Category Archives: Faulkner February

Muddy Drawers and Honeysuckle: The Sound and the Fury’s Caddy Compson

I’m going to start off by saying that I’m going to try to keep this essay sane and rational. Which might be hard, because Caddy Compson is my favorite character of all time. Not just in books, but in television, movies, plays, everything. I think she’s the most fascinating, beautiful, heartbreaking thing that a writer has ever managed to create. So I apologize if this starts to sound mildly insane. I just really love Caddy.

It’s not an abnormal thing for an author or filmmaker to make its central character appear only in flashbacks. But what William Faulkner did with Caddy Compson, the most important character in The Sound and the Fury was rather unique. Not only is Caddy a character who only appears in flashbacks, but these flashbacks are told through the eyes and minds of her brothers, perhaps the three most Unreliable Narrators ever. Caddy only appears in the three sections of the books that are told in the first person perspective by her brothers. In the third section, told from a third person point of view, Caddy is absent entirely. While there are many time periods on parade in this book, and the story shifts through time without much warning. But the present of the book is 1928. And when the storyline is entirely bound to that present, Caddy is gone entirely. She’s merely a thing of the past.

So how can a character who never appears in the present, who’s only a memory, be one of the most amazing, beautiful, heartbreaking, and tragic characters of all time?

The Sound and the Fury is meant to be about the downfall of a Southern family (symbolizing the downfall of the South in general), much of that downfall is because of Caddy, and it soon becomes clear that this book is about Caddy. About who she really is, who her brothers see her as, and the difference between those two things. But Caddy never is able to speak for herself. She never appears in the present to dispute or confirm the things her brothers think about her. We only see her through three very biased eyes. But at the same time, they are her brothers, so they do know her. Trying to figure out Caddy really is the key of the book, but stop trying. You’re never going to do it. Through the narrations of Benjy, Quentin, and Jason, we get ALMOST everything we need to know about Caddy. ALMOST. But there’s a tiny piece missing. And it always will be.

It’s important to look at her brothers’ narrations not only as what they saw her as, but what they forced her to be, unwittingly. Benjy, receiving no affection from anyone in the family other than Caddy, pushes her into the position of mother from a very young age. Quentin hangs all of his hope for the honor of the Old South on her virtue. The face that he’s OBSESSED with her sexuality in some very complicated ways can’t help matters. And Jason, cold and mean from childhood, sees her less as a sister and more as a way into a better job. All we see from the brothers’ perspectives is Caddy failing miserably in their expectations of her. None of them realize that part of the problem was that they were forcing her to be something she wasn’t.

At the same time though, it is hard to tell if her brothers entirely forced her into those roles. We see through Benjy’s memories Caddy as the strong willed little girl who wanted to be in charge of her brothers and who broke the rules without fear of punishment. From childhood she insinuated herself into the role of her brothers’ controller. That desire, in the end, only made them the controllers of her destiny. Her declaration that she be in charge of the three boys during her grandmother’s funeral is almost as dooming as her dirtying her drawers in the mud, foreshadowing her impurity.

In the end, Caddy rebels violently against her brothers’ expectations of her. Desite the love and affection she feels for Benjy and Quentin, she acts out with her sexuality (despite promising Benjy she wouldn’t after an early encounter), which confuses Benjy and frustrates Quentin (for so many reasons). The only one she doesn’t overtly and intentionally act out against is Jason, who hates her the most for her actions. He loses a potential job because Caddy’s husband finds out their daughter is not his. Jason loses a chance at a job (which he never would have had if Caddy hadn’t needed to marry Herbert Head in the first place) because Caddy was actually trying to fix the mess she had made. Jason has the least cause to detest his sister, but he hates her the most.

With all that messy psychological stuff getting all tangled and entwined in everything, it’s easy to miss the gigantic heart that Caddy has and her capacity to love unconditionally. Her bond with her father is very strong, despite he never once attempts to curb the issue of her promiscuity, even though he seems to be aware of it. They stay in contact even after she is banished from the family home, much to the dismay of Caroline and Jason. She loved Benjy no matter what, even when nobody else seems to care about him. And even after Quentin tries to fight Dalton Ames and then tells their father that he and Caddy had committed incest, she adores him. She has a huge heart that’s capable of the deepest love. If you deserve it.

