Summary – Chapter Two June Second, 1910
This chapter has Quentin (male) as the first-person narrator. He remembers his father giving him his grandfather’s watch and what he told him at the time. He said he has given it to him so that he might forget time now and then and ‘not spend all your breath trying to conquer it’. Quentin hears the ticking and through the wall and also hears Shreve getting up. He turns the watch over and goes back to bed. He thinks of the invitation to a wedding from Mr and Mrs Jason Richmond Compson (for Caddy’s wedding) and how he said to his father that he had committed incest.
Shreve comes in and stands at the door. He asks if Quentin is ready and Quentin tells him to run along and he will make it.
Alone again, Quentin thinks about virginity and how it is something for men and boys to be ashamed of. His father said it is like death: ‘only a state in which the others are left.’ He asked his father why it could not have been him and not her ‘who is unvirgin’. It switches to Shreve saying to him one time that he has ‘better sense than to case after the dirty little sluts’ and Quentin asks him if he ever had a sister.
In italics, he thinks how he told his father he committed incest and ‘it was not Dalton Ames’. This name is repeated and a fragment sentence follows: ‘When he put the pistol in my hand I didn’t’.
He thinks of ‘her’ standing in the door. He then takes the watch and taps it face down on the dresser. He puts the glass in an ashtray and twists the hands off, and the watch carries on ticking. He cuts his finger on the glass, cleans it and then packs his trunk. After washing, he puts on his new suit and picks up the watch and puts the trunk key in an envelope to post to his father. He also writes two notes and seals them. He remembers ‘her’ running in a bridal gown. In the present, he steps into the sunlight and hears the half hour chimes ring and die away.
Quentin then has breakfast and buys the best cigar he can. He smokes it a little and then gives it to a bootblack and gives a nickel to the other. He notices a clock and thinks of how when one does not want to do something the body can trick one into it. The watch is still ticking in his pocket above everything else. He goes back up the street to the jeweller’s shop. It is ‘full of ticking’ and he hands over his broken watch. The jeweller says he will fix it later and Quentin says he will bring it back in the afternoon. He asks if any of the watches in the window have the right time and the man starts to tell him the right time. Quentin stops him and repeats that he just wants to know if any are right. The man looks at him and what he is celebrating. He tells him a birthday and asks again if any are right. He is told ‘no’ as they have not been regulated. When he leaves the shop, he thinks of what his father said about time – that it is dead ‘as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.’
Quentin then goes to a hardware store and thinks of how he did not know that flat irons were bought by the pound. He buys two little six-pounds one as they look like shoes when they are wrapped up.
Analysis – Chapter Two
Although it is not made explicit, this early section of Chapter Two sees Quentin prepare for his suicide as he writes notes, prepares to post the key of his trunk to his father and buys the flat irons to weigh him down in the river. At this point, he is a student at Harvard.
The concept of the passing of time is introduced with the reference to the watch given to him by his father (which was also from his father) and is often a central theme of works that draw on modernism. Time is referred to explicitly throughout this chapter as Quentin hears his watch ticking despite trying to break it as well as the chimes of bells. The concept of time as linear has already been challenged in the first chapter with the flickering back and forth of Benjy’s thoughts. Here, the passing of time is put under question via their father as Quentin remembers his nihilistic view of time and how it only comes to life when the clocks stop.
Summary – Chapter Two continued
Quentin gets on a streetcar and sits next to an African-American man. He remembers how when he first came East he kept thinking he had to think of ‘them’ as ‘coloured people not niggers’ and has learned the best way ‘to take all people’ is to treat them as they think they are and ‘then leave them alone’. He remembers a train journey when in Virginia he realized how much he missed Dilsey and Roskus and threw a quarter out of a window to an African-American man.
He then remembers counting after the clock struck three when at school and would not manage to count the time correctly up to the next bell. Further in the past, he also remembers the talk of bad luck associated with the change of Benjy’s name. When the car stops, he gets off at a bridge and sees Gerald Bland.
His thoughts shift to Caddy and to when she was asked why she does not bring Dalton Ames home. In the present, he has been ‘hearing’ his watch and can feel the letters ‘crackle’ in his pocket. He remembers being introduced to Herbert, a Harvard boy, and being told he will be a big brother. At this time, Herbert has already promised Jason a position in the bank and buys Caddy a car – the first one in town.
The details of the wedding invitation are then given: ‘Mr and Mrs Jason Richmond Compson announce the marriage of their daughter Candace to Mr Sydney Herbert Head on the twenty-fifth of April one thousand nine hundred and ten at Jefferson, Mississippi.’ In the past, the news comes that Benjy’s pasture has been sold so that Quentin may go to Harvard.
