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William Faulkner ( 1897- 1962) achieved a reputation as one of the greatest American
novelists of the 20th century largely based on his series of novels about a fictional region of
Mississippi called Yoknapatawpha County, centered on the fictional town of Jefferson. The
greatest of these novels—among them The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, and
Absalom, Absalom!—rank among the finest novels of world literature.

Faulkner was especially interested in moral themes relating to the ruins of the Deep South in
the post-Civil War era. His prose style—which combines long, uninterrupted sentences with
long strings of adjectives, frequent changes in narration, many recursive asides, and a frequent
reliance on a sort of objective stream-of- consciousness technique, whereby the inner
experience of a character in a scene is contrasted with the scene's outward appearance—ranks
among his greatest achievements. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

His novel may not have elements of the supernatural like a classic gothic novel, but there are
definitely ghosts (in the form of people haunting other people); super spooky moments
(Quentin and Miss Rosa at the "big house"); and a serious sense of dread. Everyone is a little
off-kilter, suffering from various forms of obsession, arrested development, and bitterness.

The big gothic element is the house, which acts almost like a character in the novel. Each
person projects his or her own feelings onto that big house: it's a dream, a nightmare, a prison,
and a safe haven. Because Sutpen built it, the house suffers from something like an evil spirit:
it's got some really bad mojo. In fact, Faulkner believed that, because of the legacy of slavery,
the entire South had evil spirits and everyone there was haunted by that violent past. And the
fact that Sutpen has slaves build the house and funds the whole deal through dubious means
implies that Sutpen's Hundred is a place of particularly bad blood. And of course, in typical
Southern gothicfashion, Absalom, Absalom! features a lot of ruins – not just crumbling houses
and graveyards, but also demolished lives.

I.b Tragedy

Sutpen is a character with grand plans: what he calls his "design." However, like every tragic
figure, Sutpen has a so-called "tragic flaw." But what exactly is Sutpen's tragic flaw? Some
critics believe that it's innocence or naiveté: you know, making a big deal out of not being let
in the front door, marrying a woman who he doesn't realize is part black… the list goes on.
On the whole, Sutpen tends to catch on to things kind of late in the game. Other critics claim
that Sutpen's tragic flaw is his arrogance. The fact that he believes he can ride to the top, treat
humans like objects, and behave like an animal in a civilized world indicates a certain self-
centeredness on his part. He can only see the world through his own desires. Whether it's
innocence or arrogance (or something else altogether), Sutpen definitely has a tragic flaw,
which leads to his big, ugly downfall.

Ic.Folklore, Legend, and Mythology

In Mr. Compson's narrative more than anywhere else, Sutpen's story is told as a Greek
tragedy, drawing on oral tradition to make sense of a grand episode or a tragic hero. His story
is driven by the actions of a larger-than-life, ambitious man concerned with fate and eternity.
He must fulfill his design, he will be thwarted by a fatal flaw (an "ancient curse"), and he is
partly motivated by the desire to create a genealogy that will last for generations to come.
This is definitely the stuff of legends.

I d.Modernism

Modernist Literature refers to literature written between 1899 and 1945, and involving
experimentation with the traditional novel format. Modernist literature plays with time and
order, perspective, and point of view. There is lot of play with form, it was more common to
see a fragmented plot than, say, a clear beginning, middle, and end. Many critics see these
radical experiments as a response to the violence of the World Wars. Here are just a few of
the ways that Absalom, Absalom! fits snugly into this category of modernist experimentation:
multiple narrators, stream of consciousness narrative, complex play with time, long sentences,
and persistent examination of notions of truth and reality.

II. Summary

In 1833, a wild, imposing man named Thomas Sutpen comes to Jefferson, Mississippi, with a
group of slaves and a French architect in tow. He buys a hundred square miles of land from an
Indian tribe, raises a manor house, plants cotton, and marries the daughter of a local merchant,
and within a few years is entrenched among the local aristocracy. Sutpen has a son and a
daughter, Henry and Judith, who grow up in a life of uncultivated ease in the northern
Mississippi countryside. Henry goes to college at the University of Mississippi in 1859, and
meets a sophisticated fellow student named Charles Bon, whom he befriends and brings home
for Christmas. Charles meets Judith, and over time, an engagement between them is assumed.
But Sutpen realizes that Bon is actually his own son—Henry and Judith's half-brother—from
a previous marriage which he abandoned when he discovered that his wife had negro blood.
He tells Henry that the engagement cannot be, and that Bon is Henry's own brother; Henry
reacts with outrage, refusing to believe that Bon knew all along and willingly became engaged
to his own sister. Henry repudiates his birthright, and he and Bon flee to New Orleans. When
war breaks out, they enlist, and spend four hard years fighting for the Confederacy as the
South crumbles around them. At the end of the war, Sutpen (a colonel) finds his son and
reveals to him that not only is Bon his and Judith's half-brother, he is also, in part, a black

