natalie being pushed off
the ladder and whose fault it was; Caddy claims that she was "just brushing
the trash off the back of your dress" (136). Natalie leaves and Quentin
jumps into the mud of the pigpen, muddying himself up to his waist. Caddy
ignores him and stands with her back to him. He comes around in front of
her and tells her that he was just hugging Natalie. She turns her back and
continues to ignore him, saying she doesn't give a damn what he was doing.
Shouting "I'll make you give a damn," he smears mud on her dress as she
slaps him. They tumble, fighting, on the grass, then sit up and realize how
dirty they are. They head to the branch to wash the mud off themselves.
Caddy kisses a boy (1906): Quentin slaps Caddy and demands to know why she
let the boy kiss her. With the red print of his hand rising on her cheek,
she replies that she didn't let him, she made him. Quentin tells her that
it is not for kissing that he slapped her, but for kissing a "darn town
squirt" (134). He rubs her face in the grass until she says "calf rope."
She shouts that at least she didn't kiss a "dirty girl like Natalie anyway"
Caddy has sex with Dalton Ames, 1909: Caddy stands in the doorway, and
someone [Quentin?] asks her why she won't bring Dalton Ames into the house.
Mother replies that she "must do things for women's reasons" (92). Caddy
will not look at Quentin. Benjy bellows and pulls at her dress and she
shrinks against the wall, and he pushes her out of the room. Sitting on the
porch, Quentin hears her door slamming and Benjy still howling. She runs
out of the house and Quentin follows her; he finds her lying in the branch.
He threatens to tell Father that he committed incest with her; she replies
with pity. He tells her that he is stronger than she is, he will make her
tell him. He adds that he fooled her; all the time she thought it was her
boyfriends and it was Quentin instead. The smell of honeysuckle is all
She asks him if Benjy is still crying. He asks her if she loves Dalton
Ames; she places his hand on her chest and he feels her heart beating
there. He asks her if he made her do it, saying "Ill kill him I swear I
will father neednt know until afterward and then you and I nobody need ever
know we can take my school money we can cancel my matriculation Caddy you
hate him dont you" (151). She moves his hand to her throat, where the blood
is "hammering," and says "poor Quentin" (151). A moment later she says "yes
I hate him I would die for him Ive already died for him I die for him over
and over again" (151). She looks at him and then says "you've never done
that have you," to which Quentin responds "yes yes lots of times with lots
of girls," but he is lying, and Caddy knows it; he cries on her shirt and
they lie together in the branch (151). He holds a knife to her throat,
telling her that he can kill her quickly and painlessly and then kill
himself. She agrees and he asks her to close her eyes, but she doesn't,
looking past his head at the sky.
He begins to cry; he cannot do it. She holds his head to her breast and he
drops the knife. She stands up and tells him that she has to go, and
Quentin searches in the water for his knife. The two walk together past the
ditch where Nancy's bones were, then she turns and tells him to stop [she
is headed to meet Dalton Ames]. He replies that he is stronger than she is;
she tells him to go back to the house. But he continues to follow her. Just
past the fence, Dalton Ames is waiting for her, and she introduces them and
Quentin tells them that he is going to take a walk in the woods, and she
asks him to wait for her at the branch, that she will be there soon. He
walks aimlessly, trying to escape the smell of honeysuckle that chokes him,
and lies on the bank of the branch. Presently Caddy appears and tells him
to go home. He shakes her; she is limp in his hands and does not look at
him. They walk together to the house, and at the steps he asks her again if
she loves Dalton Ames. She tells him that she doesn't know. She tells him
that she is "bad anyway you cant help it" (158).
Quentin fights with Dalton Ames, 1909: Quentin sees Dalton Ames go into a
barbershop in town and waits for him to come out. He tells him "Ive been
looking for you two or three days" and Dalton replies that he can't talk to
him there on the street; the two arrange to meet at the bridge over the
creek at one o'clock (158). Dalton is very polite to Quentin. Later, Caddy
overhears Quentin telling T. P. to saddle his horse and asks him where he
is going. He will not tell her and calls her a whore. He tells T. P. that
he won't need his horse after all and walks to the bridge. Dalton is
waiting for him there. Quentin tells him to leave town.
