The narrative opens vaguely and confusingly. The narrator is Benjy, a mentally disabled man whose thirty-third birthday is occurring today, the day before Easter. He is with Luster, a teenaged African-American who is a servant to Benjy’s family, the white, aristocratic Compsons of Jefferson, Mississippi.
This first section is very difficult to understand, as Benjy is severely mentally disabled and has no sense of time, cause and effect, or morality—his memories therefore travel back and forth in time without notice or explanative narration. Benjy is like the "idiot" in the quote from the play Macbeth that gives this novel its name: Life "is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Through Benjy, Faulkner reveals information about the Compsons in tidbits that must be pieced together.
Luster takes Benjy around the Compson property looking for a quarter Luster has lost. The property is next to a golf 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 lost quarter by finding golf balls in the rough and selling them back to golfers. He needs a quarter to go to a minstrel show that is in town that weekend.
Luster is one of the Gibsons, the black family who are live-in servants of the Compsons. The power of the word “caddie” seems strange now, but it is Benjy’s sister’s name, the sister who will be the focal point of the novel. Benjy is thirty-three, and his birthday is Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, which places him as a possible Christ-figure.
Luster and Benjy sneak under a broken part of the fence into the golf course, and Benjy catches his clothes on a nail. This triggers a memory of twenty-six years earlier, two days before Christmas, when Benjy’s sister Caddy helped free him from the same nail. In this memory Mrs. Compson – Benjy’s mother – is arguing with her brother, Uncle Maury.
The structure of this confusing section is based around Benjy’s sensations – he cannot differentiate between past and present, so when an object reminds him of something, he fully experiences the ensuing memory in the present. Faulkner cues these switches with italics, but even then he is inconsistent.
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 Benjy will get sick from the cold, but she allows it as his presence makes her worry and feel sick. Versh and Benjy go outside and meet Caddy, who Benjy says “smells like trees.”
The phrase “Caddy smells like trees” will be another important trigger for Benjy, and seems to suggest Caddy's wildness, natural purity, and ability to give Benjy comfort. Mrs. Compson’s character begins to be introduced – she is unable to care for her children properly, and turns everything into an opportunity for self-pity.
The story returns to the present, but the memory of Caddy makes Benjy moan again, annoying Luster. He gives Benjy a flower to calm him down, and then Benjy slips back into the memory, where Caddy brings Benjy back inside by the fire to warm up. Mrs. Compson complains about how weak she is, and how Benjy’s disability is a judgment against her. She worries that Benjy will get sick and ruin her Christmas party.
Benjy will often be comforted by a flower, which he may associate with laying on the graves of his dead family members. Benjy’s memories of Caddy as a child are warm and comforting, while Mrs. Compson sees Benjy’s ailment only in terms of herself. She is preoccupied with fate and superstition.
Back in the present Benjy and Luster walk past the Compsons carriage house, which triggers another memory, this one from about fifteen years before. Benjy and his mother are riding in the Compsons’ carriage to go 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 rheumatism. Dilsey remarks that Jason should buy a new carriage, as this one is falling apart.
Mr. Compson and Quentin have not even been introduced yet, but we now know they are doomed to die. This scene foreshadows the last scene of the novel, when Luster will take T.P.’s place driving the carriage. The members of the Gibson family are introduced – Dilsey and Roskus have three children – Versh, T.P., and Frony – and Frony’s son is Luster. The carriage is decaying just like the Compsons.
Mrs. Compson asks Jason if he wants to come to the cemetery, but Jason coldly declines and then says that Uncle Maury has been asking for money again. Mrs. Compson says she will be dead soon and then not be such a burden anymore, and then Benjy returns to the present, where Luster is chiding him once again.
This is the first glimpse of the adult Jason, who has no respect or sorrow for his dead family members. Uncle Maury is a perpetual freeloader, a Southerner from a once-wealthy family now too proud to work but still expecting to live like an aristocrat.
Luster takes Benjy through the Compsons’ barn, and Benjy slips into another memory, twenty-six years earlier. He and Caddy are delivering a letter from Uncle Maury to Mrs. Patterson, the next-door neighbor, as the two are having an affair. Within this memory Benjy has another memory of an earlier time he delivered one of these letters by himself. Mrs. Patterson sees him delivering the letter and runs toward him, scaring him. Mr. Patterson also runs for him and intercepts the letter, thus discovering his wife’s affair. Benjy runs down the hill, afraid.