That knowledge makes Henry revolt against Bon in a way that even the idea of incest did not,
and on the day Bon arrives to marry Judith, Henry murders him in front of the gates of the
Sutpen plantation. Sutpen returns to a broken house, and becomes a broken—though still
forceful—man; he slides slowly into alcoholism, begins an affair with a fifteen-year-old white
girl named Milly, and continues in that vein until, following the birth of his and Milly's
daughter, he is murdered by Milly's grandfather Wash Jones in 1869.

Decades later, in 1909, Quentin Compson is a twenty-year-old man, the grandson of Sutpen's
first friend in the country (General Compson), who is preparing to leave Jefferson to attend
Harvard. He is summoned by Miss Rosa Coldfield, the sister of Sutpen's wife Ellen (and
briefly Sutpen's fiancee herself), to hear the story of how Sutpen destroyed her family and his
own. Over the following weeks and months, Quentin is drawn deeper and deeper into the
Sutpen story, discussing it with his father, thinking about it, and later telling it in detail to his
Harvard roommate Shreve. The story is burned into his brain the night he goes with Miss
Rosa to the Sutpen plantation, where they find Henry Sutpen— now an old man—waiting to
die. Months later, Rosa attempts to return for Henry with an ambulance, but Clytie, Thomas
Sutpen's daughter with a slave woman and now a withered old woman herself, sets fire to the
manor house, killing herself and Henry, and bringing the Sutpen dynasty to a fiery end.

III.Major Themes


This comes to be the central theme of the "house" of Sutpen and the "house" of the South.
According to the final and most complete Sutpen legend, Henry Sutpen killed Charles Bon
and brought down his father's dynasty to prevent him from marrying Judith--not because
Charles was their half-brother, but because Charles had a bit of black blood. This revelation
makes it clear how the values of the South have affected not only Henry Sutpen, but also the
narrator of the story, Quentin Compson. Faulkner leaves room for some ambiguity as to
whether or not Charles Bon actually had black blood, thereby making it clear that the even the
suggestion of black blood is enough to put someone in the South beyond the pale in a horribly
destructive way. Race is a central theme in many Faulkner works, including his famed A
Light in August. Faulkner recognizes that race is the central problem for the South in the post-
Civil War period, and that without a healthy discussion of this topic, the South will never
move forward.


This theme is weaved into the very structure of the book. Each character tells the Sutpen
legend from his or her own memory; each character exercises selective memory. Both Miss
Rosa and Mr. Compson omit important details from their stories and the implication is that
Quentin does as well. Memory plays an important role in the plotline of the book as well:
Thomas Sutpen's memories of Charles Bon stir him to follow the young man back to New
Orleans and make crucial discoveries, Miss Rosa has lived her whole life obsessed by
memories, and Quentin is attempting to escape his own memories by fleeing to the North, and


The history of the South, and especially of the Civil War, forms a compelling backdrop to the
book. It is intriguing, however, that Faulkner does not make a huge effort to ground the novel
in the hard-and-fast dates, locations, and events that many great historical novels do. Instead,
Faulkner's goal is to present an emotional history of the South that matches the strength and
power of the factual history.

"The South"

Quentin is asked, over and over again by Northerners at Harvard, about the South. "What's it
like there." When his roommate Shreve asks him to talk about the South, Quentin responds by
telling him the story of the Sutpen legend as he knows it. And in telling this story, Quentin
exhibits all the ambivalence, love, and hatred towards the region that most Southerners have.
It is also important that Quentin tells the story of Sutpen, unknowingly, as a metaphor for the
South and its post-Civil War history and memory.

The structure of this book is a series of different, intertwining narratives. Each narrator brings
his or her own set of preoccupations, misinformed knowledge, and interests to the narrative.
As a result, there are three different stories to piece together. Crucial to this theme is the role
of the reader him or herself--Faulkner expects you to participate in restructuring the Sutpen
legend and, through this action, understand how biased each narrative, each memory, each
history, is to each individual.


Sutpen's "design" rules his life and causes his downfall. The futility of directing one's life
towards an idea or a "design" without emotional concern for other human beings is well-
illustrated through the figure of Sutpen, who is unable to engage the people that surround him
as people, rather than as objects. Sutpen's failure to achieve his design strictly based on his
will is proof that the only designs that succeed in life are those that account for people as
humans rather than as objects.