She may not be present during the narrations. but her absense is almost as strong as, if not stronger, than her presense. Were she around to tell her own tale, she’d seem quite different. Her brothers probably wouldn’t dwell on her. But because she’s not there, they are obsessed with her. Every thought they have is connected with her in some way. Even when she’s not there she’s the most important thing in their lives.

Benjy, the mentally impaired youngest Compson child, doesn’t understand Caddy’s absence. He has no concept of time, so while he’s aware of the fact that, in the moment, Caddy is not there and that he misses her, he doesn’t understand that she is gone for good, and has been gone for years. Because of this, the shifts in time in his sections are sudden and without much warning.

His attempts to understand why Caddy isn’t there (usually triggered by the calls of “caddy!” on the golf course that’s now on land that used to be his) consume his thoughts. His memory is triggered by single words, and he, like his brothers, is focused on her sexuality as the reason for her absence. He recalls her muddied drawers, her affairs with local boys, and how upset those things made him. While he can’t grasp the concept of her absense, he seemed to be able to foresee it as a child.

There’s a noticeable hole in Benjy’s life without Caddy in it. In Benjy’s memory, Caddy was his voice. She asked him questions, even though she knew he couldn’t answer. She’d tell their mother what he wanted, and even though he couldn’t actually speak to communicate those things, she was always right. Without Caddy, Benjy loses the ability to communicate with the world in a way that anyone can understand.

While Benjy appears to be the “idiot” of the story, his view of Caddy is actually the most objective. He’s unable to form complex prejudice or affection for her. All he knows is that she’s his sister who takes care of him and he loves her. He sees her as something like an angel, while still being able to witness, and even understand, her sexual indiscretions. But his perception is still slightly skewed by his dependence on her.

For Quentin it’s much more complicated and messy. He’s much more preoccupied with Caddy than either of his brothers, because she represents so much more to him. In Caddy, he’s trying to understand the concepts of family, of honor, and of sexuality. It’s impossible for him to look at Caddy objectively because all of those things are tangled up in his mind. At one moment she’s a Madonna, the next she’s a whore. She’s simply too many things to Quentin, and it drives him insane.

So Quentin’s image of Caddy is incredibly muddled. Above all things his version of her is extremely tragic. A poor fallen girl who’s dying inside. He wants her to stay a little girl, yet he forces his sexual issues onto her. Even when he’s not overtly thinking about Caddy, she’s always present for him, especially when he comes upon a little Italian girl. He carts her around town, calling her “little sister”. Every woman her meets, no matter her age, will always be placed beside Caddy, as he tries to force them to be what he thinks she should have been.

Caddy’s sexual promiscuity is a problem for Quentin on two fronts. First, it highlights the way the honor of the Old South is dying, something he cannot come to terms with. He’s very fixated on the old ways of chivalry, and more importantly, the purity of the Southern woman. Caddy’s pregnancy means that neither men nor women behave the way Quentin thinks their supposed to.

Most importantly, though, it makes Quentin confront his own sexuality. He himself is a virgin, something that’s actually quite troubling to him. Of course, it really doesn’t help that he has his dad basically telling him that virginity isn’t something that remotely matters. Quentin is a virgin who doesn’t really understand sexuality. He has nothing to base his thoughts and opinions on outside of Caddy, who he’s already obsessed with.

In a severly twisted show of chivalry, Quentin tries to save Caddy’s honor by attempting to convince their father that she didn’t sleep with Dalton Ames, but that he and Caddy had committed incest and that the baby was his. There’s been a lot of debate about whether or not Quentin really wanted to have sex with Caddy. I think the answer, as always with this book, is a lot more complicated than yes or no.

There are two scenes that are extremely important in the argument. First is a flashback to when Quentin and Caddy were several years younger, and were just starting to find the opposite sex interesting. They both have their own encounters, which leads to an argument. An argument clearly borne of jealousy.  The second scene is one that’s not quite as overtly about sex, but which is written pretty much as a sex scene without really being one. Quentin tries to convince Caddy to run away with him, and then to enter into a murder-suicide pact, anything to save her honor, and anything to keep her with him. He has an obsessive need to possess her in every way. Faulkner wrote the scene to be fraught with sexual tension, the two of them laying on the ground, Quentin with his knife, a phallic symbol, ready to slit her throat.

It is about more than sex for Quentin though. He wants Caddy to be only his in every way. That just happens to include sex. His entire life is consumed by her. When it comes out that her daughter is not her husband’s and she’s dishonored, something in his brain truly breaks. He’s simply unable to understand that his sister has been entirely dishonored, that he couldn’t save her or that, at the very least, it wasn’t him. The thoughts lead him to suicide.

