The Sound and the Fury

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Dilsey Gibson Character Analysis

The most positive character of the book, the matriarch of the family of Compson servants. She is the only stable force in the lives of the Compson children, and raises them despite Mrs. Compson’s incompetence. She retains the old Southern values like family, courage, and religious faith, but avoids the corruption of the Compsons’ self-absorption. In this she symbolizes Faulkner’s hope for the South.

Dilsey Gibson Quotes in The Sound and the Fury

The The Sound and the Fury quotes below are all either spoken by Dilsey Gibson or refer to Dilsey Gibson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Time, Memory, and the Past Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Sound and the Fury published in 1990.
June Second, 1910 Quotes

That was when I realised that a nigger is not a person so much as a form of behavior; a sort of obverse reflection of the white people he lives among. But I thought at first that I ought to miss having a lot of them around me because I thought that Northerners thought I did, but I didn’t know that I really had missed Roskus and Dilsey and them until that morning in Virginia.

Related Characters: Quentin Compson (speaker), Dilsey Gibson, Roskus Gibson
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

For much of this section as it builds toward Quentin’s suicide, always hinted at but never explicitly narrated, Quentin is an observer of the things around him. He seems removed from everything, and interacts with other people only when he has to. He is, as we might say now, stuck in his own head.

In this reflection, Quentin remembers when he came north to Harvard and began to see black people (or at least the racist conception of them) as a “form of behavior.” His move north from Mississippi to Massachusetts is significant, given that it happened in the early twentieth century when the South was still reeling from its defeat in the Civil War and under the influence of reactionary and often violent racism. Quentin, having grown up with black people like Roskus and Dilsey as his family’s servants, has to reconcile his southern past with his northern present upon his arrival at Harvard. He does so by deciding that the difference between white and black people lies not in their personhood but in their varying forms of behavior.

Quentin decides to take people for what they are, but reverts to categorizing black people as an “obverse reflection of the white people he lives among.” This is no more humanizing than the alternative— the racism he grew up immersed in— but demonstrates at least that Quentin is attempting to think through his past and his present.

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April Sixth, 1928 Quotes

“All right,” I says. “We’ll just put this off a while. But don’t think you can run it over me. I’m not an old woman, nor an old half dead nigger, either. You dam little slut,” I says.
“Dilsey,” she says. “Dilsey, I want my mother.”
Dilsey went to her. “Now, now,” she says. “He aint gwine so much as lay his hand on you while Ise here.” Mother came on down the stairs.
“Jason,” she says. “Dilsey.”
“Now, now,” Dilsey says. “I aint gwine let him tech you.” She put her hand on Quentin. She knocked it down.
“You damn old nigger,” she says. She ran toward the door.

Related Characters: Jason Compson IV (speaker), Mrs. Compson (speaker), Ms. Quentin Compson (speaker), Dilsey Gibson (speaker)
Page Number: 185
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the novel’s chronology, the only people left in the Compson home are Mrs. Compson, Jason (the youngest of the four children, now grown up), Benjy, Miss Quentin, and the six black servants. The family has virtually disintegrated, and Jason makes the mistake of thinking that he’s the only one holding together what remains of the Compsons.

It has always been, throughout the novel, Dilsey and the other black servants who are the stable core of the family. But Jason struggles to be the leader of the family and establish authority over Miss Quentin, who has a tendency to skip school and ride around in cars with men.

Jason often gets angry at his niece Quentin, and here he calls her a “little slut” and threatens to beat her. Dilsey, sure of her role as the true leader of the Compson family, steps in to protect Quentin. Dilsey has raised Jason from birth on, and knows he will probably back down. Even after Dilsey protects her, though, Quentin disparages her brutally. Quentin is furious that Dilsey cannot honor her request to see her mother, and in her anger easily slips into the same racism that Jason embodies. Quentin is certainly sympathetic in comparison to Jason, but she too can be very cruel and racist.