Haunted House

The original title for this book was Dark House, symbolizing both the work's gothic roots and
its depiction of the "dark house" of the South. Sutpen's haunted house on Sutpen's Hundred is
a metaphor for the South and all of the sins that it is responsible for, including slavery and the
repudiation of the black "sons" of the South. Just as Sutpen's haunted house fell because it
failed to reconcile the black sons with the white, the South, too, fell for the same reason.


Perhaps the chief problem in reading this novel is the complexity of the narration. It is not
immediately apparent that Faulkner is using at least three narrators besides that of his own
voice.The three main narrators are 1) Miss Rosa Coldfield, 2) Mr. Compson (Quentin's
father), and 3) Quentin Compson. There are other helpers. For example, in Quentin's section,
his roommate is always projecting himself into the story and offering his views. Thus, we can
add another narrator in the person of Shreve, Quentin's roommate, and yet another narrator in
that each individual reader becomes one of the narrators as Faulkner forces us to add our own
interpretation to the events. And of course, throughout all the narrations, there is the voice of
the author, William Faulkner. Let us now examine the three principal narrators (or narrations).

Miss Rosa's Narration

The first and most fundamental narration is Miss Rosa's. Unlike the Compsons, she is an
active participant in the events narrated; therefore her approach, being the earliest and the
closest to the actual story, is more distorted than the other narrations because she is unable to
view the story with objectivity.

Consequently, in order to eliminate the distortions from the truth in Miss Rosa's narration, it is
necessary to ask when she started viewing Sutpen as a demon. Her narration must be viewed
with the realization that the forty-three years of her life since that outrageous request were
years during which she brooded upon the events and shaped them in her mind so as to place
the burden of guilt upon Sutpen. She can find no other answer for the collapse of the entire
Coldfield family other than to blame the demon and some hostile destiny. Consequently, she
is constantly viewing with astonishment not just her acceptance but even the circumstances
which led her to consider the possibility of marriage with Sutpen.

What Miss Rosa failed to understand when attributing the Coldfield downfall to Sutpen was
her complete and irrational romanticism. In fact, the entire Coldfield family must be viewed
as romantics. Miss Rosa, therefore, inherited a romantic nature which was heightened by the
strictness of her early life, the guilt which she felt for causing her mother's death, and the
hatred she felt for her father.

Miss Rosa's extreme romanticism is also seen in her reaction to the engagement of Charles
and Judith. She alleviated her romantic frustrations by projecting her romantic dreams into the
Judith-Charles Bon marriage and she became "all polymath love's androgynous advocate."
For Miss Rosa, Sutpen and Bon held one quality in common. Both were figures with whom
she had had very little or no contact and who lived in a distant and strange world. Bon was the
epitome of the romantic and dashing hero; consequently, Miss Rosa put all her dreams into
this union. As the complete romanticist, Miss Rosa viewed the boredom and tedium of her life
and projected her vicarious dreams into the wedding. But then the marriage was destroyed,
and once more Miss Rosa's dreams were shattered.

Miss Rosa had only one more chance to live in her romantic world. Sutpen's proposal was her
last chance to bring the "living fairy tale" not into "frustration's vicarious recompense" but
into a living reality. But then Sutpen makes his outrageous request that they try to beget a
male child before marriage. Since Miss Rosa was the romanticist rather than the moralist, it
was her romantic nature, not her moral sense, that was outraged by Sutpen's request because
now all her romantic dreams were destroyed by the practical proposal. Therefore, even though
her ascription of evil to Sutpen is essentially correct in the total view of the novel, her reasons
for ascribing this evil to Sutpen are the effect of her personal disillusionment and are not the
basic reasons for his defects. To Miss Rosa, Sutpen's evil derives basically from his failure to
become the romantic chevalier for the entire Coldfield family. Consequently, she views the
myth as it directly affects the downfall of the Coldfield family and looks at the story in search
of a reason for the family's destruction.

Miss Rosa's main distortion or divergence from reality is her belief that Sutpen's refusal to
allow the Judith-Bon marriage was "without rhyme or reason." In later life, she looks back on
Sutpen as possessing some superhuman and demonic quality which predetermined the fates of
everyone with whom he came into contact. An air of determinism (if not fatalism) pervades
Miss Rosa's story, and she is never able to give a logical explanation of how the entire family
was destroyed. Therefore, the myth, the past, or history has only one meaning to Miss Rosa: it
is proof that man has no control over his destiny and that man is the victim of the hostile and
irrational forces of the universe.

