Review Of John Dryden’s Absalom And Achitophel
John Dryden’s Absalom and Achitophel, a satirical poem was written using heroic couplet form. His satiric verse is majestic, as Pope calls: “The long majestic march and energy divine”. Dryden wrote this poem by the request of Charles 2 in order to defend the King and his followers against the Whigs led by the Earl of Shaftesbury.
Achitophel represents the Earl of Shaftesbury who is an unscrupulous political intriguer. He is a treacherous conspirator whose name was cursed not only by the people of his contemporary age but also by the subsequent generations. Dryden says: “Sagacious, Bold, and Turbulent of wit:Restless, unfixt in Principles and Place; In Power unpleas’d, impatient of Disgrace. A fiery Soul, which working out its way, Fretted the Pigmy Body to decay:” Here, he is seen as sagacious and bold character who had a lust for power but when he had power he wasted it. Apparently, he emerged to be prudent and dauntless but he had a stormy mind encased in a pigmy body. He is evil and perilous because of his ambition and intellect, which he uses for subversive ends. He is a bold character in the times of danger as evident in these lines “Pleas’d with the Danger, when the Waves went high He sought the Storms; but for a Calm unfit”.
He is false in friendship with Absalom and merciless in enmity. Dryden argued that he had a feeble and sickly body but he never cared it and wasalways engaged in plotting intrigues against the crowd, King and Absalom for his self-intersst. The nature of Shaftesbury can be related very well with the words of Hobbes, “The Power of man, to take it Universally, is his present means to obtain some futue apparent Good”. He has a sense of integrity, sincerity and fair sense as a judge. He is not a nincompoop but the great wits has made him unfit. He is manipulative because he actually tried to manipulate the crowd and Absalom as well. Achitophel united the dissatisfied people of England into a single party which had been working separately, now began to work collectively to achieve the identical goal. He attempts to convince Absalom to join his rebellion. He first used the weapon of flattery to win over Absalom, annunciating that the nation was clamouring for him – a “second Moses Thus, Achitophel is an amalgamation of exceptional intellectual caliber and stupendous moral bankruptcy. Such men like him, pursue their ambitious and selfish political goal with exceptional brilliance through evasive means, do exist. There may be few people of such brilliant intellect who put their intelligence to such devious schemes, but they certainly settle in all places and in all times.
It is true to some extent that, the Earl of Shaftesbury can’t be removed from the context in which Dryden puts him, for we can’t have the same political situation as in England at that time. But most of the features presented in Achitophel are to be found universally among politicians.
Absalom, Absalom!: Literary Criticisms Review
The Relevance of William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! Transcends Eras
William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! has been reviewed by many writers across various publishing platforms, who all seem to agree to describe it as one of the most chaotic narrative styles they have read yet. However, they owe the greatness of this book to Faulkner’s artistic vision and style, which allow the novel to transcend the Southern backdrop and delve deep into a realistic understanding of the complex way of human life. Faulkner breaks the mold and takes the less traveled road to narrate the story of Thomas Sutpen through the looking glass of Miss Rosa, Mr. Compson, Quentin, and Shreve, characters central to the development of the plot. Reviewers throughout try to understand Faulkner’s purpose for writing Absalom! Absalom! through highly complex, fragmented narratives and how this method only added to his theme of memory through the emotional echo of the post-Civil War South and issues surrounding racism.
Arthur Hirsch in his review in The Baltimore Sun describes Absalom! Absalom! as Faulkner’s magnum opus, “a karmic soup that permeates contemporary American culture.” It was his best novel yet and the epitome of The Great American Novel. While Larry Nolan refers the novel as a “mosaic,” in the OF Blog, Hirsch calls it a “tapestry in which the past and present are woven together.” The book is written as a series of “second-hand account[s], with traces of yet another level of storytelling to indicate that what was being recounted was through the viewpoint of a potentially biased person.” The Literary Corner Café blog sums up the varying characteristics of two of the narrators very well. Miss Rosa’s narrative style is more selective and fragmented, which suggest her emotional instability. Her tendency to jump from one memory to another frustrates readers, but a curiosity to learn more about Sutpen makes them turn the to the next page. Contrastingly, Mr. Compson has a much more linear, formulaic fashion, sometimes misunderstood as objectively telling us more about Sutpen. These opposing approaches enable Faulkner to “ask the reader to participate in the story, to help unravel why Sutpen’s fall occurred and why it was inevitable.” Much like how Hirsch described it, Absalom! Absalom! is most probably parallel to “computer hypertext novels in which the reader helps shape the story.” However, Faulkner’s writing sometimes gives the readers more information that they can understand while other times he doesn’t give enough information to be able to understand what is going on. This “incommensurate” (Ford) representation is carried throughout the book.