Dalton stares at him and asks if Caddy sent him. Quentin tells him that
he, and only he, is asking Dalton to leave town. Dalton dismisses this,
just wishing to know if Caddy is all right. Quentin continues to order him
to leave, and Dalton counters with "what will you do if I dont leave"
(160). In response Dalton slowly and deliberately smokes a cigarette,
leaning on the bridge railing. He tells Quentin to stop taking it so hard,
that if he hadn't gotten Caddy pregnant some other guy would have. Shaking,
Quentin asks him if he ever had a sister, and he replies "no but theyre all
bitches" (160). Quentin hits him, but Dalton catches him by both wrists and
reaches under his coat for a gun, then turns him loose.
Dropping a piece of bark into the creek, Dalton shoots at it and hands the
gun to Quentin. Quentin punches at him and he holds his wrists again, and
Quentin passes out. He asks Quentin how he feels and if he can make it home
all right. He tells him that he'd better not walk and offers him his horse.
Quentin brushes him off and eventually he rides off. Quentin slumps against
a tree. He hears hoofbeats and Caddy comes running. She thought that Dalton
shot him. She holds his face with her hands and Quentin grabs her wrists.
She begs him to let her go so she can run after Dalton, then suddenly stops
struggling. Quentin asks her if she loves him. Again she places his hand on
her throat, and tells him to say his name. Quentin says "Dalton Ames," and
each time he does he can feel the blood surging in her throat.
Quentin meets Herbert Head before Caddy's wedding, 1910: Herbert finds
Quentin alone in the parlor and attempts to get to know him better. He is
smoking a cigar and offers one to Quentin. Herbert tells him that Caddy
talked so much about him when they met that he thought she was talking
about a husband or boyfriend, not a brother. He asks Quentin about Harvard,
reminiscing about his own college days, and Quentin accuses him of cheating
[he has heard rumors about Herbert's cheating at cards]. Herbert jokingly
banters back that Quentin is "better than a play you must have made the
He tells Quentin that he likes him and that he is glad they are going to be
friends. He offers to give him a hand and get him started in business, but
Quentin rejects his offer and challenges him. They begin to fight but stop
when Herbert sees that his cigar butt has almost burned a spot into the
mantel. He backs off and again offers Quentin his friendship and offers him
some money, which Quentin rejects. They are just beginning to fight again
when Caddy enters and asks Herbert to leave so she can talk to Quentin
alone. Alone, she asks Quentin what he is doing and warns him not to get
involved in her life again. He notices that she is feverish, and she tells
him that she is sick. He asks her what she means and she tells him she is
just sick and begs him not to tell anyone. Again he asks her what she means
and tells her that if she is sick she shouldn't go through with the
ceremony. She replies that she can and must and that "after that it'll be
all right it wont matter" and begs him to look after Benjy and make sure
that they don't send him to an asylum (112). Quentin promises.
Caddy's wedding, 1910: Benjy is howling outside, and Caddy runs out the
door to him, "right out of the mirror" (77).
Mother speaks, undated: Mother tells Father that she wants to go away and
take only Jason, because he is the only child who loves her, the only child
who is truly a Bascomb, not a Compson. She says that the other three
children are her "punishment for putting aside [her] pride and marrying a
man who held himself above [her]" (104). These three are "not [her] flesh
and blood" and she is actually afraid of them, that they are the symbols of
a curse upon her and the family. She views Caddy not merely as damaging the
family name with her promiscuity but actually "corrupting" the other
Quentin's conversations with Father, undated (a string of separate
conversations on the same theme): Quentin tells his father that he
committed incest with Caddy; his father does not believe him. Father takes
a practical, logical, if unemotional view of Caddy's sexuality, telling
Quentin that women have "a practical fertility of suspicion . . . [and] an
affinity for evil," that he should not take her promiscuity to heart
because it was inevitable (96). When Quentin tells him that he would like
to have been born a eunuch so that he never had to think about sex, he
responds "it's because you are a virgin: dont you see? Women are never
virgins. Purity is a negative state and therefore contrary to nature. It's
nature is hurting you not Caddy."
Quentin replies "that's just words" and father counters "so is virginity"
(116). Quentin insists that he has committed incest with Caddy and that he
wants to die, but still Father won't believe him. Father tells him that he
is merely "blind to what is in yourself to that part of general truth the
sequence of natural events and their causes which shadows every mans brow
even benjys . . . you cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer
hurt you like this" (177). He claims that not even Caddy was really "quite
worth despair," that Quentin will grow out of the pain he feels at her
betrayal of his ideal (178).