Jason is less complicated. We see from an early age that he’s self involved and incapable of even liking, much less loving, anyone but himself. By the time he’s an adult, he thinks he deserves pretty much everything, and he blames Caddy for not having it, despite the fact that he never would have had the opportunity were it not for Caddy. When she married HErbert HEad, JAson was offered a job at a bank, a job that was taken off the table when Caddy’s lies were revealed. Jason ignores the first part and focuses on the second part. It’s a grudge that he lets boil into hatred for nearly 20 years, and it’s something he constantly goes back to.

But really, I can’t help but feel a little sad for Jason, and I’ve written about that topic before. Quentin’s dead, Caddy’s as good as to the family, all the money the family had went into those two children and they, as far as Jason is concerned, wasted it. He’s left with a crappy job, and he’s saddled with the job of raising Caddy’s bastard daughter.

While there’s still plenty of flashback in Jason’s section, it’s not as heavy in it as Benjy’s or Quentin’s. But his mind is always on Caddy. When he’s not flashing back to screwing her over after their father’s death, he’s thinking about how he’s screwing her (and her daughter) over now, by pocketing the money Caddy sends for Miss Quentin for himself. And when he’s not thinking about how much he hates Caddy, he’s thinking about how much he hates Miss Quentin. Which basically is thinking about how much he hates Caddy, because he basically sees Miss Quentin as Caddy.

Miss Quentin is the most overwhelming reminder of Caddy in both Benjy’s and Jason’s sections. But Miss Quentin is really not like Caddy very much at all. She is promiscuous (but, with it now being 1928, isn’t quite as scandalous as it was when Caddy was doing it), but she lacks Caddy’s heart and her ability to love. Benjy recognizes this because he was able to see Caddy mostly as she really was, and he knows Miss Quentin is not that. And his recgnition of this fact is extremely upsetting, another devastating reminder that Caddy is not there. Jason, on the otherhand, sees Miss Quentin as being exactly like her mother, because he never experienced Caddy’s unconditional love. So when he sees Miss Quentin and her behavior, he simply thinks “like mother, like daughter”, not being able to recognize the fact that she’s the way she is because she was raised by him, with his harshness and coldness, and not by her mother who, despite her flaws, had a huge amount o warmth and heart. Miss Quentin is the strongest image in the book of both Caddy’s constant presence and her absence.

The fourth and final part of the book is told from a third person perspective, so there are no flashbacks, which means no Caddy, which is startling. Her absence is completely felt in this section because we’re not inside of anybody’s heads. We never get to see how a moment reminds one of them of Caddy. For the first time, we’re not so wrapped up in everyone’s feelings about Caddy that we finally get to see how bad things are without her. The Compson house is an extremely sad place, without any warmth or love. It’s genuinely upsetting to read. And, no matter how little we really knew her, it makes us miss Caddy.

So how do you reconcile this character, who was seen as both so perfect and so tarnished? Caddy never gets to tell her side of the story, so all we have is her brothers’ imperfect recollections. How do you even start to understand a character like that? You don’t. You simply recognize the warmth, the complexity, the free spirit, and the broken soul of a beautiful character, and recognize that the fact that we’ll never truly understand her just adds to the tragic beauty of Caddy Compson.

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Faulkner February Begins Again!

Yeah, it’s been FOREVER since I wrote anything here.  That’s what happens when you get a real job.

But it’s February. And I could never neglect the greatest time of the year, the amazing Faulkner February. Because Faulkner is too awesome to ignore.

Since I do have the aforementioned “real job”, Faulkner February won’t be as epic as it was last year. I don’t have time to read five or six books. Because I have to actually do work at this job. (Let’s all pause for a moment and remember that Saturday last February when I had one customer in six hours and managed to knock out over half of As I Lay Dying, or that Monday in the spring when I read all of the latest Sookie Stackhouse book in under ten hours because we were so dead. Good times, these were.) I’m just going to be focusing on The Sound and the Fury, mainly because I didn’t get to it last year. I won’t be doing daily “I read this today!” updates. I’ll start the month with an essay about Caddy Compson (which will hopefully be done in the next few days) and close it with an essay about why I think The Sound and the Fury is the Great American Novel. And I may have a few insights about what I read in between. We’ll see.

