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In the small Southern town of Jefferson, Mississippi, seventeen-year-old Quentin Compson has lived under the tyrannical rule of her step-brother Jason ever since her mother Caddy abandoned her at birth. Feeling unloved and unwanted, Quentin detests Jason, who assumed responsibility for the household after Jason's Cajun mother married Quentin's grandfather following the death of his first wife. Compson had squandered the family fortune and Caddy, with her promiscuity, had cost the family its good name, and now Jason toils to support the decrepit estate at a store owned by Earl Scopes, who delights in the family's degradation. Also living at the house is Howard, Quentin's alcoholic, worthless uncle; Ben, Howard's mute, mentally retarded brother; Dilsey, the family's motherly housekeeper who was watched them all grow up; and Mrs. Compson, Jason's despicable, demanding mother. Quentin, on the verge of womanhood, rebels at Jason's attempts to restore dignity to the family name by making her finish school and develop into a proper young adult. One day, the carnival comes to town, and the owner pays Luster, Dilsey's little grandson and Ben's constant companion, to parade Ben around the square wearing a sign advertising the freak show. Furious, Jason orders Luster to take Ben home and confine him within the gates of the estate. Meanwhile, Charles Busch, a brawny, handsome carnival worker, catches Quentin's eye. Charlie invites Quentin into his trailer, where he brashly tries to seduce her, but Quentin resists his advances. Soon after, Quentin's mother Caddy returns to town and meets with Jason. Feigning concern for the daughter she deserted, she asks to see Quentin and Jason reluctantly agrees to bring the girl to her. After a quarrelsome dinner, Jason tells Quentin to get into the car and then speeds past Caddy, who is waiting in the park. Although Quentin recognizes Caddy, Jason refuses to stop the car. Afterward, Jason paints Caddy's motherly concern as just a ploy for a meal ticket, but nevertheless, allows her to move into the house. After a poignant reunion with her mother, Quentin begs Caddy for her help in opposing Jason but Caddy, reliant on Jason's good will, refuses to intervene. One night, Charlie comes to the house and, after plying Quentin with alcohol, begins to make love to her. Quentin's ardor is cooled, however, when she spots Ben gaping at her from the porch. Soon after, while seated along the river bank, Howard, resentful of his sister's past lovers, upbraids Caddy for tarnishing the family name. Later, after a day of shopping, Caddy stops at Earl's store and begins to flirt with him. When Earl drives Caddy home that night, he infers that he has had sex with her, prompting Jason to pummel him for his disparaging remark. After Earl drives off, Jason hears giggling coming from the woods and finds Charlie and Quentin locked in a romantic embrace. When Charlie runs off, Quentin tells Jason that he made her feel like a woman. In response, Jason passionately kisses Quentin, and then pushes her away, cruelly observing that any man could make her feel like a woman. Although Jason orders Quentin locked in her room, she sneaks out and hurries to Charlie's trailer. There, she asks him if he loves her, and after he nods yes, she asks him to run away with him and confides that she can secure $3,000 to support them. When Quentin returns home, Ben tries to strangle her, prompting Jason to decide that the time has come to institutionalize him. Dilsey, opposed to Jason's decision, tearfully bids Ben farewell. As Jason drives Ben to the mental hospital, Quentin ransacks his room and steals a suitcase filled with money that Caddy had been sending her over the years. Upon discovering the theft, Jason rushes to the carnival and tells Charlie he must choose between Quentin or the money. When Charlie picks the money, Jason triumphantly drives off, and Charlie then tries to convince Quentin to turn over the money and leave with him. Finally realizing Charlie's true nature, Quentin spurns him and comes home with the cash-filled suitcase. After Jason tells Quentin that he has been saving the money for her future, she replies that she is now mature and deserves respect and affection. When Jason asserts that he has molded her into a self-sufficient woman, Quentin thinks to herself that she may have a future with him.