Absalom, Absalom Novel Summary by William Faulkner
“Absalom, Absalom!” is a novel written by William Faulkner and published in 1936. Set in the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha, Mississippi, the story revolves around the Compson family and their intertwined history. Absalom, Absalom Novel Summary by William Faulkner Faulkner employs multiple narrators and a nonlinear narrative structure to explore themes of race, power, morality, and the destructive nature of human obsession.
The novel begins with the arrival of a young man named Quentin Compson at Harvard University, where he engages in a conversation with his roommate, Shreve. Quentin, haunted by the ghosts of the past, begins to narrate the tragic tale of the Sutpen family, a story he has heard from his father and others in his hometown of Jefferson.
The narrative takes us back to the early 19th century when Thomas Sutpen, a mysterious plantation owner, arrives in Jefferson. Thomas’s origins remain shrouded in mystery, but he quickly amasses wealth and acquires a vast tract of land, which he names Sutpen’s Hundred. He aspires to establish a dynasty and chooses a wife, Ellen Coldfield, from a respected local family.
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However, Thomas’s marriage to Ellen is short-lived, as he discovers a secret in her lineage that leads him to annul the marriage. Determined to establish his dynasty, Sutpen returns to Haiti, where he builds his fortune as a slave trader. He marries an octoroon (a person of mixed black and white ancestry) named Eulalia Bon, with whom he has two children, Charles and Henry.
When Charles and Henry grow up, they are sent to the University of Mississippi, where they meet their half-brother, Clytemnestra (referred to as “Clytie”), the product of Sutpen’s relationship with a slave woman. Absalom, Absalom Novel Summary by William Faulkner Charles, a wild and impulsive young man, is enraged by his father’s treatment of Clytie and becomes obsessed with the idea of his family’s downfall.
Charles enlists in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and eventually learns about his father’s secret past. Discovering that his father’s first wife, Eulalia, was a black woman, Charles considers this revelation to be a taint on his family’s bloodline. Consumed by anger and madness, he murders Henry at the gates of Sutpen’s Hundred, mistaking him for their father.
Quentin’s narrative digresses as he discusses the complex relationship between Thomas Sutpen and his son, Charles. The tragedy of the Sutpen family echoes themes of the South’s decay, the destructiveness of slavery, and the lingering effects of the past on the present generation. Quentin, who himself comes from a decaying Southern family, feels a connection to the Sutpens and is deeply affected by their story.
As the novel progresses, Quentin’s narrative becomes increasingly fragmented and confused. He grapples with his own guilt and the weight of his family’s history, ultimately leading to his suicide. Shreve, Quentin’s roommate, tries to reconstruct the events and motivations behind the Sutpen family’s downfall but is left with more questions than answers.
“Absalom, Absalom!” is a complex and challenging novel that delves into the darkest corners of the human psyche. Faulkner’s lyrical prose and innovative narrative style create a sense of haunting and despair, illustrating the inescapable consequences of human actions. Absalom, Absalom Novel Summary by William Faulkner Through the tragic tale of the Sutpen family, Faulkner explores the intricate web of race, morality, and obsession, ultimately questioning the nature of human identity and the legacy of the past.
Theme and Symbols
- The Destructive Power of Obsession: The novel explores how obsession, particularly Thomas Sutpen’s obsession with power and establishing a dynasty, leads to destruction and tragedy for both himself and those around him.
- The Burden of the Past: The characters in the novel are haunted by the actions and choices of their ancestors. The past lingers as a burden, shaping their identities and impacting their present lives. Faulkner delves into the complex interplay between history, memory, and the individual.
- Subjectivity of Truth and Narrative: Faulkner employs multiple narrators and a non-linear narrative structure to showcase the subjective nature of truth. Different characters present their own interpretations and biases, highlighting the unreliability and limitations of individual perspectives.