So, yeah. A less intense Faulkner February. But still an awesome one.

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Fact vs. Conjecture in Absalom, Absalom!

William Faulkner structures the story of the Sutpen family in Absalom, Absalom! as a Southern myth, passed down from generation to generation. Since we’re hearing nearly the entire story from second and third had narrators, it’s difficult to tell what parts of the story are fact and what parts are fiction.

The first narration comes from Miss Rosa, who is the only narrator we have who has firsthand knowledge and experience with the Sutpen family. But she wasn’t even born yet when her sister married Thomas Sutpen, when her sister gave birth to her two children, so a good deal of her narration is still told as second hand information, what she assumes to be the truth based on what little her sister and father told her, and based on  her own personal prejudice. And her personal prejudice against Thomas Sutpen is so great that it’s hard to say that even  her narration of the pieces of the story in which she was present are even completely factual, or if she may be misremembering after years of festering hatred and rage.

None of the other narrators in the book have first hand experience with the story. Quentin, Mr. Compson, and Shreve can only, at their most objective, tell the story as it was told to them. Naturally, though, they add their own thoughts to the story. As the story exists in Yoknapatawpha County, there are still blank spaces of misinformation. It’s not until Quentin returns to Sutpen’s Hundred with Miss Rosa in 1909 that the entire truth of the story is revealed.

So, with those blank spaces, the narrators insert their own thoughts and speculations about what really happened to the Sutpen family, and their conjectures are clearly based on their personalities and behavior. Mr. Compson, a man preoccupied with the idea of a dark destiny, imagines things like Sutpen meaning to name his daughter Clytie Cassandra, to symbolize the ruin she would bring to the family. Quentin gets distracted and focuses on certain parts of the story more than other, specifically the relationship betwee the siblings Henry, Judith, and Charles. Shreve, who is the furthest removed from the story, approaches the tale from a more romantic and dramatic viewpoint, constructing an entire history for Charles Bon based completely and entirely on conjecture.

In the end, though we have all of the basic facts of the case, the character of Thomas Sutpen is still something of a mystery. We know how other people percieve him, but he’s long dead, so we still have no idea what he was really like underneath it all. We only have Rosa’s demonized version of him, Mr. Compson’s idea of him as a charsmatic and determined man who was cursed and doomed from the start, and the older Sutpen that Quentin has heard of from his grandfather, a man who’s dream dynasty has fallen apart. General Compson’s version of Sutpen is probably closest to the truth, since he was the man’s closest friend, but even then, it’s only second hand information. Sutpen never has the ability to speak for himself.

And, as we never really know for sure what Sutpen is like, we can never know for sure how things really happened, even if we do know the most basic facts. We can only guess what Judith’s reaction truly was when Henry shot Charles. We can only imagine how Henry really felt about knowing that Charles Bon was his brother. If anything, knowing more of the facts simply makes the characters and their personalities and feelings more mysterious.

In the end, people are more complicated than the stories they inspire.

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Absalom, Absalom! Wrap Up

Look at me, finishing things. Okay, I’m finishing them late, but I’m finishing them. Expect Sound and the Fury to be finished by next weekend.

Absalom, Absalom! is probably Faulkner’s most difficult work. Not only does he use several different narrators (a narrative device he actually uses in many of his books), but most of them are telling stories second hand, stories that they weren’t even alive to see. We will sometimes hear the same story told more than once from different perspectives, and it can be frustrtating trying to understand a character and pin down his motivations when we can’t be sure if any of the accounts we’re being given are 100% factual.

Faulkner wants to present the story of Thomas Sutpen as a Southen myth, a legend that’s been passed around and told throughout Faulkner’s fictitious Yaknapatawpha County, where most of his books have taken place. The reader is treated like a resident of Jefferson, as though this is a story we’ve heard before. Some characters are simply referred to as “she” or “he” before they’re even introduced, as though we already know who these people are.

Like other in other Faulkner novels, the fall of the Sutpen family represents the fall of the South. For Quentin, the most present and important narrator of the book, the story is the representation of the South for him, which is something the perplexes his roommate, Shreve. Why would a story of such sadness and violence and doom be the story Quentin tells to explain the South to people in Cambridge? Shreve asks Quentin why he hates the South. Quentin claims he doesn’t, but it’s clear his feelings about his home are conflicted, to say the least. He has a difficult time accepting the death of the old Southern ideals of chivalry and good girls and honorable men, and to him, the story of the Sutpen family is the story of that death.