Since Miss Rosa's connections with the Sutpen myth are the earliest chronologically, her
narration is covered essentially in the earliest sections of the novel. By the end of the fifth
chapter, she fades from the action except as a point of reference. Likewise, it is not until the
sixth chapter that Quentin, the most recently affected of the narrators, begins to emerge as the
prominent and most capable interpreter. But before Quentin assumes his full role, we have
Mr. Compson's narration.

Mr. Compson's Narration

Mr. Compson serves as the generation once removed from the myth. Unlike Miss Rosa, he is
not close enough to it to be directly affected by it; and unlike Quentin, he is not far enough
away from it to view it seriously as an integral part of his past and heritage. Whereas Miss
Rosa's interpretation must be sifted through extreme romanticism on the one hand and
extreme fatalism on the other hand, Mr. Compson's narration, in addition to giving more
factual information, objectifies much of Miss Rosa's distorted information. He finds the myth
insignificant except as an ironic commentary on the foibles of human nature and views the
whole myth with a certain ironic detachment and sardonic cynicism. Unlike Quentin, he
refuses to view the story as important or as possessing any direct bearing upon the present
world. His narration, however, is connected with Miss Rosa's in that both view man as being
subjected to some preordained and capricious fate.

To Mr. Compson, the worth of the story lies in Sutpen's futile attempt to create and to bring to
fruition a personal design which does not involve or invoke any outside help — a design
which if successful would indicate that man can control his destiny. That Sutpen's design
failed in spite of Sutpen's great determination was proof to Mr. Compson of the weakness of
the human race — of man's inability to determine his fate. Therefore, for Mr. Compson, the
Sutpen myth emphasized how little control man has over his destiny and provides him with a
humorous and incongruous anecdote on human fallibility.

Quentin's Narration

Quentin's narration brings the story into full perspective and provides the additional facts
which were missing from the other interpretations — some of the facts coming from the
grandfather who had not revealed them to Mr. Compson, some from Quentin's own
investigations, and some from his talk with Henry Sutpen. But Quentin is more than just
another narrator; he, in some ways, is as directly involved as was Miss Rosa Coldfield. Unlike
Mr. Compson, Quentin realizes that his is the same land, the same atmosphere, the same
world in which Sutpen lived; that this story and its implications are part of his heritage which
cannot be ignored. The Sutpen story had been made a more integral part of his heritage
through his grandfather's direct involvement with Sutpen. Quentin had received his basic
impressions of the myth through his father's and grandfather's recounting of the Sutpen story
so that he has finally become so involved in the story that he has developed resistance to
listening to it again.

When asked to tell about the South, Quentin chose this story not only because of his
involvement in it but also because it illustrated certain facets of man's relationship to the past.
The fact that Quentin chose this particular story to illustrate what the "South is like" is a
strong indication that he views this story as 1) having a direct bearing upon the present (both
in a personal manner and in a general sociological manner) and 2) as having a direct
correlation with the history and downfall of the entire South.

Quentin also chose the Sutpen story because he hopes that he will be able, with the help of
Shreve, to objectify the story and discover what meaning the myth has for him. This task is
made easier for him since he has removed himself from the immediate environment of the
story. Quentin realizes that the present evils of the modern world are inherited because those
who preceded him failed to distinguish between good and evil. Even though he feels a certain
responsibility and personal involvement in the myth, he is still unable to objectify and
determine accurately the reasons for the failure of Sutpen's design. Therefore, by examining
the life and career of Sutpen, his rise and the causes of his defeat, Quentin hopes to discover
some answer to the present. And in examining Sutpen's career, Quentin also examines the
history and morals of the South.

Both Quentin and Mr. Compson viewed the old South as more heroic and containing people
of mammoth import but who were also victims of the southern system. Faulkner implies that
modern man has lost a certain amount of the old heroic qualities connected with the past.
However, the man of the past was also a victim of circumstances. And because of Quentin's
desire to analyze these heroic qualities and to discover how the man of the present has lost
these qualities, he also investigates the amount of responsibility a man of the present should
feel for the sins and evils of his ancestors.