Uncle Maury’s promiscuity shows the sexual double standard of old Southern society. Mrs. Compson condones his affair with Mrs. Patterson and keeps lending him money, but when Caddy later has sex outside of marriage, Mrs. Compson disowns her, and Caddy is disgraced by the town. Benjy’s convoluted sense of time starts to paint an impressionistic picture of this family, where the past is constantly overlaid onto the present.
Back in the present, Luster leads Benjy down to the “branch,” the stream that runs through the Compson property. Luster sees some other servants who are washing clothes in the branch, and he asks them about his quarter and the minstrel show that night. Luster is especially intrigued by the fact that a man will be playing the musical saw. He keeps looking for a stray golf ball, and then one of the golfers says “caddie” again, making Benjy moan.
It now becomes clear that something bad has happened to Caddy, the sibling Benjy was closest to, so that even the sound of her name upsets him. Luster is only fourteen years old – very young to be taking care of a massive thirty-three year old disabled man – so his immaturity comes out in other ways, like his fascination with the musical saw.
Benjy slips back into another memory, this one of the day his grandmother “Damuddy” was buried. Benjy is only three and the family has not discovered his disability yet. Quentin, Caddy, Jason, and Benjy are all playing together in the branch and being watched by Versh. Versh warns Caddy that she will be whipped for getting her dress wet, so Caddy takes the dress off, but then she gets mud on her underclothes too. Benjy repeats that she smells like trees.
Damuddy never actually appears except on the day of her death. In this she symbolizes the Old South, the history and lifestyle the Compsons try to cling to, but which is irrevocably gone. Caddy’s muddy underclothes become a symbol for her later promiscuity and “dirtying” the Compson honor. Benjy associates Caddy’s smell of trees with her youthful innocence in nature.
Back in the present, Luster mentions that Benjy thinks that the pasture is still owned by the Compsons, though they had sold it years before. Benjy returns to the memory, in which the children head home from the branch. Caddy and Quentin worry that Jason will tattle to their parents about their wet clothes, and they will get whipped. The children pass Roskus milking a cow in the barn, and then Benjy shifts to another memory, the day of Caddy’s wedding.
As the narrative grows more confusing, the easiest way to decipher what is taking place in the present is Luster’s presence, as he only appears in 1928. Even as a child Jason is portrayed as self-serving and greedy, and Quentin and Caddy are clearly very close with each other.
In this memory, Benjy and T.P. have gotten drunk off some champagne they found in the basement. T.P. thinks it is just “sasparilla,” but they are both falling down and watching cows run across the yard. Benjy’s narration is even more muddled than normal, and he watches Quentin fighting with T.P. Quentin beats him up, but T.P. can’t stop laughing. Benjy starts crying then, afraid of his confusing drunkenness. Versh appears, scolding them, and he carries Benjy up the hill to the wedding.
Drunk Benjy is even more confusing than the usual Benjy, as his sense of perception becomes more muddled. Though he cannot talk or think abstractly, he can sense things that others can’t – particularly when they upset his sense of order, which is acute. In hindsight (from the rest of the novel) it is likely that Quentin is attacking T.P. for making fun of Caddy.
Benjy then shifts back to the memory of the day of Damuddy’s death, as Versh carried him up the hill then as well. Versh tells the children that the family has company for dinner, because all the lights are on in the house. The children meet Mr. Compson at the house, and Jason immediately tattles to him about Quentin and Caddy’s wet clothes. Mr. Compson says that the children have to eat in the kitchen and stay quiet, as there is company over for dinner.
Mr. and Mrs. Compson do not tell the children that their grandmother is dead – the children have to find it out for themselves. This is the kind of detached, unsupportive parenting that contributes to the Compson children’s problems. The Compsons are more concerned with appearances than emotional connection.
Mr. Compson warns the children to “mind Dilsey,” but Caddy insists that they listen to her as well. Dilsey serves dinner to the children, but then Benjy starts crying again. Quentin asks if Mrs. Compson was crying earlier, but Dilsey deflects the question. Quentin presses on, asking about Damuddy’s sickness, and soon Jason is crying too. Caddy teases Jason because he cannot sleep in Damuddy’s bed anymore now that she is sick. After dinner the children walk down to Versh’s cabin.
