Summary – Chapter Four – April Eighth 1928
This chapter is written in the third person. Dilsey is described as leaving her cabin, going back in and then coming out again wearing a man’s felt hat and an army overcoat and goes over to the kitchen. She then fetches wood and builds the fire and as she does so Mrs Compson calls repeatedly as Dilsey walks towards the stairs. She says she will fill the hot water bottle when the water is hot and goes upstairs in pain to get it off her. Mrs Compson says she could not understand what had happened to her as she has been awake for an hour and not heard a sound. Dilsey explains Luster overslept as he went to the show last night.
Dilsey returns to the kitchen and then shouts for Luster. After he brings in more wood, he is sent to dress Benjy. She makes biscuit and Mrs Compson shouts for her again from the top of the stairs with ‘machine-like regularity’. She wants to know if Luster is coming to dress Benjy as she does not want him to wake Jason on his one day off. Dilsey struggles back up the stairs only to be told Benjy is still asleep. She lowers her face and says nothing and Mrs Compson tells her she does not have her responsibilities. She adds that Dilsey has never had any tenderness for Jason and does not try to conceal it.
Dilsey goes back to the kitchen and Luster appears from the cellar. He claims to have been looking for a leak and she tells him to go to Benjy. Alone, she looks at the clock that strikes five times and says ‘eight o’clock’.
Luster comes in followed by a ‘big man’ (Benjy) and his movements are compared to that of a ‘trained bear’. When Benjy sits down, he follows Dilsey’s movements with ‘his sweet vague gaze’. Luster takes the hot water bottle upstairs and when he returns he says Jason is saying he and Benjy broke the window in his (Jason’s) room. She questions if he did and he denies it.
When the food is ready, Luster feeds Ben (Benjy) ‘with skill and detachment’. When his attention returns, he feints the spoon enough for him ‘to close his mouth on empty air’, ‘but it is apparent that Luster’s mind was elsewhere’.
Jason and Mrs Compson come down and she is saying that she did not break the window and he is saying he has not accused her. He tells Dilsey to go up and tell Quentin her breakfast is ready and she tells him to leave her alone. Mrs Compson says she had better do as he says as he is the head of the house now. Dilsey sets off and they hear her mount the stairs slowly. Jason says to his mother that she has ‘a prize set of servants’ and asks if she ever had one that was worth killing.
They hear Dilsey calling Quentin and Mrs Compson says she cannot understand the broken window and thinks it is as though someone has tried to break in. Jason springs up and knocks his chair over. He tries to open Quentin’s door but needs the key from his mother. He paws at the pockets of her dressing gown but she resists. He tugs the keys from her pocket and she begins to wail to Dilsey. Dilsey tells her to hush and says she will not let him hurt her. When they finally open the door, her room looks anonymous and it is compared to one in an ‘assignation’ house. The window is open and Quentin has gone.
Mrs Compson says they must find a note as ‘Quentin left a note when he did it’. Dilsey tells her she will and tries to get her back to her room. Instead, she looks for Jason who is in his room and hurling things out of his closet. The lock on his box is broken; he hears his mother say his name repeatedly until Dilsey leads her away. He goes downstairs to the telephone and reports a robbery at his house and asks for a car. He then agrees to be there in five minutes and leaves.
Dilsey asks Luster to take Benjy outside and says she will let him know if and when they are going to church. He tells her he and Benjy have seen Quentin leave by her window every night and she asks why he has not said anything before. He says he is not getting mixed up in white folks’ business.
After going to change in her cabin, she returns to find Luster and Benjy in the cellar and Luster is hitting a saw with a wooden mallet. She gets him to stop and Benjy wails: ‘It might have been all time and injustice and sorrow become vocal for an instant by a conjunction of the planets. She tells Luster to get his cap and not let Mrs Compson know.
Dilsey says he (Benjy) will be quiet when they get off the place as he is ‘smelling it’. When they pass out of the gate with Frony, Ben stops wailing. Frony says to her mother (Dilsey) that she wishes she would not keep bringing him (Benjy) to church as folks are talking. Dilsey guesses correctly that these are ‘trash white folks’ and says they think he is not good enough for a white church ‘but nigger church ain’t good enough fer him’.
In church (on Easter Sunday), the bell rings once and the congregation disperses to its seats. The choir sings after the second bell. There is a sigh of disappointment when they see the visiting clergyman as he looks so insignificant. His voice is impressive, though, and Ben sits ‘rapt in his sweet blue gaze’. Dilsey sits bolt upright and cries ‘rigidly and quietly in the annealment and the blood of the remembered Lamb’.
She continues to weep on the walk home and when Dilsey asks her to quit now she replies, ‘I’ve seen de first en de last’. Frony asks what she means and she says she has seen the beginning and the ending. When they reach the gate, Benjy starts whimpering again.