“You can say nonsense,” Mother says. “But she must never know. She must never even learn that name. Dilsey, I forbid you ever to speak that name in her hearing. If she could grow up never to know that she had a mother, I would thank God.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Compson (speaker), Candace (Caddy) Compson, Ms. Quentin Compson, Dilsey Gibson
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

Always conjuring up things to worry about besides the more pressing issues right in front of her, Mrs. Compson seeks to prevent Quentin from ever learning her mother’s name. Mrs. Compson even dreams of her granddaughter growing up “never to know that she had a mother.”

Dilsey is in a precarious position, knowing that Mrs. Compson’s wish for Quentin is absurd but also that she cannot easily disobey her. The amount of shame in the Compson family about Caddy’s illegitimate child is somewhat shocking, as it threatens to tear the family apart once again. Mrs. Compson does little of practical note to help her family-- she even burns what she thinks are checks from Caddy-- but instead mostly stays inside her room and dreads whatever might happen next. This passage also once again emphasizes the importance of names, particularly for the character of Mrs. Compson.

“You’s a cold man, Jason, if man you is,” she says. “I thank de Lawd I got mo heart dan dat, even ef hit is black.”
“At least I’m man enough to keep that flour barrel full,” I says. “And if you do that again, you wont be eating out of it either.”

Related Characters: Jason Compson IV (speaker), Dilsey Gibson (speaker)
Page Number: 207-208
Explanation and Analysis:

Dilsey takes a more definitive stand against Jason here, calling him cold after he refuses once again to let Caddy see her daughter Quentin. Dilsey, having just reminded Jason that his father would have been much more forgiving toward Caddy and Miss Quentin, puts Jason on the defensive. Dilsey makes one of her boldest claims: “I thank de Lawd I got mo heart dan dat, even ef hit is black.” It is surprising in a way that Jason stays as calm as he does, and we might suspect that he has a special softness (or respect) for Dilsey even if he cannot admit it.

Again Jason retorts with an assertion of masculinity and family leadership; as he claims, at least he is “man enough to keep that flour barrel full.” Throughout Jason’s section, we see a tension between different forms of family leadership. Jason keeps the family financially afloat, while Dilsey feeds the family and keeps them emotionally afloat. Jason probably sees this as external to his patriarchal role, but the novel continues to reveal how essential Dilsey is to the Compson family’s survival (even if this survival is limited).

April Eighth, 1928 Quotes

“I know you blame me,” Mrs. Compson said, “for letting them off to go to church today.”
“Go where?” Jason said. “Hasn’t that damn show left yet?”
“To church,” Mrs. Compson said. “The darkies are having a special Easter service. I promised Dilsey two weeks ago that they could get off.”
“Which means we’ll eat cold dinner,” Jason said, “or none at all.”

Related Characters: Jason Compson IV (speaker), Mrs. Compson (speaker), Dilsey Gibson
Related Symbols: Easter
Page Number: 279
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Compson opens this passage with her characteristic self-blame, projected onto Jason. She feels completely uncomfortable making a decision or asserting herself, so she reacts always as if she had no choice but to let things happen as they do. The “them” Mrs. Compson refers to is her six black servants, led to church by Dilsey for the Easter service. She goes on to call them “the darkies,” revealing a casual disregard for the people who have always kept her and her children alive.

Jason misunderstands at first, equating church with “that damn show.” He seems to feel like he is always letting the servant family go see some show or another, even though it rarely seems like they are away from the Compsons for long (and they are essentially slaves in all but technicality). Mrs. Compson says she promised Dilsey “two weeks ago that they could get off.” But in the meantime she has neither told Jason nor made plans to prepare dinner herself. As always, she is a passive observer of the family’s affairs, except when she decides to make declarations about them.