In the present, Quentin stops the Deacon to talk to him. After chatting, he gives one of the letters to him and asks him to pass it on to Shreve tomorrow. The chimes of the bells mark the half hour and Quentin notices the serenity.
The narrative then cuts back to ‘lying on the ground under the window bellowing’. In the past, Caddy tells Jason that Versh told her that Uncle Maury did not work as ‘he used to roll his head in the cradle’, and it is implied that Benjy did this too.
In the present, Quentin sees Shreve again and he asks Quentin what he is doing ‘all dressed up and mooning around like a prologue to a suttee’. Quentin replies he is not doing anything until tomorrow and when asked he says he is carrying a pair of half-soled shoes.
Memories then surface of his mother saying she must go away with Jason where nobody knows them and he will have a chance to grow up and forget all this. There is also a mention of a husband being found for ‘her’ (Caddy). He also remembers his mother’s stream of consciousness criticism of Caddy and how she said Benjy was punishment enough for the mother’s sins. It is also made evident that she has loved Jason as her ‘joy and salvation’. In his memory, she says Jason is more Bascomb (her family) than Compson and how the Compson line is bad blood. She also says if she takes Jason ‘he may escape this curse’. A thought (or memory) surfaces of Quentin shooting Herbert, and just as quickly the narrative moves away again.
Back in the present, Quentin remembers how Gerald’s mother tried to have Shreve moved out of the room. It shifts back to a memory of talking to Herbert and Herbert offering him money, and Quentin tells him to keep it. It is repeated again that he has shot him, has shot his voice, and then it says has shot ‘all of their voices through the floor of Caddy’s room.’
He remembers Caddy saying she is sick and ‘don’t touch me’ and just wants the promise they will not send Benjy to Jackson. She is told that she ‘can’t do it’ if she is sick and reference is made to ‘that blackguard’. She says she has to marry somebody.
He then remembers a time when he was told his leg would have to be broken again (to re-set it presumably) and his thoughts move back to Caddy saying she has to marry somebody and being asked if there have been very many. She replies she does not know how many and asks that (he) looks after Benjy and Father. The narrative switches to Father telling Quentin that women are never virgins and nature is hurting him (Quentin).
In the present, he looks in the water and thinks of the flat-irons coming floating up. He hides them under the bridge and goes back and leans on the rail. He then talks to some anglers. He asks if there is a factory around and says he has not heard the one o’clock whistle yet. They tell him there is a clock on a nearby steeple and he walks away.
His thoughts shift back to Caddy being told ‘he’ is a blackguard and liar and a scoundrel. ‘He’ cheated at cards at his club and was expelled for cheating in his exams. Caddy says she died last year. He remembers telling her that they and Benjy can go where nobody knows them and she replies ‘on what?’ She says he has to finish school at Harvard or he (Benjy) will have nothing (as his education is being paid for with the sale of his pasture). It also appears to be Caddy who says their father will be dead in a year if he does not stop drinking and he cannot ‘since I last summer’. There is also a memory of Benjy pulling at her dress and Caddy shrinking into the wall.
Analysis – Chapter Two continued
This section highlights how Caddy’s pregnancy was seen as bringing disgrace to the family and because of this a husband had to be found for her. This dominates Quentin’s thoughts and is a recurring motif of this chapter. The freedom she had as a child is now removed as a woman and the judgement against her ‘promiscuity’ is harsh and is evidenced in the memory of their mother accusing all her children except Jason of punishing her and if she leaves with him he will escape it.
Summary – Chapter Two continued
The narrative switches to the present and Quentin goes in a baker’s shop. A small foreign girl is in there and he gives her bread and a bun. He then buys her an ice cream and although she does not talk to him he talks to her and calls her ‘sister’. She continues to follow him and he asks people if they know her as she does not speak and looks for the Marshall and tries different houses to see if she lives there. He ends up giving her a quarter and runs away.
His thoughts shift back to Caddy and his ‘red hand coming up at her face’ from slapping her. In the present, he comes across the girl again. An ‘oldish’ man with a stick and a boy come running towards them. The boy, Julio, springs on Quentin and the man (Anse the Marshall) says Quentin is under arrest; Julio accuses him of stealing his sister. Quentin tries to explain he has been looking for Anse, but he still wants to arrest him. Quentin laughs and says he has to sit down.
When he recovers, he walks with Anse and the others. On the main street, Mrs Bland shouts to him from her car. Gerald, Spoade, Shreve and two girls are also in the car with her. He tells them he is under arrest and they follow as Anse takes them to the ‘Squire’. Spoade speaks up for Quentin and says how he is from the country and his father is a congregational minister. The case is dismissed after Quentin explains and then pays Julio a dollar and Anse six.