Quentin, who appeared in Faulkner’s earlier novel The Sound and the Fury is a good choice for the most frequent and present narrator in the story, based on his experiences in The Sound and the Fury (which actually mostly take place after Absalom, Absalom!) He’s a man obsessed with the concept of time and of the past. And that’s what the Sutpen story is all about. It’s about holding onto the past. Just as Quentin tried so desperately to hold onto the Southern past, the idea of genteel and virginal women in relation to his sister Caddy, Rosa is clinging to the past, the idea she has of Thoms Sutpen as a demon, It’s a past she’s unable to let go of.

Of course, there’s a tragedy to Quentin being such an important character. When Miss Rosa tells him that she wants to tell him her story, she says that maybe he’ll grow up, and get married, and have kids, and when he’s older he’ll think of her story and tell it to others. Quentin tells the story to Shreve, but he’ll never tell the story again after that. A few months after the end of Absalom, Absalom, in the spring of 1910, Quentin commits suicide. The very last lines of the book give us a peek inside of Quentin’s head, and we see the beginnings of the inner torture that brings him to his final act. His inability to reconcile his feelings about where he comes from.

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Absalom, Absalom! Chapters 8 and 9

I’m not so crazy about chapter 8, because it’s the least objective and factual chapter of all. Granted, it’s possible that it’s all true, but at this point Quentin and Shreve are so into the story that now they’re simply imagining Charles Bon’s life.  The even completely create a new character, the lawyer who they figure took care of Charles and his mother, who handled the money Sutpen left for them. They figure that his mother raised him with the plan to use him to get revenge on her husband for leaving.

They then imagine Charles meeting Henry, then Ellen and Judith, and that he eventually realized that Sutpen was his father, and his engagement to Judith was his attempt to get his father to acknowledge him. The basically think up scenes for everything – Sutpen telling Henry that Bon was his brother, Charles and Henry at war. They even decide it makes more sense to change the story – that it was Henry who was wounded in the war, and that Charles saves him, not the other way around as it was previously told.

They imagine Henry’s indecision over allowing Charles to marry Judith, and how Henry finally decides not to allow it. Not because of the incest, but because his father tells him of Charles’ negro blood.

They also think about Judith, just after Henry kills Charles. Instead of the picture of herself she sent Charles, she finds a picture of his mistress and child. Shreve looks at this romantically, speculating that Charles knew Henry would kill him, and so he replaced the picture as a way to tell Judith that he wasn’t worth grieving over. Shreve believes that Bon was marrying Judith mostly because he wanted his father to acknowledge him as his son, but he also believes that he really did love her.

These retellings of the story, which are based on little more than Shreve and Quentin’s imagination, are Faulkner showing the nature of a myth or legend, the way people who retell it put their own creative spin on it.

Then they talk about the night that Miss Rosa took Quentin to Sutpen’s Hundred to find what Miss Rosa was sure was hiding there. When they enter, Clytie tries to stop Rosa, in a scene not unlike when Rosa arrived after Bon’s death. But this time Rosa pushes Clytie to the ground

In a bedroom, they find Henry Sutpen, who has returned home in his old age to, as he tells Quentin, die. When he went home that night, Quentin felt the need to bathe, to scrub away what he had seen – the dying, decrepit, depressing remains of a once great family.

Eventually, Rosa sent an ambulance to Sutpen’s Hundred to collect Henry. She hadn’t been able to save Judith, as she’d promised her sister she would, but perhaps she could save Henry. But when Clytie saw the ambulance coming, she thought it was the police coming to take her brother away for the decades-old crime of killing Bon, and she set the house on fire, killing both of them.  The mixed-race idiot Jim Bond is the last remaining Sutpen.

In the end, Shreve wonders why Quentin, when asked about what the South was like, would tell this horrific story. Shreve asks him why he hates the south. Quentin vehemently denies that he hates the south out loud to Shreve, and then continues to deny it even more adamantly in his mind, to himself. “I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”

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Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 7

Why, hello there, ridiculously long chapter! I’d almost go so far as to call you a novella. But I did manage to finish you in one day, so go me!

Now things get tawdry. Or rather, we learn new information that makes old information tawdry. In this chapter, we get more about Sutpen’s own life, how he came to Yoknapatawpha County in the first place, and more about what happened to him after Miss Rosa left Sutpen’s Hundred.

