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.