- Race and the Legacy of Slavery: The novel explores the deep-seated racial tensions and the lingering effects of slavery in the South. The characters grapple with the implications of interracial relationships and the complex dynamics of racial identity.
- Decay and Decline of the South: Faulkner vividly portrays the decay and decline of the Southern aristocracy and the Old South. Through the crumbling Compson family house and the deteriorating Sutpen’s Hundred plantation, he symbolizes the erosion of traditional values and the disintegration of the region’s past glory.
- Sutpen’s Hundred: The plantation owned by Thomas Sutpen represents his ambitious dream of establishing a powerful dynasty. It symbolizes wealth, power, and the corrupting nature of unchecked ambition.
- The Compson House: The Compson family house in Jefferson serves as a symbol of the decline of the Southern aristocracy and the fading glory of the Old South. It represents decay, moral decline, and the erosion of traditional values.
- The Wilderness: The wilderness surrounding Sutpen’s Hundred is a symbol of the untamed and primitive nature of the South. It represents the harsh realities of the region, the hidden aspects of humanity, and the inescapable grip of the past.
- The Ghosts and Shadows: Throughout the novel, references to ghosts and shadows symbolize the lingering presence of the past. They serve as reminders of the inescapable burden of history and the haunting effect it has on the characters.
- The Color White: The color white is used symbolically to represent purity, innocence, and an unattainable ideal. It contrasts with the darker aspects of the story, such as slavery, violence, and moral decay, highlighting the stark divide between appearance and reality.
“Absalom, Absalom!” by William Faulkner is a complex and thought-provoking novel that delves into the depths of human nature, the destructive power of obsession, and the burdens of the past. Absalom, Absalom Novel Summary by William Faulkner Through its intricate narrative structure, multiple perspectives, and rich symbolism, Faulkner explores themes of ambition, decay, race, and the complexities of Southern society.
The novel presents a haunting portrayal of the consequences of unchecked obsession, as Thomas Sutpen’s relentless pursuit of power and establishing a dynasty leads to his own downfall and the ruin of his family. Absalom, Absalom Novel Summary by William Faulkner Faulkner highlights the cyclical nature of history and the enduring impact of the past, emphasizing the burden that it places on individuals and the difficulties of escaping its grasp.
Symbols such as Sutpen’s Hundred, the Compson House, the wilderness, and the ghosts and shadows add layers of meaning to the narrative, representing themes of ambition, decay, the untamed nature of the South, and the haunting presence of history.
Faulkner’s masterful prose, innovative narrative structure, and exploration of deep-rooted themes make “Absalom, Absalom!” a challenging but rewarding reading experience. Absalom, Absalom Novel Summary by William Faulkner The novel forces readers to confront the complexities of human nature, the weight of the past, and the blurred lines between truth and subjective interpretation.
Ultimately, “Absalom, Absalom!” invites readers to grapple with profound questions about identity, morality, and the lasting effects of history. It is a timeless work of literature that continues to captivate and provoke thought long after its publication.
Q. What is the main theme of “Absalom, Absalom!”?
Ans. One of the main themes is the destructive nature of human obsession. Thomas Sutpen’s obsession with establishing a powerful dynasty leads to his downfall and the ruin of his family. The novel also explores themes of race, power, morality, and the burden of the past.
Q. Why does Faulkner use multiple narrators and a non-linear narrative structure?
Ans. Faulkner employs multiple narrators to provide different perspectives and layers of the story. Each narrator has their own biases, interpretations, and limitations, highlighting the subjectivity of truth and the elusive nature of history. The non-linear structure adds to the complexity of the narrative and mirrors the fragmented nature of memory and storytelling.
Q. What is the significance of the setting, Yoknapatawpha County?
Ans. Yoknapatawpha County is a fictional setting created by Faulkner and serves as the backdrop for many of his novels. It represents the South and its history, with its traditions, racial tensions, and the lingering effects of slavery. The county becomes a microcosm through which Faulkner explores larger societal issues.