Though the section is narrated by Quentin, still recounting stories heard from his father and grandfather, we are for the first time hearing something that Sutpen told himself. Most of the information which Quentin relays to Shreve here comes from stories that Sutpen told General Compson.

The storytelling here is pretty jarring. Quentin tells the story of Sutpen telling the story. So Quentin is telling two separate stories at the same time – first of a time when the french architect Sutpen brought to build the mansion tried to escape him. Sutpen and Compson took the slave and dogs out to search for him, and it’s during this time that Sutpen told Compson of his childhood. So Quentin is also telling that as well.

Sutpen was born in a hillbilly log cabin in what is now West Virginia. When he was still young, his father moved the family to Southern Virginia to work on a plantation.  It was here that Sutpen began to understand the difference not just between races, but between the haves and the have nots.  At age 14 he ran away to the West Indies (he never really says how he got there, just that he went), where he learned the language and eventually got work on a sugar plantation. After stamping out a slave revolt, he was promised the daughter of the plantation owner. They were married and had a son, but when he found out his wife had negro blood, he decided that she and their child didn’t fit into his plan, and he renounced them.

The first son that Sutpen had, Quentin learned when he went out to Sutpen’s Hundred that night with Miss Rosa, was Charles Bon.

So Sutpen divorced his first wife and traveled to Jefferson, making arrangements to provide for the woman and the boy, and taking his 20 wild negroes with him.

I have to cut out of the young Sutpen narrative to comment on a part of the book that amused me, during Compson and Sutpen’s search for the architect. I don’t know if Faulkner meant it to be amusing or not. There’s a part where he talks about the wild negroes chasing the man, and later finding him, and whooping aloud as though it was a game and they were now going to be allowed to cook him and eat him. For some reason that just tickled me. Cannibalism = comedic gold.

Anyway, back to the story. About 30 years pass, and Charles Bon shows up as Henry’s college pal. He allowed the friendship and initial courtship to go on, not out of cruelty, but because he truly had no idea what to do. Then, on that second Christmas, he had his talk with Henry, not telling him of the octoroon wife and child, but the truth, that Charles Bon was his brother. Henry refused to believe it (although pretty much every single narrator believes that whatever his father told him, deep down he really did know it to be true).  Sutpen was then unsure of whether or not to play his “final trump card”. He could allow Judith and Charles to marry, which would fulfill his dynasty to the outside world, but on the inside he’d know it was a failure, or he could stop the marriage and surely ruin his dynasty. In the end, he decided to play that trump card, and he told Henry of Bon’s negro blood. This was the thing that sent Henry over the edge on the matter.

Sutpen then came home to a mess, one son dead, the other vanished, and a daughter widowed before she was even a bride. After Rosa’s departure he took to bed with Wash Jones’ granddaughter Milly, without any clear intention of marrying her, though Jones, in his hero worship, believed that Sutpen would “make it right”. But the say Milly delivered her child, it did not turn out the way either Sutpen or Jones wanted it. Milly had a daughter, not the son Sutpen was hoping for, and he insulted her by casting them aside. Jones, who had not even tried to hide his granddaughter’s condition from the town, believing Sutpen would marry her, but growing more and more apprehensive about the situation each passing day, killed Sutpen in a rage. Then, when the cops came for him, he slit both Milly and the baby girl’s throats, and was then killed by the police.

Sutpen’s ending is extremely tragic and also kind of “small” for a man of such myth and legend. Not only is the death tragic, but so is his murderer. I just find it extremely sad that this man, who so idolized and worshiped Sutpen, was so brokenhearted by this one act that he killed him for it. And that it was this slight, probably not even the worst he committed in his life, that brought Sutpen to his end.

This chapter, through Quentin’s brief moments of inner monologue, tie Absalom, Absalom! to The Sound and the Fury yet again. There are only a few very brief moments of Quentin’s inner dialogue, but it’s already a little bit frantic and frayed. This part of the story takes place in the winter. In the spring, Quentin will kill himself.

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Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 6

Time got away from me yesterday, and I ended up just not having time to read. I’m glad that today’s (or rather, yesterday’s) chapter was short. And I’m glad I have tomorrow off, because Chapter 7 looks like it’s probably around 70 pages.

Anywho, this chapter is a little bit complicated because there are three separate narrators and, in typical Faulkner fashion, the shift between narrators is sometimes really sudden. The three narrators this time are Quentin, his father, and his roommate Shreve.