If it is so difficult to follow, why do we continue to read it? It’s simple. Our curiosity gets the better of us as we try to piece together the snippets of stories retold through the four narrators. Bernard Norcott-Mahany in his Kansas City Public Library review gives an explanation. Even though we will never be able to say for sure what Sutpen’s “whole” or “true” story really is, our “wiring” forces us to piece together the stories that others tell us, much like a 2-year-old toddler trying to solve a 500-piece puzzle. “Ultimately, we fail” in trying to “take into account their framing of any given story, and their peculiar way of telling that story, as well as our own blinders in receiving the story.” It feels like Faulkner is, in an interesting, droll way trying to tease the readers by purposefully hiding a few pieces of the puzzle and letting us bang our heads on a table until we eventually give up and find another game. However, in this case, Faulkner wins. His wonderful book, Absalom! Absalom! transcends generations of time to be as relevant to readers in the 21st century as it was in 1936.
Faulkner purposefully chose to write his story in a disoriented, convoluted fashion, switching between narrators, form, and style constantly. To begin, Faulkner utilized the black and white conflict of the South to “create a mosaic portrayal of the Sutpen family” (Nolan) through the eyes of the narrators. He then, amusingly, reveals the entire plot in the first two chapters of the book to portray to the reader that this is a novel driven by its theme, one of “quixotic and malleable quality of memory” (Literary Corner Café). Faulkner throws conventional ways of story-telling out the window to expose how “people create history through individual interpretation” (Literary Corner Café), making the readers more aware of the content they are trying to piece together, which is part of the reason why the impression that the novel leaves on its readers is “that Absalom! Absalom! ought to be a thousand pages long, so full is it of everything in the world” (Ford), whether it is read in 1964, 1979, or 2016. Henry Ford describes his experience when he read the book in The Threepenny Review. “It buoyed me, it sunk me, it turned me upside down. I loved it, I loathed it. It was familiar, it was alien.” Ford was as equally enthralled as was confused by Faulkner, like he was riding a roller coaster. He was expecting the huge drop and upside down loops to come, but the experience was indescribable to those who haven’t experienced it themselves.
It is also important to address Faulkner’s second theme, the danger and immorality of racism, which is developed in the second half of the book, when Quinton and Shreve begin to put together the story behind Thomas Sutpen and his first wife and eldest son, two important details left unspoken by Miss Rosa and Mr. Compson in the first half. Faulkner clues us into the reasons behind Sutpen’s actions and decisions towards the end of the book, which slowly help the readers to understand him. However, even though we are told the truth in Quinton’s and Shreve’s viewpoints, it is really the truth? Or is Faulkner just playing 20 Questions with his readers? Through the underlying theme of racism, Faulkner manages to use his unique, liquid writing style “to dramatize historical consciousness itself, not just human lives but the forest of time in which the whole notion of human life must find its only meaning” (Sullivan) and that is the reason why Faulkner can still be deemed relevant today.
We are still facing and dealing with racism and discrimination in current society, and it has become more dispersed than it has ever been throughout history. Faulkner, who was once seen as a rebellious author, “variously boring, baffling, [and] unreadable” (Hirsch), is now acclaimed for his novel Absalom! Absalom!, viewed as one of the “most fascinating” yet “most complex” (Literary Corner Café) books. Not only the subject matter, but also the way Faulkner’s chaotic writing parallels with life is relatable in any time period. Life is chaos and it is human nature to try and make sense of this chaos in any way possible. At the end of the day, it is like the battle of Yin vs. Yang—while there is a thunderous “maelstrom…swirling, plunderous,” (Ford) we attempt to construct a “beautiful artifice” (Ford) within it, each opposing, like Miss Rosa and Mr. Compson, yet balancing. It is fair to say that Absalom! Absalom! may as well be William Faulkner’s magnum opus, his greatest work that transcends eras.
The Awakening and Absalom, Absalom!: Plot Development in Short Stories
Development of Plot in “Absalom, Absalom” and “The Awakening”
Throughout The Awakening and Absalom, Absalom, the authors developed intricate plots that have a plethora of implications. Each of the implications is a critique on the societies of the times in which the books were written. Whether intended or not intended, the development of the plots of the books highlights many societal problems. In fact, each of the books has an underlying moral issue that is the determining factor for the conflicts. In Absalom, Absalom, the main moral issue was race. In The Awakening, the predominant issue was the limited role of women in society. William Falkner and Kate Chopin use moral issues to highlight the problems of society. These moral issues prove to be the focal point for the development of the plots in each of the novels.