Caddy shows herself to be a headstrong child, always trying to be in charge, but she is also the only one who tends to Benjy. The child Jason always seems to be crying about something. Dilsey practically raises the children, as Mrs. Compson is totally incompetent and Mr. Compson is distant, and usually quietly drunk.
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 years later, Roskus is again talking about the curse of the Compsons, and he says the sign of it is Miss Quentin, Caddy’s illegitimate daughter. Roskus says he knew they were unlucky when they changed Benjy’s name.
Benjy’s sense of smell is associated with his acute perception of order and chaos. The curse of the Compsons will be associated with the theme of history and decline. All of Roskus’s references are still unexplained, but will become important later.
Benjy takes a toy from Miss 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 is that Caddy’s name is not mentioned around the house anymore because of the disgrace of her illegitimate child. Even Miss Quentin is being raised without knowing her mother’s name. Dilsey then puts Luster and Benjy to bed together, side by side.
The power of Caddy’s name is reinforced here – it is not only a source of sorrow for Benjy, but it has been forbidden in the Compson house ever since her disgrace. Changing Benjy’s name from Maury (as we will see later) and forbidding Caddy’s name seem less like signs of bad luck and more like superstitious decisions on the part of the Compsons.
Benjy briefly returns to the present, where Luster has found a golf ball, but he won’t let Benjy play with it. Benjy then returns to a memory in 1898, when the children were playing with some lightning bugs T.P. had caught in a jar. Caddy is again concerned with everyone “minding her.” Frony mentions a funeral, but Versh says not to let the children hear – Damuddy’s funeral is going on in the house, but the Compsons haven’t told the children their grandmother is dead yet.
The last flashback shows that Luster and Benjy were basically raised together. Damuddy’s funeral – the symbol of the decline of the Old South – is kept a secret from the children. This figuratively means that they will remain under the sway of the old values and traditions, but only the Southern values as corrupted by the Compsons’ self-absorption.
Benjy then remembers the death of the Compsons’ horse, Nancy, and he thinks about her bones in the ditch and the buzzards circling overhead. The children worry that the buzzards will “undress” Damuddy too, and Caddy and Jason start to fight. Versh points out that Jason will be rich someday because he always has his hands in his pockets, and this makes Jason cry. Caddy tries to convince them that it is not actually a funeral going on, but a party.
Young Jason is crying again, foreshadowing his later sense that the world is against him, and his hands in his pockets foreshadow his later greed and small-mindedness. Benjy is unable to grasp a concept like death, but he can perceive it in associated images like Nancy’s bones.
Benjy’s memory of Damuddy’s funeral day becomes briefly interspersed with his drunken memory of Caddy’s wedding in 1910. Back in 1898, Caddy decides to climb a tree to look into the house, as she still thinks there is a party going on instead of a funeral, and that Damuddy is still alive. She makes Versh help her up into the tree, and her three brothers look up and see her dirty underwear from below before she disappears into the branches.
Through Benjy’s mind Faulkner is able to connect Damuddy’s funeral with Caddy’s wedding – both of them gatherings that ultimately symbolize the decline of the Compsons, as Caddy’s wedding is an attempt to cover up her sexual dishonor (and resulting pregnancy). Her dirty underwear appears again as more foreshadowing, though she is still associated with trees and innocence here (and there is a sense that Benjy's sense of her as natural and clean may be more accurate than the Compson's shame about her behavior).
Back on Caddy’s wedding day, Benjy remembers her wedding veil, and T.P. trying to keep him quiet as he drunkenly moans. Caddy hugs him and he is upset that she doesn’t smell like trees anymore. This makes Benjy then think of a memory in 1905, when he was also upset by Caddy’s smell.
Smells are a strong signifier for Benjy, and when Caddy no longer smells like trees it upsets his sense of order, as she is not youthful and innocent anymore. But despite her “sins,” she still loves and cares for Benjy.
