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Autor: anton 16 May 2011
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A Psychological View of Benjyâ€™s Mental Retardation
Benjamin Compson, a character from The Sound and the Fury, is the youngest child of Jason and Caroline Compson who has round the clock supervision. His keepers say, â€œhe been three years old thirty yearsâ€ (Faulkner 17). Mental retardation is a condition that is associated with a person who develops slowly. â€œThe label mentally retarded is applied when someone is significantly below average in general intellectual functioning (IQ less than 70) and has significant deficits in adaptive functioning (American Psychiatric Association, 2000)â€ (qtd. In Huffman 306). Benjyâ€™s character matches this definition of mentally retarded perfectly. In order for psychologists to recognize personsâ€™ with mental retardation, they use the Standford-Binet Intelligence Scale to test their intelligence level. If an individual score a 70 or below on the IQ test the person is incapable of functioning properly and is referred to as mentally retarded. He is thirty-three years old with the mind of a three year old because he suffers with mental retardation. In the book, The Sound and the Fury, Benjyâ€™s mental retardation can be defined through his language development, cognitive development, and family impact.
Benjy cannot communicate with others because of his premature language development. Since he is incapable of talking to express himself, others view Benjy as an idiot. Contrary to popular belief, â€œhe know lot more than folks thinksâ€ ( Faulkner 31). According to the stages of language development in psychology, Benjy is at a stand still
in the prelinguistic stage. In the prelinguistic stage, â€œat about 2 to 5 months babies begin cooing and babblingâ€ (Huffman 295). Even though Benjy has the mind of a three year old, he exhibits the behavior of a five-month-old baby in terms of his language capabilities. He bellows all the time for one reason or another as a way to express himself. Luster, one of his keepers, constantly tries to figure out â€œwhat [Benjy is] moaning about nowâ€ (Faulkner 16). This seems to be the unanswered question on every charactersâ€™ mind in the book.
The story of the Compson family is told through Benjyâ€™s eyes. â€œHe observes scenes that subtly explain many secrets to the readerâ€ (Everett 102). For example, Benjy was there when Caddy got her drawers dirty with mud. The mud stain in Caddyâ€™s drawers was a foreshadow of doom she was due to experience in her life. Also, Benjy can see how some of his family members will be as adults just by observing certain details from when they played together as children. Out of the whole Compson family, Faulkner chose Benjy as the one to know all of the family secrets on purpose. The idea of exposing all kinds of things to a mentally retarded person, which in this case is Benjy, made perfect sense. He does not understand the significance of what he sees nor can he talk to someone about it. Therefore, the likelihood of anyone ever knowing all the things that Benjy sees is slim to none.
Benjyâ€™s sense of smell and hearing is a vital part of his existence. â€œHe does not understand all he hears, but he can comprehend certain things, chiefly namesâ€ (Everett 102). Benjy understands Caddyâ€™s name whenever he hears it. When she left Jefferson, he did not hear her name spoken in the house anymore. In order to heat his sisterâ€™s
name, Benjy began to watch golfers because they said caddy quite often which excited him. â€œBut it is with the sense of smell that Benjy discriminates and makes judgements, even though he himself does not understand why he reacts as he does or what he is implying with his reactionsâ€ (Everett 103). For example, Benjy knows when Caddy has been being permiscous because he notices that she does not smell like trees but perfume. As a result, he does not want to be around her until she smells like trees again. A psychological way to examine Benjyâ€™s senses would be through â€œHoward Gardnerâ€™s theory of multiple intelligencesâ€ (Huffman 300). Gardner believed that people come to know their world through separate intelligences. According to his theory, Benjy has naturalistic intelligence because he is in tune with nature. This goes hand in hand with his heightened sense of smell.
Unfortunately, Benjyâ€™s cognitive development was stunted at the second stage. According to Jean Piagetâ€™s four stages of cognitive development, Benjy is in the preoperational stage of development which is from the ages of two to seven. During this stage a child thinks symbolically and cannot perform basic operations on their own. His â€œmental images are internal representations (symbols) of objects and past perceptual experiences, although they are not accurate copies of those experiencesâ€ (Wadsworth 73). For example, â€œas Luster and Benjy go through the fence to the golf course, Benjy snags himself on a nail and remembers a similar experience in the pastâ€ (Tucker 192). â€œCaddy uncaught me and we crawled throughâ€ (Faulkner 4). Symbolically, the nail reminded Benjy of a time when he was with Caddy in the past even though he is with Luster in the present. His past remembrance of Caddy also illustrates that he cannot
perform operations on his own. In order to crawl through he needed Caddyâ€™s help because he could not get through on his own.