Faulkner and Chopin use oppressive diction to highlight the coherent views that their audience may not understand. By using such discriminatory language in colloquial diction, it showcases the coherent thought in these times. The characters in the story use these terms so loosely and freely. Because of this, an audience can infer that the characters in these novels see nothing wrong with their vernacular. In Absalom, Absalom, black individuals are commonly identified with derogatory terms, even with hints that these people are inhumane in a sense. When Clytie tries to prevent Nancy from (finish this sentence), Nancy replies by saying, ““Take your hand off me, nigger”(Faulkner 112). Clytie does not reply or demonstrate any form of anger in a physical fashion. For an audience with more modern views, this is extremely shocking to see. However, it is important to realize that this type of derogatory language was commonly used towards blacks. This is significant because it demonstrates the place that blacks had in society at this time. Clytie tried to stop Rosa from trying to find Henry and Judith, yet Rosa responded by using an intense racial slur aimed to hurt Clytie. Her frustration was not aimed at Clytie, yet it was not deemed improper to insult a black person. In fact, Rosa did not even offer an apology for this. In her eyes, Rosa was above her and it was okay to try to hurt Clytie. This was the coherent belief of this time. In fact, Rosa Coldfield even refers to blacks as “wild niggers like beasts half tamed to walk upright like man” (Faulkner 4). The racial issue is illuminated in the eyes of readers who are not familiar with this racist view because of this diction. Similarly, women are referred to as housewives and domestic individuals in The Awakening. During Leonce Pontellier’s conversation with a psychologist, he says Edna does not act like a “typical wife or mother” (check and insert page number). In this instance, the connotation of a wife or a mother was a dependent submissive that is obedient to her husband. The diction effectively emphasizes the controversial view of the majority. An audience who is not familiar with these issues may find this diction offensive or restricting, which makes the audience more cognizant of the issues at hand. However, it is clear in The Awakening that some women seem content with their roles in society, as shown through Edna’s interactions with Madame (finish her name). Nonetheless, the diction in The Awakening is one where oppression can be seen clearly and vividly. Diction is used in the novels in order to represent the oppressive nature of this time period, which leads up to the centrality of the moral conflicts.
After reviewing these novels, it becomes increasingly obvious that the conflicts in these novels rest upon racial issues and women’s rights issues. The moral conflicts play their own bigger role in the actions of the dynamic characters, Thomas Sutpen and Edna Pontellier. Although moral issues are the underlying principle of the internal conflicts of the main characters, these issues have drastically different effects. In Absalom, Absalom, it is clear that Thomas Sutpen believes blacks are inferior to whites. This can be demonstrated through his interaction with the young black child at the house. In Sutpen’s mind, the child should not have been able to give him any type of orders because of the color of his skin. However, this interaction teaches him that even the inferiority of blacks does not compare to being a poor man in society. While he has no hatred for black individuals, blacks simply did not fit his vision. He leaves his wife and children as well as their children because the fact that they were black “rendered it impossible that this woman and child be incorporated into his design” (Faulkner 212). Sutpen desires to become a wealthy landowner with a powerful name. Because of this desire, he seeks to marry Edna Coldfield in order to acquire respect. It is unfathomable for an audience to understand why a man would leave his family simply because of the color of their skin. In addition to Sutpen’s internal conflict, race has additional implications on the plot. An important question arises during this novel. It is suggested that “if Henry had gone with him that summer instead of waiting until the next, Bon would not have had to die as he did” (Faulkner 83). It demonstrates that Henry was not mad because Bon and Judith were related. He may not have killed Bon in this case. However, the fact that he found out that Bon was part black infuriated him so much that he killed him. This quote shows that without this token of information, Henry may have not been inclined to kill Bon. In essence, Henry was more incensed by the race of Bon than the potential incest that could occur. To an audience, this is borderline insane. Thus, the issue of racial oppression is highlighted by the conflicts in the story. For Edna Pontellier, she identifies the extent to which woman are oppressed in society. At first, she is reluctant to express her dissatisfaction with her role as a housewife and a mother. Her dissatisfaction stems her “symptoms of infatuation”, which she has long denied (Chopin 75). Because she recognized how women were bound, she initially dismissed these symptoms. After becoming increasingly unhappy, she becomes discontent with the labels that are placed on women. She realizes her discontent with society when “her will had blazed up, stubborn and resistant” and “she wondered if her husband had ever spoken to her like that before, and if she had submitted to his command” (Chopin 53). Edna finally realizes the extent to which she was once controlled by the bounds that society had placed on her. It angers her and captivates her, and she wonders how anyone could take this. Due to this, she is inspired to experience things that no other woman had experienced before. However, this ended up being her downfall. Because “she grew daring and reckless” and she “overestimated her strength”, she ended up swimming out farther than any woman had swam before (Chopin 53). In this case, she swam too far. Her conflict of self-interest is stemmed by her discontent with the societal bounds which are placed on her. Meanwhile, Sutpen’s conflict of self-interest is heightened because the societal bounds that were placed on him as a child superseded the ones placed on blacks. Nonetheless, moral issues became the components of the downfalls of both Sutpen and Pontellier.