V. Myth in Faulkner's Work

Faulkner wished the reader to view this story as an old established legend. But this is almost
impossible because the story is unknown. So how can he convey the idea of myth and legend?
Faulkner wanted to show man interpreting and reinterpreting his past. But first, he must
establish the history which is to be examined. In the first chapter of the novel, Faulkner
creates his story of the past, and then, as the novel progresses, presents his interpretations of
the story. By the end of the first chapter, he has already given all the basic facts of the story,
and by constant repetitions of the basic elements has endowed the story with a mythic quality.
It was Faulkner's purpose to force the reader to accept the Sutpen story as an old established
myth so that through the remainder of the story the reader would become involved in the
reinterpretation of this ancient and familiar myth.Besides the use of constant repetition,
Faulkner used other devices to establish a mythic quality: elements from the ancient myths,
names of some characters from the Greeks, the title from the Hebrew, and the use of three
interpreters — Miss Rosa, Mr. Compson, and Quentin each narrate part of the story and
attempt to interpret it — all contribute toward establishing a mythic tone. Thus by the end of
the first chapter, Faulkner has already started treating his tale as an established myth, in that
lesser parts of the history are now revealed for further interpretation. And also, by now, the
reader has all the information that a member of a Greek audience would possess when
attending the theater to see the dramatist's reinterpretation of the House of Atreus or Oedipus
myths. And in the fashion of the Greek dramatist, each of the interpreters (who also serve as
narrators) gives his own particular interpretation of the myth. Therefore, using Quentin as the
final interpreter and having Quentin reiterate his relation to the story (it was a part of his
heritage) again forces us — the readers — to accept the myth as a part of our heritage. The
novel diverges most significantly from the Greek method of presenting the myth in the most
prominent inconsistency — the motivation each narrator attributes to Sutpen as the reason that
Sutpen refused to allow the marriage of Judith and Bon. But this variance in each narrator's
interpretation is due mainly to the different amount of information available to each. But on
the basic level, the novel is still analogous to the manner in which the Greek dramatist
approached his material.

Many readers find that Faulkner's style is the most difficult aspect of this particular novel to
overcome. In fact, Faulkner's style throughout many of his novels has been a restraining
hindrance for many readers.What Faulkner attempts to do is to adjust his style to his subject
matter. Therefore, to see how his style functions in this particular novel, we must review
briefly his approach to his subject.We have already seen that Faulkner does not begin his
story at the beginning. Likewise, he does not use a straightforward method of relating the
story. In other words, he will tell the reader a little about a certain event, and then he will drop
it and later return to the event and tell the reader more and then drop it and then later return
once more and tell more. During this technique of circumlocution (that is, a technique
whereby the author approaches his material in circular movements rather than heading
directly to the heart of the story), the reader gradually becomes aware of events, facts,
motivations, and emotions.

This type of technique would fall very flat if Faulkner used a simple expository prose. Part of
the thrill and excitement of the novel is that the style is therefore adapted to the subject matter
and the emotions. As the subject matter is told in circular movements, so is the style involved
and circular. Every sentence is almost as involved as is the entire novel; every sentence
reflects the complexity of the subject matter. And every sentence reminds the reader that this
story is not one that can be told with simplicity.

The complexity of the narration is another way Faulkner uses to indicate and to suggest the
complexity that man (particularly Quentin) must face in arriving at the truth. Truth is not easy
to discover. The Sutpen story conceals many important revelations and truths which need to
be revealed. The style, then, emphasizes the difficulty which man must encounter when he
seeks after the real truth.

Possibly the story is too great or too violent to be told in a straight, simple narration. If we
were suddenly confronted in simple factual prose with the facts of incest, possible
homosexuality, fratricide, lust, etc., we would think the story too incredible and too fantastic
to believe. But with the difficulty of untangling Faulkner's complex style, suddenly the very
complexity of his style makes the bizarre plot more believable.

And finally, the style reflects the way which the story actually occurred. That is to say, Sutpen
appeared in Jefferson for one day; nothing was known about him for a long time. Then
gradually a little information was discovered by General Compson. Then later, years later,
more information was uncovered. Then the death of Bon was announced to the town, but
again it was years before anyone knew all of the facts surrounding this death. Faulkner's style
suggests also the way that story actually occurred, that is, from fragment to fragment.

If, then, the difficult sentences retard the reader at first, they are supposed to. It would be
dangerous to go too rapidly into the story. If the sentences surround you and envelop you and
entangle you in the story, this is Faulkner's method of making you become a part of the story.
And before long, the reader becomes accustomed to the style and becomes, as does Shreve,
one of the narrators or one of the participants. We become or we identify with the strong,
pulsating rhythms of his style until we become totally emerged in Faulkner's strange but vivid
world so that when we follow Henry and Bon onto the battlefield, it is not just Shreve and
Quentin following them, but it is also we the readers who are also following them. Faulkner's
style has served its purpose: First, it held the reader back and confused him, and then
gradually it brought the reader into the story so personally that he became one of the actors or

VI.Tone-Curious, Bitter, Sad, Guilt-Ridden

Like everything else about Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner's attitude toward his subject matter
is very complex. Like his characters, the author is clearly fascinated by the South, both for its
beauty and its moral failure in supporting slavery. Through his four main narrators, Faulkner
expresses deep bitterness, sorrow, and guilt about the events leading up to and following the
Civil War.
In an interview, Faulkner was asked about the curse of the South, to which he responded,
"The curse is slavery, which is an intolerable condition – no man shall be enslaved – and the
South has got to work that curse out These feelings permeate the novel. There are no moments
of joy or celebration here; characters are too preoccupied with working out the past or
working toward the future.

