Throughout Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury“, the only character who manages to survive the hard times and come out relatively unscathed at the end is Dilsey. Because of her strength and status as the only member of the Compton household who has not been driven to complete ruin, she is the hero of the novel and this, among other things, makes Dilsey in “The Sound and the Fury” one of the most worthy characters of a character analysis in this novel by William Faulkner. Although she is like Caddy in “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner because she is not generally a direct voice in the text, her presence is nonetheless always detectable. Each of the characters in “The Sound and the Fury” by Faulkner, even those who do not “speak” directly to us throughout the book are dependent on her for something and she always manages to provide. In some senses, every main character is the text, aside from the topic of this character analysis, Dilsey, is spurned to action because of selfish motivations.
In “The Sound and the Fury” by Faulkner, Benjy is always living moment to moment and reliant on order and sameness that is at least in part, provided by Dilsey and Quentin also wishes to maintain a particular kind of order according to strict codes of behavior that Dilsey is able to provide. Jason is least affected by Dilsey’s efforts and Caddy is beyond Dilsey’s range of service, but in general, as this character analysis of Dilsey in ‘The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner suggests, he stands in as Mrs. Compton since she is the only true mother figure in the novel. She is able to put aside her own personal concerns and focus on raising the children and she is the only character that is able to look past her own self and desires in order to do what is best for others.
In “The Sound and the Fury” by Faulkner Benjy experiences the presence of Dilsey in much the same way he does his siblings and other minor characters—through immediate sensation. Dilsey takes the place of his mother and if it were not for Caddy’s loving influence and the caretaking role of Dilsey, it is reasonable to suggest that he might be reduced to crying all of the time. Dilsey’s role can be better felt in the other narrator’s lives as they are able to rationalize and relate her presence far better than the mentally handicapped Benjy. For example, although Quentin does not often mention Dilsey, she is the symbol of strength and the face he associates with being home. Unlike his careless and selfish mother, it is Dilsey who nurtured Quentin and the other children and it is Dilsey’s face he thinks of in the moments leading up to his suicide. As he contemplates his act, the memory of Dilsey floods his mind and for a moment, it seems that this is the only time he feels guilty or saddened by his impending suicide. In one of the important quotes from ”The Sound and the Fury“ by William Faulkner, he wistfully states, “I didn’t know that I really had missed Roskus and Dilsey and them until that morning in Virginia” (86) although the reader is quite certain that it is too late for the presence of Dilsey to change his mind. As the thesis statement for “The Sound and the Fury” by Faulkner and this character analysis of Dilsey states, throughout the novel Quentin is obsessed with ideals of Southern honor and duty and it seems reasonable to speculate that to Quentin, Dilsey is the one part of his former life that upheld these notions, even if this is not immediately clear. She is resolute, caring, strong, and religious and cared more for the crumbling family than Mr. or Mrs. Compton. This devotion is what Quentin seemed to feel was most lacking and is part of what drove him to suicide.
While Quentin and Benjy were visibly affected by Dilsey’s presence, Jason attempted to command her and would not listen to her nor offer her the respect she deserved. Throughout The Sound and the Fury he is often represented as being cruel and unable to maintain friendly relations with anyone, so in some ways this is not surprising. Instead of giving up on Jason, however, Dilsey persists as she tries to keep the family strong (even though she sees it falling apart.) She does not allow Jason to walk all over her and does not spare him her criticism. In this way, she offers a voice to many reader’s feelings such as when she scolds Jason after Miss Quentin has run off and broken a window, saying, “en I wouldn’t blame her none ef she did… wid you naggin at her all de blessed time you in de house” (278). In William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury Jason is too hard-hearted to consider what she says, but at this crucial point in the novel her presence is even more important because it is clear the family is falling into ruin. Her thoughts about the family echo the reader’s perceptions again as Jason goes to seek out Miss Quentin. “While she stood there the clock above the cupboard struck ten times. ‘One o’clock,’ she said aloud, ‘Jason ain’t comin home. Ise seed de first en de last,’ she said, looking at the cold stove, ‘I seed de first en de last.” (375). Despite all of her hard work she truly does recognize the fall of the family and by this point is helpless to stop it.
At the end of the novel The Sound and the Fury, the narrator’s physical description of Dilsey comments on her status as the hero of the text. “She had been a big woman once but now her skeleton rose, draped loosely in an unpadded skin that tightened again upon a paunch almost dropsical, as though muscle and tissue had been courage or fortitude which the days or the years had consumed until only the indomitable skeleton was left rising like a ruin or a landmark above the somnolent and impervious guts…” (330-331). The fact that she has gone from voluptuous to a mere skeleton makes us see how she has gone from the nurturer and mother figure to the old tired woman. Interestingly, she has an “indomitable skeleton” which tells us that even though she has been metaphorically “sucked dry” her foundation—her skeleton—remains firm at the end of The Sound and the Fury.
Other essays and articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : Psychological Character Analysis of Miss Emily in “A Rose for Emily” by Faulkner • American Literature in Historical Context : 1865 to Roosevelt • Comparison of Themes in “A Rose for Emily” “The Yellow Wallpaper” and “Sweat”