Summary of April Eighth, 1928:
The section opens with Dilsey standing on the stoop of her house in her church clothes, then going back inside to change into her work clothes. It is raining and gray outside. Dilsey goes into the kitchen and brings some firewood with her; she can barely walk. She begins to make breakfast and Mrs. Compson calls her from upstairs; she wants her to fill her hot water bottle. Dilsey struggles up the stairs to get the hot water bottle, saying that Luster has overslept after the night's reveries. She goes outside and calls Luster; he appears from the cellar looking guilty and she tells him to get some firewood and take care of Benjy. He brings in a huge armful of firewood and leaves. A while later, Mrs. Compson calls her again, and she goes out to the stairs. Mrs. Compson wants to know when Luster will be up to take care of Benjy. Dilsey begins to slowly climb the stairs again, while Mrs. Compson inquires whether she had better go down and make breakfast herself. When Dilsey is halfway up the stairs, Mrs. Compson reveals that Benjy is not even awake yet, and Dilsey clambers back down. Luster emerges from the cellar again. She makes him get another armful of wood and go up to tend Benjy. The clock strikes five times, and Dilsey says "eight o'clock" (274). Luster appears with Benjy, who is described as big and pale, with white-blonde hair cut in a child's haircut and pale blue eyes. She sends Luster up to see if Jason is awake yet; Luster reports that he is up and angry already because one of the windows in his room is broken. He accuses Luster of breaking it, but Luster swears he didn't.
Jason and Mrs. Compson come to the table for breakfast. Although Mrs. Compson usually allows Quentin to sleep in on Sundays, Jason insists that she come and eat with them now. Dilsey goes upstairs to wake her. Mrs. Compson tells him that the black servants are all taking the afternoon off to go to church; the family will have to have a cold lunch. Upstairs Dilsey calls to Quentin, but receives no answer. Suddenly, Jason springs up and mounts the stairs, shouting for Quentin. There is still no response and he comes back down to snatch the key to her room from his mother. He fumbles at the lock and then finally opens the door. The room is empty. Jason runs to his own room and begins throwing things out of the closet. Mrs. Compson looks around Quentin's note for a suicide note, convinced that history is repeating itself. In his room, Jason finds that his strongbox has been broken into. He runs to the phone and calls the sheriff, telling him that he has been robbed, and that he expects the sheriff to get together a posse of men to help him search for Quentin. He storms out.
Luster comments that he bets Jason beat Quentin and now he is going for the doctor. Dilsey tells him to take Benjy outside. Luster tells her that he and Benjy saw Quentin climb out her window and down the pear tree last night. Dilsey goes back to her cabin and changes into her church clothes again. She calls for Luster and finds him trying to play a saw like one of the players did at the show last night. She tells him to get his cap and to come with her; they meet up with Frony and head to church, Benjy in tow. Dilsey carries herself with pride among the other blacks, and some of the children dare each other to touch Benjy. They take their seats as the mass starts.
The sermon will be delivered by a visiting preacher, Reverend Shegog. The preachers process in, and Reverend Shegog is so slight and nondescript as to attract no attention. But when he speaks, he holds their attention. First he speaks without accent "like a white man," describing the "recollection and the blood of the Lamb," then when this doesn't have much of an effect, he modulates into black dialect and delivers the same sermon again, describing the major events of Jesus' life and his resurrection. When he finishes, Benjy is rapt with attention and Dilsey is quietly weeping. As the leave the church, she states "I've seed de first en de last . . . . I seed de beginning, en now I sees de endin" (297).
They return to the house. Dilsey goes up to Mrs. Compson's room and checks on her; Mrs. Compson, still convinced that Quentin has killed herself, asks Dilsey to pick up the Bible that has fallen off the bed. Dilsey goes back downstairs and prepares lunch for the family, commenting that Jason will not be joining them.