In addition to a feeling of deep reflection, a mythic tone surrounds all discussion of Sutpen,
who has been a larger-than-life figure since his arrival in Yoknapatawpha County. He is a
legend and a mystery, and the narrators' shared fascination with him infects the tone of the
stories they tell. Sutpen has become a myth, central to the oral tradition of Jefferson. The
biblical references in the title and throughout the novel contribute to this tone of mythic
greatness – and mythic failure.


Multiple (and boy do we mean multiple) Narrators

Figuring out the narrative in this novel is no easy feat. There are four main narrators – Rosa,
Mr. Compson, Quentin, and Shreve – plus lots of flashbacks, personal opinions, and
guesswork. There are even embedded narrators: for example, interspersed within the four
main narrators' accounts are stories told by Sutpen, but through the voice of the Compsons.
Oh, and there's also a bit of third-person omniscient narration thrown in from time to time. In
fact, the novel is a big mishmash of first-, second-, and third-person narrative. So yeah, this
isn't a walk in the park, that's for sure.

Unreliable Doesn't Even Begin to Describe It

Faulkner definitely doesn't hide the fact that his narrative is tricky. For example, the
omniscient narrator actually tells us that Quentin and Shreve are "creating between them, out
of the rag-tag and bob-ends of old tales and talking, people who perhaps never existed at all
anywhere" (8.5).The book is basically a collection of highly subjective first-person narratives
about other people. These narratives are far from reliable. Much of what we hear is colored by
the narrators' feelings about the story they're telling. In fact, a good amount of what they say
is total conjecture: it's completely imagined, based on what they think happened or even what
they want to have happened. Sounds fun, but it's pretty difficult to piece together.

Up Close and Personal

You'd think the closer the narrators are to Sutpen's story, the more biased they'd be – right?
Well actually, it seems like all of the narrators in Absalom, Absalom! are equally as
subjective. Miss Rosa – who was actually shunned by Sutpen himself – is biased by her
personal interactions and involvement in what went down. Shreve, on the other hand, is the
most detached from the events being recounted: he'd never even heard of these people until
his college roommate started telling the stories. But because of this distance, his version of
events might be the furthest from the truth: he's never even been to the South and everything
he knows is based on stereotypes.All of this subjectivity is actually a disadvantage for the
reader because each character narrates through the lens of his or her own biases. The story we
read is made up of first-hand experiences, witness testimony, common knowledge, rumor, and
guesswork. Interesting? Yes. Frustrating? Absolutely.
The Race Card

All our narrators do seem to have one thing in common: they all use black characters to fill in
the blanks where things don't add up. For example, Mr. Compson is obsessed with the mulatto
in New Orleans and Quentin and Shreve are trying to figure out how much Charles Bon knew
about his own racial background. This fascination with black characters points to one other
very important fact about our narrators: they're all white. How does this change things? What
would be different if we heard from a black character?

Absalom, Absalom! is a Southern Gothic novel by the American author William Faulkner,
first published in 1936. Taking place before, during, and after the Civil War, it is a story about
three families of the American South, with a focus on the life of Thomas Sutpen.

Plot summary

Absalom, Absalom! details the rise and fall of Thomas Sutpen, a white man born into poverty
in western Virginia who comes to Mississippi with the complementary aims of gaining wealth
and becoming a powerful family patriarch. The story is told entirely in flashbacks narrated
mostly by Quentin Compson to his roommate at Harvard University, Shreve, who frequently
contributes his own suggestions and surmises. The narration of Rosa Coldfield, and Quentin's
father and grandfather, are also included and re-interpreted by Shreve and Quentin, with the
total events of the story unfolding in non-chronological order and often with differing details.
This results in a peeling-back-the-onion way of revealing the true story of the Sutpens. Rosa
initially narrates the story, with long digressions and a biased memory, to Quentin Compson,
whose grandfather was a friend of Sutpen’s. Quentin's father then fills in some of the details
to Quentin. Finally, Quentin relates the story to his roommate Shreve, and in each retelling,
the reader receives more details as the parties flesh out the story by adding layers. The final
effect leaves the reader more certain about the attitudes and biases of the characters than about
the facts of Sutpen's story.