In that memory Jason makes fun of Caddy for her “prissy dress,” and says she is trying to be better than everyone else. Benjy is clearly upset by something about Caddy’s attire, so she tries taking off her hat. Mrs. Compson appears and complains that Benjy is disturbing her peace. Then Caddy figures out that it is her perfume upsetting Benjy, so she washes it off, but Benjy still keeps moaning. He thinks repeatedly to himself “Caddy smelled like trees.”
Jason’s conflict with Caddy appears. Mrs. Compson once again makes everything about her. Caddy is growing up and becoming less innocent, and the only thing holding her back is not the Compson honor or old Southern values, but her desire to not upset Benjy. For Benjy, Caddy can wash off her “impurities”, but Southern society won't let her off the hook.
In the same memory Mrs. Compson gets upset with her husband for making fun of Uncle Maury, who is in a quarrel with Mr. Patterson. Mrs. Compson argues that her family is just as well born as Mr. Compson’s, so he shouldn’t mock Maury or begrudge him his money and food. Mr. Compson then fills his decanter of alcohol and leaves. Caddy falls asleep next to Benjy, trying to comfort him.
Mrs. Compson is more concerned with her own family name and pride than with the real moral deficiencies of her brother. This is the first instance of Mr. Compson drinking, but his decanter of whiskey will become a fixture of his presence.
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 outside at night. She sends them back to bed, and Caddy reports that there was no party going on in the house, just people sitting around.
Again Dilsey does the real parenting for the Compson children. She begins to develop as a positive force in the novel, one of the only stable factors in the Compsons’ crumbling world.
Back in the present, Luster warns Benjy not to go by the nearby swing, as Miss Quentin is there with her “beau.” This makes Benjy remember encountering Caddy on the same swing kissing her first boyfriend, a boy named Charlie. When Charlie approaches him Benjy starts to cry loudly, and Caddy tries to send Charlie away. Charlie gets angry that Benjy interrupted them, and he wants a servant to take Benjy away. This only upsets Benjy more.
Caddy continues to grow and lose her innocence, and is shamed only by Benjy’s crying and Charlie’s treatment of him. Miss Quentin has clearly inherited her mother’s tendencies, as she acts out the same scene, but without shame.
Caddy finally runs away from Charlie with Benjy and they go up to the house. Caddy knows Benjy is upset with her for kissing Charlie, so she apologizes and promises to never kiss anyone again. Then she washes out her mouth with soap.
Caddy continues to try and physically wash herself clean, as with the perfume, but she is unable to stop growing up just because it upsets Benjy.
Back in 1928, Benjy approaches the swing and interrupts Miss Quentin and her boyfriend, who is wearing a red tie. Miss Quentin gets angry at Luster for letting 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 Miss Quentin knocks it away, knowing he will burn himself and then start moaning. She runs back up to the house.
Using Benjy’s muddled sense of time, Faulkner is able to juxtapose these two scenes to contrast mother and daughter. Miss Quentin no longer subscribes to the old Southern notion that sexuality equals sin – but she also feels no love or affection for Benjy, and so acts more like Charlie than like Caddy.
Luster talks to the man with the red tie about the music show, and the man playing the musical saw. Luster then picks up an unused condom off the ground, thinking at first that it might be his lost quarter. The man with the red tie sees it and starts cursing to himself. He asks Luster about it, and Luster says that men come to visit Miss Quentin every night, and she climbs down the tree outside her window to meet them. The man with the red tie is furious and sends Luster and Benjy away.
With this scene Faulkner totally de-romanticizes Miss Quentin’s relationship with the man in the red tie. It is not true love, or him saving her from her unhappy family situation. Miss Quentin climbing down the tree is both foreshadowing and a reflection of Caddy climbing up the tree to look at Damuddy’s funeral, and revealing her muddy underwear.
Benjy and Luster then walk further down the fence, still looking for golf balls, and when they reach the gate Benjy sees some schoolgirls walking past. This reminds him of a day years earlier when he looked out the same gate at other schoolgirls. T.P. tried to pull him away, saying that Caddy has gotten married and left Benjy behind.
Because Benjy experiences no difference between past and present, in some part of his mind Caddy is eternally a schoolgirl. Faulkner gives more hints of the nature of the tragedies that strike the Compsons.