Review of William Faulkner’s Book, Absalom, Absalom!
Upon its debut in 1936, William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! produced sound and fury across the nation, eliciting both skepticism and criticism from its shocked audience. Faulkner, a writer from the deep south, is known as the “American Shakespeare” for his intense and introspective writings from the late 1920s to the early 1950s. Tackling the impressive legacy that was left behind with the novel, writer John Jeremiah Sullivan argues that the novel is extremely impressive for a variety of reasons. Sullivan asserts that through its prose, narrative elements, and critique of racism in the South, Faulkner’s seminal work, Absalom, Absalom!, is one of the most important literary works in American history and is one of the reasons that the South was able to free itself from its underpinning of racism. Critic Sullivan is correct in his assertion as there is much evidence to support his claims.
The prose of Absalom, Absalom! was unlike anything the literary world had seen before and changed the way that the English language appears in print. One of the first major points Sullivan makes about the importance of the novel is its direct challenge of Southern racism through that prose. Faulkner, Sullivan states, has “choices are so precise, and his juxtaposition of the words so careful in conditioning our sense reception, that he doesn’t so much solve as overpower the problem. The sparrows flying into the window trellis beat their wings with a sound that’s ´dry vivid dusty,´ each syllable a note in a chord he’s forming. The Civil War ghosts that haunt the room are ´garrulous outraged baffled´ (Sullivan). Faulkner uses many different vivid descriptions that are often unsettling to the reader, and his sentences are long, beautiful and elegiac as if spoken by a Southerner. It is no wonder that the Guinness World Record for “Longest Sentence in Literature¨ belongs to Faulkner (Faulkner 149-152). His prose is long, elegant, and descriptive, and allows the reader to visualize the intense plot pieces of the novel. From the death of Charles Bon at the gilded gates of Sutpen’s Hundred, to the brutal scything of Sutpen, the vivid scenes are precisely described in a style unlike any other author. This description appals the reader and gives a different perspective on racist ideologies, as it is easier to associate things with a visual image. Faulkner gives the visceral, vivid image of racism in the form of Charles Bon´s murder. By these colorful descriptions, the reader is challenged to view the cause, racism, of these events in a different light.
Faulkner made another strange choice that served to help free the South from its racism: a completely transparent narrative structure.The reader is completely aware of everything that is happening in the novel, including the plot, from the very outset. Sullivan says that “a fundamental law of storytelling is: withhold information. As the writer Paul Metcalf put it, ´the only real work in creative endeavor is keeping things from falling together too soon. What we discover, though, on advancing into the novel’s maze, is that Faulkner has given nothing away, not of the things he most values. He’s not concerned with holding us in suspense over the unearthing of events but in keeping us transfixed, as he goes about excavating the soil beneath them, and tracing their post-mortem effects (embodied, perhaps, by the worm that comes to light in a shovelful of dirt, ´doubtless alive when the clod was thrown up though by afternoon it was frozen again´). The nightmare of the Southern past exists — an accomplished thing. To delve into the nature of the tragedy is the novel’s drama´¨ (Sullivan). Save for a few choice surprises that really are not groundbreakingly shocking, the entire plot of what is to come is already known to the reader. The jumping around of the narrative allows the reader to slowly put all the pieces of the narrative together. Since almost all of the narrative, save the discovery of the Henry Sutpen, is transparent the novel builds up lots of suspense to the ending. It also forces the reader to piece the whole narrative together, even though it is given in the onset of the novel. From the testimony of Miss Rosa (not Aunt Rosa), to the warm Harvard dorm room testimony of Quentin, the puzzle is put together slowly but surely with more graphic detail. The reader is much more horrified as a brief introduction followed by delving deeper forces the audience to relive the event in all its horror. It is a repeated trauma to preserve the lesson of the work. These stories and style of speaking are totally and wholly Southern. Faulkner even made the bold choice to make Quentin´s roommate Shreve, who is the recipient of the story, a Canadian so as not to offend the Southerners with a Yankee hearing this tale. It is a quintessential portrait of the South, and the issues that plague the Sutpens are allegorical of the issues plaguing the majority of the south.