Thomas Sutpen arrives in Jefferson, Mississippi, with some slaves and a French architect who
has been somehow forced into working for him. Sutpen obtains one hundred square miles of
land from a local Native American tribe and immediately begins building a large plantation
called Sutpen’s Hundred, including an ostentatious mansion. All he needs to complete his
plan is a wife to bear him a few children (particularly a son to be his heir), so he ingratiates
himself with a local merchant and marries the man’s daughter, Ellen Coldfield. Ellen bears
Sutpen two children, a son named Henry and a daughter named Judith, both of whom are
destined for tragedy.

Henry goes to the University of Mississippi and meets fellow student Charles Bon, who is ten
years his senior. Henry brings Charles home for Christmas, and Charles and Judith begin a
quiet romance that leads to a presumed engagement. However, Thomas Sutpen realizes that
Charles Bon is his son from an earlier marriage and moves to stop the proposed union.

Sutpen had worked on a plantation in the French West Indies as overseer and, after subduing a
slave uprising, was offered the hand of the plantation owner's daughter, Eulalia Bon. She bore
him a son, Charles. Sutpen had not known that Eulalia was of mixed race until after the
marriage and birth of Charles, but when he found out that he had been deceived, he renounced
the marriage as void and left his wife and child (though leaving them his fortune as part of his
own moral recompense). The reader also later learns of Sutpen's childhood, when young
Thomas learned that society could base human worth on material worth. It is this episode that
sets into motion Thomas' plan to start a dynasty.

Henry, possibly because of his own potentially (and mutually) incestuous feelings for his
sister, as well as quasi-romantic feelings for Charles himself, is keen to see the two wed
(allowing him to imagine himself as surrogate for both). When Sutpen tells Henry that
Charles is his half-brother and that Judith must not be allowed to marry him, Henry refuses to
believe it, repudiates his birthright, and accompanies Charles to his home in New Orleans.
They then return to Mississippi to enlist in their University company, joining the Confederate
Army to fight in the Civil War. During the war, Henry wrestles with his conscience until he
presumably resolves to allow the marriage of half-brother and sister; this resolution changes,
however, when Sutpen reveals to Henry that Charles is part black. At the conclusion of the
war, Henry enacts his father's interdiction of marriage between Charles and Judith, killing
Charles at the gates to the mansion and then fleeing into self-exile.

Thomas Sutpen returns from the war and begins to repair his dynasty and his home, whose
hundred square miles have been reduced by carpetbaggers and punitive northern action to
one. He proposes to Rosa Coldfield, his dead wife's younger sister, and she accepts. However,
Sutpen insults Rosa by demanding that she bear him a son before the wedding takes place,
prompting her to leave Sutpen's Hundred. Sutpen then begins an affair with Milly, the fifteen-
year-old granddaughter of Wash Jones, a squatter who lives on the Sutpen property. The affair
continues until Milly becomes pregnant and gives birth to a daughter. Sutpen is terribly
disappointed, because the last hope of repairing his Sutpen dynasty rested on Milly giving
birth to a son. Sutpen casts Milly and the child aside, telling them that they are not worthy of
sleeping in the stables with his horse, who had just sired a male. An enraged Wash Jones kills
Sutpen, his own granddaughter, and Sutpen's newborn daughter, and is in turn killed by the
posse that arrives to arrest him.

The story of Thomas Sutpen's legacy ends with Quentin taking Rosa back to the seemingly
abandoned Sutpen’s Hundred plantation, where they find Henry Sutpen and Clytie, the
daughter of Thomas Sutpen by a slave woman. Henry has returned to the estate to die. Three
months later, when Rosa returns with medical help for Henry, Clytie mistakes them for law
enforcement and starts a fire that consumes the plantation and kills Henry and herself. The
only remaining Sutpen is Jim Bond, Charles Bon's black grandson, a young man with severe
mental handicaps, who remains on Sutpen's Hundred.