Later in the same memory, Benjy slips out the gate and runs after the girls, scaring them. He tries to talk to them about Caddy, but he is unable to speak as always. He catches one of the girls and she screams, and then Mr. Burgess, one of the girls’ fathers, attacks Benjy. That night Mr. Compson scolds Jason for leaving the gate open. Jason suggests that they have Benjy castrated, or else send him to a mental asylum in Jackson.
If Benjy is a Christ-figure in the novel, then Faulkner is showing Christ as an impotent and unrecognized character in this world – unable to speak, to articulate the truth of his innocence and love, and responded to with violence. Jason reveals his scorn and dislike of Benjy, as he feels no qualms about mutilating him or sending him away forever.
Back in the present, Luster tries to sell the golf ball he found to a golfer, but the golfer just takes it away from him and refuses to give him a quarter. Then he calls for his caddie, making Benjy moan again. Luster gives Benjy another flower to try and cheer him up. Luster says that when Mrs. Compson dies, Jason will probably send Benjy away to the asylum in Jackson. The frustrated Luster than takes away Benjy’s flower, making him cry.
As a black boy, Luster has absolutely no power in this society, and the white golfer can steal from him with impunity. Luster shows his immaturity in his sudden mood swings regarding Benjy, sometimes tormenting him and sometimes cheering him up – but this just serves as a reminder that Luster is too young for his great task.
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 sits down in front of the fireplace in the kitchen and calms down. This reminds him of a memory years earlier when he sat by the fire with Caddy, just after his parents changed his name from Maury to Benjamin.
Faulkner will later state it more clearly, but he has now revealed the three things Benjy truly loves: Caddy, his pasture, and the sight of fire. Benjy’s name change is very confusing at first, as there is already Uncle Maury, and Faulkner, as usual, avoids any plot explanation.
Back in the present, Dilsey gives Benjy his birthday cake and lights all thirty-three candles. She is still scolding Luster, and Luster is still lamenting his lost quarter. Luster and Benjy eat some of the cake, and Benjy briefly remembers an episode where Caddy cried and said she hates everything. He then returns to the earlier memory by the fire, where Caddy and Dilsey discuss Benjy’s new name. Dilsey says it is bad luck to change a name.
Dilsey shows that she truly loves and cares for Benjy, as she makes him a birthday cake despite his inability to understand time. The changing of Benjy’s name shows Mrs. Compson’s pride and superstition, as she didn’t want to waste the family name “Maury” on someone with Benjy’s disability. It also points to the theme of language, and words failing to describe truth – no mere name can change Benjy’s life.
In 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 about Benjy’s crying. She thinks that Luster and Dilsey made Benjy upset on purpose to disturb her, and she starts crying with self-pity. Dilsey calms her down patiently and Luster takes Benjy to the library.
Dilsey is endlessly patient with Benjy and the self-obsessed Mrs. Compson, though the situations Dilsey has to deal with are extremely frustrating. Mrs. Compson is always trying to rest and get better, as she is a hypochondriac who assumes any kind of stress makes her sick.
The library reminds Benjy of another occasion with Caddy, when they were in the library and Benjy was only five. Caddy tries to pick Benjy up, accidentally calling him “Maury” first, but Mrs. Compson says Benjy is big enough to walk alone. Mrs. Compson has been sick all day, and the rest of the family tries not to upset her. Caddy keeps trying to pick up Benjy, and then she gives him a cushion to play with. Mrs. Compson says Caddy (who she calls Candace) spoils Benjy (who she calls Benjamin) too much. She also says that nicknames (like “Caddy”) are only for “common people.”
Mrs. Compson again shows her shallow pride and incompetence at raising her children. Caddy is already better at calming and entertaining Benjy than her mother is. Mrs. Compson is more concerned with appearing superior to commoners. She experiences more of an idealized version of her children, rather than trying to understand, accept, or support them.
In the same memory Mrs. Compson starts crying at her own impotence, and Caddy sends her off to bed. Then Caddy and Jason start to fight because Jason has cut up Benjy’s paper dolls. Jason cries and says it was an accident, though it was clearly malicious, and Caddy threatens him on Benjy’s behalf.
Caddy is still very young, but already acting like more of a mother than Mrs. Compson. Jason again shows his malice even as a child, and cries when he is caught. Caddy is extremely protective of Benjy, like the mother he needs.