“I wish you wouldn’t keep on bringin him to church, mammy,” Frony said. “Folks talkin.”
“Whut folks?” Dilsey said.
“I hears em,” Frony said.
“And I knows whut kind of folks,” Dilsey said. “Trash white folks. Dat’s who it is. Thinks he aint good enough fer white church, but nigger church aint good enough fer him.”
“Dey talks, jes de same,” Frony said.
“Den you send um to me,” Dilsey said. “Tell um de good Lawd don’t keer whether he bright er not. Don’t nobody but white trash keer dat.”

Related Characters: Dilsey Gibson (speaker), Frony Gibson (speaker), Benjamin (Benjy) Compson
Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:

Unlike her mother Dilsey, Frony is concerned with other people around town and what they might think of the Compsons and their servant family. When Frony says “bringing him to church” she refers to Benjy, whom Dilsey insists on bringing with them. Dilsey remarks on Benjy’s in-between status in the eyes of the white townspeople: not good enough for white church, but too good for black church.

Dilsey dismisses the gossipers as “trash white folks,” and her willingness to defend Benjy at any cost makes her his Christ figure as they head to Easter service. Benjy cannot offer Dilsey anything besides love, but still she does anything she can to keep people from forgetting him, the man-child Jason wants to have sent off to the asylum.

In the midst of the voices and the hands Ben sat, rapt in his sweet blue gaze. Dilsey sat bolt upright beside, crying rigidly and quietly in the annealment and the blood of the remembered Lamb.
As they walked through the bright noon, up the sandy road with the dispersing congregation talking easily again group to group, she continued to weep, unmindful of the talk…
“Whyn’t you quit dat, mammy?” Frony said. “Wid dese people looking. We be passin white folks soon.”
“I’ve seed de first en de last,” Dilsey said. “Never you mind me.”
“First en last whut?” Frony said.
“Never you mind,” Dilsey said. “I seed de beginnin, en now I sees de endin.”

Related Characters: Dilsey Gibson (speaker), Frony Gibson (speaker), Benjamin (Benjy) Compson
Related Symbols: Easter
Page Number: 297
Explanation and Analysis:

In a rare reversal, Benjy is alert and watching while Dilsey cries. The Easter service has moved Dilsey deeply, and when Frony pushes Dilsey after church to explain why she is crying Dilsey explains, “I’ve seed de first en de last.” Using the same language he always uses for these black characters, Faulkner reveals deeper truths about Dilsey’s connection to the Compson family and to their overall history.

Even though she has always been a servant to the family, she has a real connection to them. Dilsey is perhaps the one character who sees “de first”— the period of relative happiness when the Compson kids were all children— and “de last”— the Compson family as it stands now after all its tragedies — and can be a relatively objective observer, accepting the sweep of time in a way Quentin or Jason cannot. In the Christian tradition, Easter encompasses an ending and a beginning; first Christ dies, then he goes to heaven to begin his eternal reign. The Easter service inspires Dilsey to consider the Compson’s family history as a whole, and she realizes that there may be no Christ-like rebirth for the Compsons. At the same time, Dilsey herself has been a sort of Christ figure throughout the novel, bearing all of her duties with humility and respect, rarely faltering — and now, ironically, she is the only real hope for a "resurrection" of the Compsons, and figures like Dilsey are the only real hope for a resurrection of the South itself.

“Fiddlesticks,” Mrs. Compson said. “It’s in the blood. Like uncle, like niece. Or mother. I don’t know which would be worse. I don’t seem to care.”

“Whut you keep on talkin that way fur?” Dilsey said. “Whut she want to do anything like that fur?”
“I don’t know. What reason did Quentin have? Under God’s heaven what reason did he have? It cant be simply to flout and hurt me. Whoever God is, He would not permit that. I’m a lady. You might not believe that from my offspring, but I am.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Compson (speaker), Dilsey Gibson (speaker), Quentin Compson, Candace (Caddy) Compson, Ms. Quentin Compson, Maury Bascomb
Page Number: 299-300
Explanation and Analysis:

Mrs. Compson is once again absorbed in her compulsive reflection on her family and whatever curse might have befallen them, leading them to such a state of ruin. As in many of Faulkner’s works, as Mrs. Compson tells it here, misfortune is “in the blood.” She lost her son Quentin to suicide, and now loses her granddaughter Quentin to what she fears might be something similar. (And in a cruel aside, she also suggests that Ms. Quentin turning out like her mother would be just as bad as killing herself like her uncle.)