Like other Faulkner novels, Absalom, Absalom! allegorizes Southern history; the title itself is
an allusion to a wayward son fighting the empire his father built. The history of Thomas
Sutpen mirrors the rise and fall of Southern plantation culture. Sutpen's failures necessarily
reflect the weaknesses of an idealistic South. Rigidly committed to his "design," Sutpen
proves unwilling to honor his marriage to a part-black woman, setting in motion his own
destruction. Discussing Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner stated that the curse under which the
South labors is slavery, and Thomas Sutpen's personal curse, or flaw, was his belief that he
was too strong to need to be a part of the human family. These two curses combined to ruin

Absalom, Absalom! juxtaposes ostensible fact, informed guesswork, and outright speculation,
with the implication that reconstructions of the past remain irretrievable and therefore
imaginative[citation needed]. Faulkner, however, stated that although none of the narrators got the
facts right, since "no one individual can look at truth," there is a truth and the reader can
ultimately know it.[3] While many critics have tried to reconstruct the truth behind the shifting
narratives, or to show that such a reconstruction cannot be done with certainty or even that
there are factual and logical inconsistencies that cannot be overcome, some critics have stated
that, fictional truth being an oxymoron, it is best to take the story as a given, and regard it on
the level of myth and archetype, a fable that allows us to glimpse the deepest levels of the
unconscious and thus better understand the people who accept (and are ruled by) that myth—
Southerners in general and Quentin Compson in particular. By using various narrators
expressing their interpretations, the novel alludes to the historical cultural zeitgeist of
Faulkner's South, where the past is always present and constantly in states of revision by the
people who tell and retell the story over time; it thus also explores the process of myth-
making and the questioning of truth.The use of Quentin Compson as the primary perspective
(if not exactly the focus) of the novel makes it something of a companion piece to Faulkner's
earlier work The Sound and the Fury, which tells the story of the Compson Family, with
Quentin as one of the main characters. Although the action of that novel is never explicitly
referenced, the Sutpen family's struggle with dynasty, downfall, and potential incest parallel
the familial events and obsessions that drive Quentin and Miss Rosa Coldfield to witness the
burning of Sutpen's Hundred.

Influence and significance

Absalom, Absalom, along with The Sound and the Fury, helped Faulkner win the Nobel Prize
in Literature. In 2009, a panel of judges called Absalom, Absalom! the best Southern novel of
all time.]The title refers to the Biblical story of Absalom, a son of David who rebelled against
his father (then King of Kingdom of Israel) and who was killed by David's general Joab in
violation of David's order to deal gently with his son, causing heartbreak to David.The 1983
Guinness Book of World Records claims the "Longest Sentence in Literature" is a sentence
from Absalom, Absalom! containing 1,288 words. The sentence can be found in Chapter 6; it
begins with the words 'Just exactly like father', and ends with 'the eye could not see from any
point'. The passage is entirely italicised and incomplete.


William Faulkner style's is rich and complex in Absalom, Absalom!. The novel contains a mix
of poetic prose and stream of consciousness narration. The storyline of the novel is actually
quite simple, though its long, rambling sentences of dreams, desires, nightmarish
recollections, and strange and telling images often make for difficult reading. To analyze the
style of William Faulkner is a challenge even for the most perceptive and persistent critic, for
he is a restless experimenter with both language and technique. In Absalom, Absalom!,
Faulkner makes great use of interior monologue, often moving without notice from one
character to another, so that a series of episodic events are strung together by various narrators
recollecting their pasts and coloring their telling with subjective inputs of their own
assessments and speculation.

William Faulkner often uses symbols in his fiction. In this novel, even the names for his
characters have symbolic meaning. There is Pettibone (petty bone), Clytemnestra (from Greek
myth), Charles Bon (good), and Jim Bond (a legal tie). More importantly, the Sutpen family
becomes a symbol of the entire South.
Faulkner's prose has great lyric and dramatic power. Past and present often merge into each
other, as when Quentin tells the story that Sutpen told to General Compson or when Quentin
and Shreve become part of the battlefield scene as they discuss the lives of Henry and Bon.
The dreamlike and sometimes nightmarish feel of the prose is heightened by the use of long,
flowing sentences with hardly any punctuation. Faulkner's imagery is also extremely
powerful. In Quentin's recollection of his evening at the Sutpen estate with Rosa, Faulkner
combines sight, sounds, smells, sensations, and feelings to convey the tension, fear, and
horror that Quentin experiences.

Faulkner's sentences, sometimes an entire page in length, are often highly impressionistic.
They appear as piecemeal collections of thoughts, continually in motion and strung together
by parenthesis and dashes. They are used to build an emotional mood or dramatically bring
forth a sensual image. The total action of the novel also has a quality of seeming to be always
in motion, moving forward and backward in time, with meaning being constantly added and
altered. Often something said in an early chapter cannot be understood until a later chapter,
when a sudden revelation by a character will throw the earlier scene into a new light.
Absalom, Absalom! is a kind of vortex, with characters and events ever in motion, but moving
toward a canter which contains a fuller and more complex meaning. It is masterful prose.