Character Analysis Quentin Compson


Quentin, the oldest of the Compson children, is like Shakespeare's Hamlet. He gets bogged down in the act of contemplation; he thinks too long upon a subject and cannot bring any of his acts to completion. He ends his life by drowning himself in the river. The question is, what caused him to commit suicide?

Quentin is the only character in the novel who is concerned with honor, with justice, and with love; he is the only one who searches into the intricacies of life and attempts to find some ordered meaning from life. He is the only Compson who feels pride in the family's once-noble past and the only one who feels the need to discover some reason for the family's present downfall.

In his monologue, Quentin tries to overcome the destructive, nihilistic philosophy advocated by his father and to discover some meaningful values in life by which he can live and affirm rather than negate the existence of humanity. But every time he tries to do something positive, he is reminded of some negative statement made by his father. Quentin wishes to reject his father's philosophy, but the world he lives in seems constantly to affirm Mr. Compson's view of the world. Dalton Ames said that all women are bitches; Mr. Compson said the same thing in different words. Gerald Bland treats all women as bitches, and Mr. Compson says that all women expect to be mistrusted. Quentin looks at life, and everything he sees seems to reaffirm Mr. Compson's cynical view of life. He can find no ethical system of values that will compensate for his father's negative view of the world. All the acts that he observes in the modern world seem to affirm his father's views. Finally, when Quentin feels that life is useless, he resolves to commit suicide.

Note, however, that Quentin does love his sister, Caddy. When he can find no love from his mother, and his father rejects all things in life, Quentin turns to Caddy for love and understanding. His obsession with Caddy's virginity is symbolic of his desire to find something pure and unspoiled to believe in, and when Caddy fails Quentin, he again wonders if his father might be right. Quentin's dilemma, therefore, is not just with Caddy's honor, but with the causes that led her to violate her chastity. If he can find out what led Caddy to her promiscuity, then he can bring all events of the past into proper focus and evolve a workable set of values. To do this, however, Caddy's dishonor must be taken into consideration. Mr. Compson says that time heals all wounds and makes a person forget all grief. Quentin does not want to forget because if he does forget, then the whole experience becomes meaningless. Therefore, he must kill himself so that he won't have an opportunity to forget the horror and grief that he now feels over Caddy's dishonor. If grief can be forgotten, then the world is meaningless, nothing is worth living for, and suicide is the only act left for man.