Analysis of June Second, 1910:
From the very first sentence of the section, Quentin is obsessed with time;
words associated with time like "watch," "clock," "chime," and "hour" occur
on almost every page. When Quentin wakes he is "in time again, hearing the
watch," and the rest of the day represents an attempt to escape time, to
get "out of time" (76). His first action when he wakes is to break the
hands off his watch in an attempt to stop time, to escape the "reducto
absurdum of all human experience" which is the gradual progression toward
death (76). Perversely taking literally his father's statement that "time
is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the
clock stops does time come to life," he tears the hands off his watch, only
to find that it continues to tick even without the hands (85). Throughout
this section, Quentin tries to escape time in similar ways; he tries to
avoid looking at clocks, he tries to travel away from the sound of school
chimes or factory whistles. By the end of the section he has succeeded in
escaping knowledge of the time (when he returns to school he hears the bell
ringing and has no idea what hour it is chiming off), but he still has not
taken himself out of time. In the end, as he knows throughout this section,
the only way to escape time is to die.
Jean-Paul Sartre, in his analysis of this novel, sees Quentin's suicide as
not merely a way of escaping time but of exploding time. His suicide is
present in all the actions of the day, not so much a fate he could dream of
escaping as "an immobile wall, a thing which he approaches backward, and
which he neither wants to nor can conceive" (Sartre, 91). It is not a
future but a part of the present, the point from which the story is told.
Quentin narrates the day's events in the past tense, as if they have
already happened; the "present" from which he looks back at the day's
events must be the moment of his death. As Sartre puts it:
Since the hero's last thoughts coincide approximately with the bursting of
his memory and its annihilation, who is remembering? . . . . [Faulkner] has
chosen the infinitesimal instant of death. Thus when Quentin's memory
begins to unravel its recollections ("Through the wall I heard Shreve's bed-
springs and then his slippers on the floor hishing. I got up . . . ") he is
already dead (92).
In other words, time explodes at the instant of Quentin's suicide, and the
events of this "infinitesimal instant" are recorded in this section. By
killing himself, Quentin has found the only way to access time that is
"alive" in the sense that his father details, time that has escaped the
clicking of little wheels.
But why does Quentin want to escape time? The answer lies in one of the
conversations with his father that are recorded in this section. When
Quentin claims that he committed incest with Caddy, his father refuses to
believe him and says:
You cannot bear to think that someday it will no longer hurt you like this
. . . it is hard believing to think that a love or a sorrow is a bond
purchased without design and which matures willynilly and is recalled
without warning . . . no you will not do that until you come to believe
that even she was not quite worth despair perhaps (177-178).
Quentin's response to this statement is "i will never do that nobody knows
what i know." His attempt to stop the progression of time is an attempt to
preserve the rawness of the pain Caddy's promiscuity and marriage have
caused him; he never wants to think of her as "not quite worth despair."
Like Benjy, Quentin is obsessed with an absent Caddy, and both brothers'
sections are ordered around memories of her, specifically of her
promiscuity. For both brothers, her absence is linked to her promiscuity,
but for Quentin her promiscuity signals not merely her loss from his life
but also the loss of the romantically idealized idea of life he has built
for himself. This ideal life has at its center a valuation of purity and
cleanness and a rejection of sexuality; Quentin sees his own developing
sexuality as well as his sister's as sinful. The loss of her virginity is
the painful center of a spiral of loss as his illusions are shattered.
Critics have read Quentin's obsession with Caddy's virginity as an
antebellum-style preoccupation with family honor, but in fact family honor
is hardly ever mentioned in this section. The pain that Caddy's promiscuity
causes Quentin seems too raw, too intense, too visceral to be merely a
disappointment at the staining family honor. And perhaps most importantly,
Quentin's response to her promiscuity, namely telling his father that he
and she committed incest, is not the act of a person concerned with family
honor. Rather it is the act of a boy so in love with his sister and so
obsessed with maintaining the closeness of their relationship that he would
rather be condemned by the town and suffer in hell than let her go. He is,
in fact, obsessed with her purity and virginity, but not to maintain
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