Dilsey is quick to correct her— “Whut she want to do anything like that fur?”— but Mrs. Compson won’t be comforted. She laments Quentin’s suicide, wondering what reason he could have had to do such a thing. But her sadness is buried once again in self-absorption, class concerns (“I’m a lady”), and abstractions about the final cause of her misfortune (“Whoever God is, He would not permit that”). Once again, Faulkner’s doubled usage of the name Quentin allows for potent connections to be made between the two characters, even though the brother Quentin was so disturbed by the child-to-be Quentin.

Appendix Quotes

LUSTER. A man, aged 14. Who was not only capable of the complete care and security of an idiot twice his age and three times his size, but could keep him entertained.

DILSEY.
They endured.

Related Characters: Dilsey Gibson, Luster Gibson
Page Number: 343
Explanation and Analysis:

In this appendix, added by Faulkner before a reprint of his novel was released, Faulkner clarifies some of the connections between different characters and clears away ambiguities. People seem torn on whether or not they like the appendix, and some would say that ambiguities like whether or not Quentin truly committed incest with Caddy are part of what makes Faulkner's novel great.

Nonetheless, the appendix appeared and this is the very end of it. Faulkner has gone through the Compson family's history, and arrives at the servant family, the Gibsons. Their descriptions are much shorter, and we might connect this with their place in the novel: they speak less often and take up less space than the Compsons, but have vital roles in keeping the family alive. 

Even if he wasn't committed to racial equality, Faulkner admires his black characters, and this admiration shows up more clearly here than anywhere else in the novel. Luster's role in caring for and entertaining Benjy is noted with some amazement, and he is confidently declared "a man" at the age of 14. And Dilsey is introduced with a simple phrase: "They endured." She is once again presented as the most admirable character in the book (her lack of description perhaps suggesting a kind of awe), and this is what Dilsey enables the Compson family to do, despite all its troubles: endure. 

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Dilsey Gibson Character Timeline in The Sound and the Fury