Shreve’s appearance as narrator and listener is important. Faulkner introduces a new character halfway through the book to represent the reader. Shreve is not from the South, is in fact Canadian, so his wonder with the story matches the reader’s. This idea of the old South is something completely and totally foreign to him, and he’s fascinated by Quentin’s telling of it.

Early on in the chapter we get the story so far, summarized rather quickly by Shreve, and I find this part kind of amusing and charming. What’s taken Quentin, Mr. Compson, and Rosa half a book to tell in their flowery Southern way is told in less than a few pages by Shreve.

But we do get new info in this chapter. For one thing, we learn that Miss Rosa has died. He gets a letter from his father telling him the news, and he has to explain to Shreve that Miss Rosa was not a relative.

This chapter is about the last few years of Sutpen’s life, but it’s mostly about what happened to the family after he died. The legend may be Thomas Sutpen, but the story goes on long after he’s gone.

Sutpen realizes he cannot rebuild his plantation, so he opens a shop selling  supplies to freed slaves. But he spends most of his time getting drunk with Wash Jones, and then spending his evenings *ahem* with Jones’s granddaughter Milly.  Milly give birth to Sutpen’s child, but he insults both Milly and the child by casting them aside (presumably because the child was a girl). Wash Jones then kills Sutpen with a rusty scythe, the very scythe Sutpen had given him years before to do his chores.

Quentin remembers going to Sutpen’s Hundred and seeing the graves of the family. Not just Ellen, Thomas, and Charles Bon, but other’s. Judith has died by this point as well, and there is also a grave Charles Etienne St. Valery Bon, Charles’ son with his French-Negro wife/mistress (new word, “wifestress”). After her father’s death, Judith contacted the woman to come up and see Charles’ grave. The woman stayed at the house mourning for several days, in which time Clytie took care of the child. A year later, when the mother disappeared (it’s never stated whether she died or simply abandoned the child) Clytie went to New Orleans to recover the boy, and she and Judith raised him. Clytie kept him from socializing with anyone in the town, and the rumors about who he was flew. General Compson at first assumed that Sutpen had had a son with Clytie, his own daughter.

After getting into a violent fight, young Charles was arrested, and Judith brought General Compson to get him out of trouble. Compson then gave the boy money and sent him away. Charles returned a year later with black wife, who gave birth to a son, Jim Bond, who was a “big, saddle-colored idiot”.

Quentin imagines a scene between Judith and young Charles, where she tells him he should leave town, that they’ll say he’s Henry’s son (so that he can deny is negro blood) and that she’ll raise the child herself. Quentin’s imagined scene ends with Judith telling Charles to call her “Aunt Judith.”

Charles defiantly stays, and two years later catches yellow fever. Judith devotes herself to nursing him back to health, and they both eventually die of the illness. Clytie stays on at Sutpen’s Hundred to raise Jim Bond herself.

We get another bit of a tease at the end of the chapter, with Shreve recounting Quentin’s visit to Sutpen’s Hundred with Miss Rosa, how Miss Rosa, though she hasn’t been there in over 40 years, knows that something’s different, that something is hiding there. When they went there, they found Jim Bond and Clytie, but Miss Rosa still knew someone else was there.

This section brings the story out of “town fable” and into reality for Quentin. Jim Bond is only a few years older than he is, and Quentin remembers, as a child, sneaking up to Sutpen’s mansion with his friends, daring each other to go into the house, and seeing Jim Bond. The story becomes less magical and mythic as it slides into the territory of Quentin’s actual memories.

The most interesting thing about this chapter is the relationship between Judith and young Charles. It’s hard to tell why she wanted to boy with her at Sutpen’s Hundred, why she wanted to raise him, and why she was so set on raising his son. There are two reasons. One being that she loved Charles Bon and wanted his son with her, since it would be the closest thing she’d have to having been married to him. The other is that she somehow discovered her true relationship to Bon.

Young Charles’ problem, other than being raised by two women who weren’t his mother, and being brought into a world where he didn’t even speak the language, is his issue with his race. While he was mostly white, the fact that there was any “negro” blood in him drove him to hate himself. He’d spend time in negro bars, but he’d end up getting into fights. He took a negro wife, but it seemed to be done more out of defiance than anything.

The Sutpen story has been brought up to the present time of the book. But there are still so many pieces to the puzzle.

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