Meanwhile, Jason is in his car driving to the sheriff's. When he gets there, nobody is prepared to leave as Jason requested. He enters the station, and the sheriff tells him that he will not help him find Quentin, because it was her own money she stole and because Jason drove her away. Jason drives away toward Mottson, the town where the traveling show will be next. He begins to get a headache and remembers that he has forgotten to bring any camphor with him. By the time he gets to Mottson he cannot see very well; he finds two Pullman cars that belong to the show and he enters one. Inside is an old man, and he asks him where Quentin and her boyfriend are. The man becomes angry and threatens him with a knife. Jason hits him on the head and he slumps to the floor. He runs from the car, and the old man comes out of the car with a hatchet in his hand. They struggle, and Jason falls to the ground. Some show people haul him to his feet and push him away. One of the men tells him that Quentin and her boyfriend aren't there, that they have left town. Jason goes back to his car and sits down, but he can't see to drive. He calls to some passing boys, asking if they will drive him back to Jackson for two dollars; they refuse. He sits a while longer in the car. A black man in overalls comes up to him and says that he will drive him for four dollars, but Jason refuses, then eventually acquiesces.
Back at the house, Luster takes Benjy out to his "graveyard," which consists of two blue glass bottles with jimson weeds sticking out of them. Luster hides one of the bottles behind his back, and Benjy starts to howl; Luster puts it back. He takes Benjy by the golf course and they watch the men playing. When one of them yells "caddie," Benjy begins to cry again. Frustrated, Luster repeats Caddy's name over and over, making him cry even louder. Dilsey calls them and they go to her cabin. Dilsey rocks Benjy and strokes his hair, telling Luster to go get his favorite slipper. When he begins to cry again, Dilsey asks Luster where T. P. is (T. P. is supposed to take Benjy to the graveyard as he does every Sunday). Luster tells her that he can drive the surrey instead of T. P., and she makes him promise to be good. They put Benjy into the surrey and hand him a flower to hold, and Luster climbs into the driver's seat. Dilsey takes the switch away from him and tells him that the horse knows the way. As soon as they are out of sight of the house, Luster stops the horse and picks a switch from the bushes along the road, then climbs back into the driver's seat, carrying himself like royalty. They approach the square and pass Jason in his car by the side of the road. Luster, carried away in his pride, turns the horse to the left of the statue in the square instead of to the right, breaking the pattern that Benjy is used to. Benjy begins to howl. As his voice gets louder and louder, Jason comes running and turns the horse around. When the objects they pass begin to go in the right direction again, Benjy hushes.
Analysis of April Eighth, 1928:
Readers commonly refer to this section of the novel as "Dilsey's section," although it is narrated in the third person. Dilsey plays a prominent role in this section, and even if she does not narrate this section, she serves a sort of moral lens through which to view the other characters in the section and, in fact, in the novel as a whole. The section contrasts Dilsey's slow, patient progress through the day with Jason's irrational pursuit of Quentin and Mrs. Compson's self-centered flightiness. As we watch Dilsey slowly climb up the stairs as Mrs. Compson watches to tend to Benjy, only to discover halfway up that he isn't even awake yet, we begin to sympathize with this wizened old woman. As we see her tenderly wiping Benjy's mouth as he eats, we come to see her as the only truly good person in the book. Even Caddy, the object of Benjy and Quentin's obsessions, was not as selflessly kind or as reliable as Dilsey. Throughout the course of the section, she is witness to any number of the Compson family's flaws, yet she never judges them. The only statement she makes that resembles a judgement is her concern that Luster has inherited the "Compson devilment." Instead she stands calmly in the midst of the chaos of the disintegrating household, patiently bearing what she is dealt "like cows do in the rain" (272). Unlike any of the Compson family, Dilsey is capable of extending outside herself and her own needs. Each of the brothers is selfish in his own way; Benjy because he cannot take care of himself and relies on her to, Quentin because he is too wrapped up in his ideals, Jason because of his greed and anger. Mrs. Compson is even worse, passive-aggressively manipulating the members of the family as she lies in her sickbed. And Miss Quentin is too troubled and lonely to sympathize with anyone else. Dilsey, however, in her kindness, ungrudgingly takes care of each family member with tenderness and respect.