On his release, he gets in Mrs Bland’s car with the others. They pass the girl and Quentin begins laughing again. As they talk, his thoughts flit back to telling his father he has ‘committed’, and still in the past he takes out a knife and puts it to her throat and says it will take a second and will then do his own. She says ‘alright’ and as they go home ‘he’ appears. After shaking hands, Quentin leaves and runs to the bank. He puts his face close to the bank so he cannot smell the honeysuckle and Caddy appears and tells him to go home. They go home together and Quentin asks if she loves ‘him’ now. She says she does not know and he says he wishes she were dead and that he will kill her. She tries to hush him and he says there is a curse on ‘us’.
The narrative switches to Quentin seeing ‘him’ come out of the barber’s shop. They arrange to meet at the bridge at one o’clock. Caddy watches Quentin leave to meet him and she asks where he is going; ‘none of your business whore whore’ is the response (and it is not clear if this is what he said or what he thought, as with the majority of this chapter). At the bridge, Quentin tells him he has come to ask him to leave town. He hears himself say he has until sundown to leave, and on being asked what will happen if he does not, Quentin says he will kill him. His hands are shaking and he hides them. ‘He’ tells him not to take it so hard and Quentin asks if he ever had a sister and he says ‘no they’re all bitches’. Quentin goes to hit him and ‘he’ stops his hands and takes out a pistol. He shoots accurately at pieces of bark on the water. He then reloads it and hands it to Quentin, and Quentin passes out. He offers Quentin his horse but he refuses and the man leaves. Caddy appears having heard the gunshots and she tries to hold Quentin’s face. He asks if she loves ‘him’ and she does not answer. She then puts his hand against her throat, as he asks, and says his name (Dalton Ames) three times. He can feel the blood surging faster.
In the present, Shreve pumps water and Quentin bathes his injured eye. Quentin asks if he hurt him. Shreve says Quentin may have hit ‘him’, but ‘he’ then boxed the hell out of Quentin. Spoade appears and it is revealed that Quentin was fighting with Gerald and says he does not know why. Spoade tells him that the first he knew of it was when Quentin asked ‘Did you ever have a sister? Did you?’ and when Gerald said no he hit him. Shreve says he would have hit himself for talking about women and saying how tough they have it ‘without anything else they can do except lie on their backs.’
Quentin tells them to go back to the picnic and says he is not going to do anything. He also says to tell Mrs Bland he is sorry for spoiling her party. He gets on a car and watches the scenery. He thinks of how honeysuckle is ‘the saddest odour of all’ and wisteria is another one, and associates both with home. He thinks of the river and how the light on it is like a broken mirror and remembers Benjy sitting before the mirror.
Back in the quad, he hears the chimes saying ‘quarter to’. In his room, he takes out his watch and tears up the letter left by Mrs Bland. He puts gasoline on the bloodstain on his vest, then washes. He remembers a picture in a book from when they were all children and Caddy saying if she were King she would drag the people out of the dungeon and whip them. He points out ‘she never was a queen or a fairy she was always a king or a giant or a general.’
He hears the three quarters chime and his memories slip to talking to his father. This passage is without punctuation and is dominated by his father’s philosophical position. There is a passing reference to Quentin’s claim of incest and how this was not true, but said it so ‘the world would roar away’.
The last note sounds and puts his vest back on. He puts the watch in Shreve’s drawer and brushes his teeth. Before he snaps out the light (as he goes out), he realizes he has forgotten his hat and thinks of how he has to go by the post office.
Analysis – Chapter Two continued
This final part of Chapter Two explains in a complex manner how Quentin’s relationship with Caddy is tied to his sense of honor for her, and how he tried to fight for her but passed out. His claims of incest are seen to be untrue and appear to have been the means to free Caddy from the obligation of marrying as she is pregnant. Her marriage to Herbert Head is necessary – in that it would not be tolerated for her to have a child out of wedlock – and he is not the father. It is suggested that Dalton Ames is the father, but this is not made explicit.
His strength of feeling for Caddy should not be underestimated, though, and his question ‘do you have a sister?’ is one that dominates his thoughts and is behind his fight with Gerald. This over-exaggerated sense of honor for the female sex is seen to be a Southern trait, and is one that is founded on hypocrisy because of the inherent sexism involved in criticizing a woman for promiscuity when the man does not have to make a defence.
As the final references about Caddy demonstrate, she has been made a victim of the patriarchal society she has been raised in and this is made more poignant with the explanation of how as a child she would always want to be a king, or a giant, or a general. As a woman, she has less power and this is also reflected in the way she does not have a chapter devoted to her as her three brothers do.