The timeline below shows where the character Dilsey Gibson appears in The Sound and the Fury. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
April Seventh, 1928
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...course, and Benjy moans and cries whenever golfers call for their “caddie.” Luster mentions that Dilsey, his grandmother, baked Benjy a cake for his birthday. Luster decides to earn back his... (full context)
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In the memory Uncle Maury asks Versh, one of Dilsey’s sons and Benjy’s keeper at the time, to take Benjy outside. Mrs. Compson worries that... (full context)
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...visit the graves of Quentin – Benjy’s brother – and Mr. Compson. T.P., another of Dilsey’s sons, must drive the carriage because Roskus, T.P.’s father and Dilsey’s husband, is paralyzed with... (full context)
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Mr. Compson warns the children to “mind Dilsey,” but Caddy insists that they listen to her as well. Dilsey serves dinner to the... (full context)
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The smell of Versh’s house brings Benjy into several memories. In 1910, Dilsey sings in the kitchen while Roskus, her husband, says that the Compsons are unlucky. Two... (full context)
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...Quentin, who is still very young, and Miss Quentin gets angry and Benjy cries. Frony, Dilsey’s daughter, scolds Benjy. Roskus keeps talking about bad luck, and says another sign of it... (full context)
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Benjy returns to the memory of Damuddy’s funeral, when Caddy is up in the tree. Dilsey then comes out of the house and pulls Caddy down, scolding the children for being... (full context)
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...Benjy follow her, and she says she will make sure Luster gets in trouble with Dilsey. The man in the red tie lights a match for Benjy to play with, but... (full context)
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Luster then takes Benjy back to the house, where Dilsey scolds Luster, thinking he has purposefully made Benjy upset, even though Luster denies it. Benjy... (full context)
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Back in the present, Dilsey gives Benjy his birthday cake and lights all thirty-three candles. She is still scolding Luster,... (full context)
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...the present again Benjy reaches his hand into the fire, burns himself, and starts wailing. Dilsey wraps up his hand and tries to calm him, but then Mrs. Compson appears, complaining... (full context)
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...past with greater frequency, though his memories are constantly being interrupted by the argument and Dilsey’s attempts to mediate. (full context)
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...night Damuddy died and Caddy got her underwear dirty. Jason tattles on her again to Dilsey, and Dilsey undresses the children and puts them to bed. She complains that she doesn’t... (full context)
June Second, 1910
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...a black person in it, and he thinks about how he only missed Roskus and Dilsey – and thought of them as real people – after he moved away from home.... (full context)
April Sixth, 1928
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Miss Quentin is with Dilsey in the dining room, and Jason confronts her about skipping school. Quentin tries to argue... (full context)
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Miss Quentin is upset and Dilsey comforts her, promising to protect her, but then Quentin turns her anger on Dilsey and... (full context)
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...to work all his life, and how Benjy, Miss Quentin, his mother, and the Gibsons (Dilsey and her family) are nothing but burdens to him. (full context)
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...in the baby Miss Quentin, even though Mrs. Compson had disowned Caddy. In the memory Dilsey accepts that she will raise the baby, as she has raised all the Compson children.... (full context)
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...still raging about the job at the bank she “stole” from him. Caddy then convinced Dilsey, but Jason threatened Dilsey if she ever let Caddy see Miss Quentin or Benjy. Dilsey... (full context)
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...and finds Luster, who says that Mrs. Compson and Miss Quentin are fighting upstairs and Dilsey is trying to mediate. Luster complains about how he can’t go to the minstrel show,... (full context)
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Jason sits down and reads the paper, and he threatens to make Dilsey bring him his food unless Miss Quentin and his mother will come downstairs for dinner.... (full context)
April Eighth, 1928
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...one day after Benjy’s. The narrator is now a third-person voice, which begins by following Dilsey. At dawn Dilsey emerges from her cabin and walks up to the Compton house. Mrs.... (full context)
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...up from the basement, where he has been trying to play the musical saw, and Dilsey orders him to wake up Benjy and get him dressed. Luster keeps delaying in his... (full context)
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Dilsey serves Benjy his breakfast and treats him with tenderness and sympathy. Jason comes downstairs, angry... (full context)
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Upstairs Dilsey calls gently for Miss Quentin, but there is no response. Jason suddenly understands what has... (full context)
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Meanwhile Benjy is wailing again, and Dilsey and Luster try to calm him down. Dilsey asks Luster about Miss Quentin, and Luster... (full context)
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Luster, Benjy, Dilsey, and Frony walk together to the local black church for an Easter service. Many other... (full context)
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...sermon about the suffering and death of Jesus, and his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. Dilsey sits perfectly still during the sermon, tears rolling down her face. (full context)
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As they leave the church Frony asks Dilsey why she is so upset, but Dilsey only says that she has “seen the beginning,... (full context)
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Back in Jefferson, Dilsey sends Luster and Benjy outside so they can’t cause any trouble. Benjy starts watching the... (full context)
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...comfort him, but T.P. isn’t around today so Luster offers to drive the carriage instead. Dilsey warns him to stick to T.P.’s usual route and be careful, but she lets him... (full context)
Appendix: Compson: 1699-1945
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The librarian next went all the way to Memphis, where she found Dilsey’s house. Frony met her at the door and brought her inside, where Dilsey sat beside... (full context)
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Next comes Jason, who remained a childless bachelor and feared only Dilsey among all other things. It was Jason who secretly made himself Benjy’s guardian and had... (full context)
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...able to fully care for the mentally disabled Benjy. There is only one line about Dilsey: “They endured.” (full context)