In her selflessness, Dilsey conforms to the Christian ideal of goodness in self-sacrifice; therefore it is not surprising that the section takes place on Easter Sunday. This section of the novel resounds with biblical allusions and symbols and revolves around the sermon delivered by Reverend Shegog at Dilsey's church. The sermon profoundly affects Dilsey, who leaves the church in tears. Perhaps this is because the sermon seems to describe perfectly the disintegrating Compson family. Benjamin is the youngest son described as being "sold into Egypt" in the Appendix to the novel; here Shegog lectures on the Israelites who "passed away in Egypt" (295). Matthews notes that Jason is a "wealthy pauper" (11), fitting Shegog's description: "wus a rich man: whar he now, O breddren? Wus a po man: whar he now, O sistuhn?" (295). He has embezzled thousands of dollars from his sister, yet he lives like a poor man. Even Mrs. Compson, Matthews claims, is described in Shegog's sermon: "I hears de weepin en de lamentation of de po mammy widout de salvation en de word of God" (296). Matthews even suggests that Quentin is implied in the voice of one congregation member that rises "like bubbles rising in water" (11).
Much has been made of the religious symbolism in this chapter. Aside from Shegog's sermon there is Benjy's age: he is 33 years old, the age Christ was when he died. Like Christ, or like a priest, he is celibate. And he seems to be one of the only "pure" members of the family, incapable of doing anything evil merely because of his handicaps. But he is not the only Christlike member of the family. Quentin, the daughter of the woman whose brother wanted to remember her as both virginal and motherly, has an unknown father, just as Christ, the son of the Virgin Mary, had no earthly father. Like Christ, Quentin suffers a misunderstood and mistreated existence. But most compelling is the fact of her disappearance on Easter Sunday. Just as the disciples found Christ's tomb empty, the wrappings from his body discarded on the floor, Jason opens Quentin's room to find it empty: "the bed had not been disturbed. On the floor lay a soiled undergarment of cheap silk a little too pink, from a half open bureau drawer dangled a silk stocking" (282). If Quentin is a Christ figure, however, she seems to have a very un-Christlike effect on her family. Whereas the pure and virginal Christ's disappearance signaled the end of death and the beginning of new life in heaven, the promiscuous Quentin's disappearance signals the destruction of her family.
Other elements of the section seem more apocalyptic: there is Shegog's name, for instance, which sounds much like the Gog and Magog mentioned in the Book of Revelation. There is the story's preoccupation with the end of the Compson family: Jason is the last of the Compsons, and he is childless, his house literally rotting away. And finally there is Dilsey's comment that she has seen the first and the last, the beginning and the end: although the meaning of this statement is unclear, she seems to be discussing the end of the Compson family as well as her life, and perhaps the end of the world. Dilsey has borne witness to the alpha and the omega of the Compson family.
Nevertheless, none of this religious symbolism is particularly well-developed. It is impossible to tell who, if anyone, is the Christ figure in this Easter story. It is impossible to know what will happen to Quentin, or if the family will really dissolve as Dilsey seems to think it will. Nor is it particularly clear why Reverend Shegog's sermon has such an effect on Dilsey or what his actual message is; he has seen the recollection and the blood of the Lamb, but why is this important? What should the congregation do about it? What can they do in order to see this themselves?
The problem with this last section is that it doesn't satisfactorily bring the story of the Compson family to a close. The reader is left with a glimpse of the family's psychology and slow demise, but no real answers, no redemption. We don't know what will happen to the family or its servants: will Jason send Benjy to Jackson? Will Dilsey die? Will Quentin get away? John Matthews has pointed out that the story doesn't really end but keeps repeating itself. This is partially due to its nature as a stream-of-consciousness narrative; none of the three brothers' sections is purely chronological, therefore when the story ends their memories continue on. Matthews claims that the fourth section does not "[complete] the shape of the fiction's form" or "retrospectively order" the rest of the book; in fact it does not have much to do with the first two sections at all (9). The Compson clock ticks away toward the family's imminent demise, but it chimes the wrong hours, mangling the metaphor. Reverend Shegog's sermon does not have the intended effect, so he modifies it and tells it again: it "succeeds because it is willing to say, and then say again" (12). The story doesn't end; its loose ends are not tied together. Instead it constantly repeats. Faulkner himself said that the novel grew because he wrote the story of Caddy once (Benjy's section), and that didn't work, so he wrote it again (Quentin's section), but that wasn't enough either, so he wrote it again (Jason's section), and finally wrote it again (Dilsey's section), and even this wasn't good enough. The story of Caddy and the Compsons does not end, but repeats itself eternally in its characters' memories.