In the present, Benjy keeps making noise in the library, and the adult Jason comes in, angry with Benjy and Luster. He complains that he works all day and then can’t even have peace and quiet at home. Luster asks Jason if he can borrow a quarter to go to the minstrel show, but Jason mockingly refuses him.
Faulkner again uses Benjy’s flashbacks to juxtapose scenes interestingly. The malicious young Jason still feels the world is against him, and so he lashes out at it with anger and self-pity.
Miss Quentin comes in and is still angry with Luster, and then Jason threatens her about hanging around with the man in the red tie. Miss Quentin is clearly not ashamed of her actions, and she argues with Jason. Benjy briefly returns to a memory of Quentin telling his father about a fight he got into at school, when another boy threatened to put a frog in a girl’s desk. Mr. Compson approves of Quentin, but gets angry at Jason for crying over something else.
Jason and Miss Quentin reveal their mutual hatred. Benjy’s memory shows how Mr. Compson favored Quentin over Jason, while later scenes will show Mrs. Compson favoring Jason over the rest. This kind of favoritism among the parents breeds some of the discord in the children’s later lives.
Benjy then remembers an evening around 1909, when Caddy comes home from a date where she lost her virginity. Benjy senses something is different and he cries loudly, and Caddy is ashamed. She runs up to her room, trying to avoid Benjy (and the rest of the family), but Benjy follows her and they both go into a bathroom and cry.
Benjy’s acute sense of order and chaos allows him to tell that something has changed about Caddy (the implication is that she has had sex for the first time). She is shamed by his wailing, and the new divide between them – she cannot wash away this new stain. This evening will also haunt Quentin later.
In the present again, the family sits down to dinner, and Miss Quentin complains that she doesn’t like living here, as Benjy is like “a pig” and Jason is cruel to her. Jason gets angry and Miss Quentin threatens to run away. As their argument escalates, Benjy’s mind jumps back to the past with greater frequency, though his memories are constantly being interrupted by the argument and Dilsey’s attempts to mediate.
Jason is a cruel, bitter man, but Miss Quentin is not a likeable character either. Her faults are understandable because of her upbringing, but she is also cruel to those who help her, like Dilsey. She shares Caddy’s promiscuity, but not her kindness and love for Benjy.
In between the arguing, Benjy remembers Versh saying that Mrs. Compson changed Benjy’s name because she was too proud, and Benjy remembers Caddy feeding him, and he remembers Mrs. Compson complaining about being sick. In the present, Miss Quentin curses Jason and leaves the table. Benjy then remembers Mr. Compson getting mad at Jason for chewing paper while Quentin is studying.
The details of Benjy’s name-change become more clear, mostly through commentary by the Gibsons (Dilsey’s family). Benjy is able to act as a nonobjective narrator simply because he has no sense of morality or pride, but only connects sensations with each other. It is up to the reader to decipher conclusions from these sensations.
Benjy again remembers Caddy smelling like trees, and then back in the present Luster is pleased that Miss Quentin gave him a quarter for the show. Benjy then returns to the past, where the young Jason is wanting to sleep in Damuddy’s bed, but she is too sick. Jason starts to cry. In the present Luster undresses Benjy, and when Benjy sees himself in the mirror he starts to cry. Then they look out the window and see Miss Quentin sneak out of her bedroom window, climb down the tree, and run away.
It is not explained until later, but Benjy cries when he sees himself in the mirror because he realizes he has been castrated, even though it happened years ago. Miss Quentin escaping is basically the climax of the novel, though it is only reported in this detached, secondhand way here, and its repercussions and details don’t become clear until later.
Benjy then returns to the 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 have time to bathe Caddy before bed. Mr. Compson comes in and Caddy asks him if Mrs. Compson is sick, but he says she isn’t. Caddy then holds Benjy in their bed, and he slowly falls asleep.
Caddy is unable to wash out her dirty underwear, as she is later unable to cleanse herself of her stained honor. Benjy returns to his sense of order and peace – he is being held by Caddy, and everything is in its right place. It is his sense of order and chaos that allows Faulkner to first hint at the tragedies of the Compson family in a dispassionate, nun-judgmental way, before moving on to more emotional narrators.