Benjyâ€™s character is egocentric. The preoperational stage also includes egocentrism. â€œThat is, the child cannot take the role of, or see the view point of anotherâ€ (Wadsworth 81). In Benjyâ€™s mind only his thoughts are correct because that is all he knows. Everything must happen his way of he will go into panic mode. An example of this would be when Luster drove to the left side instead of to the right side of the Confederate monument in Jeffersonâ€™s town square. Benjy felt like Luster was wrong when he turned left because in his mind Luster was supposed to turn right.
He is incapable of transformational reasoning. This means that â€œthe child moves from a particular perceptual event to a particular perceptual event, but cannot integrate a series of events in terms of any beginning - end relationshipsâ€ (Wadsworth 83). Faulkner uses the stream -of - consciousness writing technique to illustrate this in Benjyâ€™s character. â€œPresent events evoke memories by association, in no logical sequence; they enter his consciousness and are recorded as if they were occurring at the momentâ€ (Tuck 23). To Benjy, the order in which things are happening makes sense. So the reason why Benjy cannot determine the beginning or end to an event is, because he cannot make transformations.
Benjyâ€™s condition has a severe family impact. â€œFirst - generation research on the impact of child disability and mental retardation on families (usually mothers) presented a bleak picture of stress, burden, depression, social isolation, and psychological dysfunction (Shapiro, 1983)â€ (qtd. In Burack, et al 606). Benjy is the first member of the
Compson family to be mentally retarded which put a lot of stress on his family. Mr. & Mrs. Compson assigned people to take care of Benjy so that they would not have to. Even though he had his own set of keepers, he was still a burden on his family because they were responsible for making the right decisions in terms of Benjyâ€™s well being. His condition brought out the psychological dysfunction within the Compson family. Mr. Compson becomes an alcoholic, Mrs. Compson suffers from depression, Caddy is rebellious and permiscous, Quentin is obsessed with Caddy, and Jason is evil. After a while, Benjy is sent to a mental institution near Jackson because his family can no longer handle his condition.
Caroline Compson was a pathetic mother during Benjyâ€™s upbringing. She could not deal with the fact that she gave birth to a mentally retarded child. Throughout Benjyâ€™s life she suffered from depression. She was not a competent wife to Mr. Compson nor mother to Benjy. â€œIn her attempt to maintain her sense of dignity in the face of Mr. Compsonâ€™s imperious remarks that his family is better than hers, Caroline B. Compson becomes excessively egocentricâ€ (Everett 107). Benjy remains egocentric his whole life because of his mother. Since they are similar in this way, perhaps Benjy inherited the gene for mental retardation from Mrs. Compson while she was pregnant. This may explain why Mrs. Compson treated Benjy the way she did. Everyone else was more of a mother to Benjy except for Mrs. Compson which was his biological mother.
Caddy was Benjyâ€™s mother figure. Unlike Mrs. Compson, Caddy offered intimacy to Benjy in many ways. In Erik Eriksonâ€™s sixth stage of development, intimacy versus isolation, â€œyoung adults form intimate connections with other; if not they face isolation
and consequent self absorptionâ€ (Huffman 359). Caddy would show Benjy affection by hugging him which he liked very much. Up until Benjy was 13 years old they were allowed to sleep in the same bed together. This satisfied Benjy as far as intimacy was concerned. When they could not sleep in the same bed anymore, he became upset because he no longer had companionship. In fact, as soon as Caddy left Jefferson Benjyâ€™s world was shattered into pieces. Caddy had been the center of his world for years, but now that she is gone Benjy is faced with isolation and loneliness. Benjy suffers on the inside because he no longer has a mother.
In conclusion, Benjy was a misunderstood individual because he was mentally retarded. â€œFor Benjy, the world is sensuous; he hears, he smells, and he seesâ€ (Everett 102). Unlike his family members, Benjy does not take for granted the limited abilities that he has. He relies on his hearing, sight and sense of smell to get through life because he is unable to talk. Even though Benjy has the mind of a three year old, he had enough sense to be in the right place at the right time which enabled him to be aware of everything going on around him. Maybe if the other Compsonsâ€™ had this type of advantage, certain events that took place in their lives would have been avoided.
Burack, Jacob A., Robert M. Hodapp, and Edward Zigler, eds. Handbook of Mental Retardation and Development. Rev. ed. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Everett, Walter K. Faulknerâ€™s Art and Characters. Woodbury: Barronâ€™s Educational Series, Inc., 1969.
Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury. New York: Vintage International, 1990.
Huffman, Karen. Psychology in Action. 7th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2004.
Tuck, Dorothy. Crowellâ€™s Handbook of Faulkner. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1964.
Wadsworth, Barry J. Piagetâ€™s Theory of Cognitive and Affective Development. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Longman, 1984.
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