In the house, Dilsey goes to Quentin’s room and then Mrs Compson’s. The latter room reeks of camphor and she is laid on the bed. She asks Dilsey where Jason is and then asks if she found the note. Dilsey comforts her and Mrs Compson asks for the Bible. Dilsey had put it on the edge of the bed earlier and Mrs Compson wants her to pass her it. Back in the kitchen, Dilsey says to herself that Jason is not coming home. They eat and it is explained that Ben (Benjy) can eat solid food ‘pretty well for himself’ but Dilsey ties a cloth about his neck.
The narrative switches now to Jason. After leaving the house, he goes to the sheriff and asks him to come with him as ‘they’ have a 12 hour head start. The sheriff wants him to sit down and talk about it and when he finally does so the sheriff asks what he was doing with $3,000 in the house and wonders if his mother knew about it. The sheriff accuses him of driving that girl away and says he has suspicions about who that money belonged to. He goes on to say if Jason had ‘actual proof’ he would have to act, but without it it is none of his business. Jason leaves saying it is not Russia and he (the sheriff) will regret this.
The bells are ringing and he goes to a filling station. When he drives off his head begins to ache and realizes he has forgotten his camphor. He decides to carry on driving and tries to think of something else but keeps coming back to how he has been robbed by a girl and one who symbolizes his lost job (with Herbert Head).
He arrives at Mottson where the show has moved on to. It does not occur to him they might not be there. He goes into a Pullman car and takes an old man by surprise. He grabs the man’s arm and asks where they are, and calls him a liar. He realizes he has made a mistake as the furious man struggles. To get out, he hits him and the man falls. He turns to see him raise a hatchet; he grasps it, but then feels a crash against the back of his head and hopes to ‘get it over with’ and die.
A man holds him down and tells him to leave. Jason tells him who he is looking for and how they robbed him. The man replies, ‘you’re the one, are you’ and says they are not there. He adds that he runs a respectable show.
In his car, he stops two young African-American men and asks what they will charge to drive him to Jefferson, but neither can get away. Another man comes up and offers to drive him for four dollars. Jason thinks he will be able to get something for his headache there and moves over to let him drive.
Back at the house, Dilsey tells Luster to take Benjy outside and after she finishes her meal she hears twanging from the cellar. She goes down and tells them to go in the sun and when they do so Benjy whimpers and squats in front of a mound of earth. There are two empty bottle of blue glass, which used to contain poison. In one, there is a withered stalk of jimson weed and he puts a twig in the other. Luster takes one of them and as Ben (Benjy) prepares to bellow he replaces it. He takes him to the fence and they watch the golfers and Ben clings and wails when he hears one say ‘caddie’. Luster tells him to be quiet and when he does not he whispers, ‘Caddy! Beller now. Caddy! Caddy! Caddy!” Luster hears Dilsey calling between Ben’s bellowing and he says how he told her he would not be quiet.
She calls him a villain and asks what he has done to him. She then tells Luster to run and get the shoe and not disturb ‘Miss Cahline’. She takes Ben to the cabin and sits him on the bed and rocks him back and forth, but he is still making loud noises: ‘The grave hopeless sound of all voiceless misery under the sun.’ Luster returns with the white satin slipper that is now yellow. She asks Luster to drive Ben to the graveyard and describes Ben as the Lord’s child. He is still whimpering and Luster brings him a flower, a narcissus; it is broken but he makes it a splint of a twig and string.
Dilsey takes the whip off Luster so he will not ride the carriage too fast and she exhorts him not to hurt him. He agrees and they set off. When out of sight of the house, though, he breaks a switch from the hedge and speeds the horse up with it. At town, Luster spots a group of African-American men and decides to show off in front of them. He swings the horse left at the monument and Ben bellows with astonishment and horror. Luster is taken aback by the sound and Jason comes jumping across the square. He hurls Luster aside with a backward blow and takes the reins. He slashes at the horse and gets her to gallop and hits Luster over the head. He tells him off for turning left and reaches back and strikes Ben, and the flower stalk breaks again.
He gives back the reins and tells them to go home and warns he will kill Luster if he ever crosses the gates with him again. Ben finishes making a noise when the horse starts moving steadily on.
Analysis – Chapter Four
This chapter differs from its predecessors not only in that it has a third- rather than first-person narrator, but also because it has a more sympathetic aspect than has previously been seen. Because Dilsey is focused on more strongly here than elsewhere, the readers are given the opportunity to see how Benjy is treated with love and respect and how Dilsey is one of the few in the novel to be able to demonstrate her love for others.
In relation to this, the combination of her Christian beliefs and this trip to church on Easter Sunday demonstrates an aspect of Benjy that has been overlooked. In this chapter, he is regarded as an innocent, as is reflected in his ‘sweet blue gaze’, and through Dilsey’s love he appears to be one whose tormented sounds speak for all ‘voiceless misery’.