Finally, by directly addressing racism in the South, Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! was able to help free the South from its crippling racism. Faulkner employs racial epithets quite frequently; his knowledge of the subject matter and impactful diction put power behind these words. Sullivan states that “the defense to be mounted is not of Faulkner’s use of the word but of the novel in spite of it, or rather, in the face of it. ‘Absalom, Absalom!’ has been well described as the most serious attempt by any white writer to confront the problem of race in America. There is bravery in Faulkner’s decision to dig into this wound. He knew that the effort would involve the exposure of his own mind, dark as it often was. You could make a case that to have written this book and left out that most awful of Southernisms would have constituted an act of falsity.”(Sullivan). Without his intense usage of words that we would not consider politically correct, Faulkner would not have helped to bring about a change in the South. The quintessential climax of this novel is when Charles Bon declares to Henry Sutpen that he is “the n_____ who is going to marry your sister” (Faulkner 289). It reclaims the word used previously used only by racist white people in the novel and allows race to be challenged by its use by a black man. Sullivan also states that Faulkner uses implied paradoxes to highlight the horror of racism. “There is nothing to keep Henry from saying it, to keep him from reaching out his hand to his black brother, nothing except the weight of the past, the fear of ridicule, his own weakness. Instead of his hand, Henry brings forth the pistol” (Sullivan). Sullivan argues here that Henry could do the right thing, but instead of outwardly saying it, he points the finger of blame towards racism. This intense juxtaposition, that a man would let his half brother marry his sister, committing incest, but would not allow it on the grounds that the same man is one eighth black, also serves to highlight how ludicrous the concept of racial makeup is in the South at that time.
Since the release of the novel Absalom, Absalom!, radical changes have affected the South in many ways, particularly in the manner of race. For the South to have moved away from an evil, racial ideology that many were willing to die to protect on fields far away is remarkable. With his usage of prose, narrative style, and direct address of race, Faulkner managed to successfully take steps to release the South from its own underpinning of racism. “The novel is about even more than that in the end. It attempts something that had never been tried before in the art of fiction, and as far as I know has never been since, not in so pure a form — to dramatize historical consciousness itself, not just human lives but the forest of time in which the whole notion of human life must find its only meaning. Not to have failed completely at such a task is indistinguishable from triumph. The South escaped itself in this book and became universal” (Sullivan). The true form of the South is just beginning today with changes evident in budding cities such as Atlanta, Nashville and Mobile. Without first breaking down their barriers and changing the abhorrent things deeply embedded in their culture, they would remain stuck in the past. Even today there are conflicts relating to the racial issues still plaguing the South. Yet, the South still lumbers on, gradually throwing off the yoke of racism year by year.
Depiction of the Lives of Women in the South in the Novels Desiree’s Baby and Absalom, Absalom!
An Understanding Women In the South
William Faulkner is a renowned author of American literature who created a county rooted in the deep south, portraying the real life hardships of living in that part of the U.S. One major concern Faulkner paints in his plotlines, is the theme of racism. His story lines have harsh truths about that time, which can also be discovered in works other than Faulkner’s that are set in the same southern area and time frame. While it is a distinguished feature in Faulkner works that mixed race characters are discriminated against, white men and their “design” continuously belittles mixed race women which can be looked at closer while comparing the characters in a short story by Kate Chopin Desiree’s Baby and Faulkner’s Absalom Absalom. To understand the characters placement in their respective stories, one must first understand “the south.” Both stories are written based on southern cultures which has particular rules and certain ways of life. Along with the rules of the south, the role of women was different especially in Mississippi, where Absalom Absalom takes place, and in Louisiana, the setting of Desiree’s Baby, of which are set during the Civil War. While looking at discrimination in the south at the time and focusing particularly on women, the prejudices run deeper towards women of color.
Beginning with Faulkner’s Absalom Absalom, the character’s interactions allow the tensions to be examined and criticsized. To examine the image of women closer, a quote by Mr. Compson in Absalom Absalom helps to make sense of how men thought of women at the time: “The other sex is separated into three sharp divisions, separated (two of them) by a chasm which could be crossed but one time and in but one direction—ladies, women, females—the virgins whom gentlemen someday married, the courtesans to whom they went to while on sabbaticals to the cities, the slave girls and women upon whom that first caste rested and to whom in certain cases it doubtless owed the very fact of its virginity…”(Faulkner 87).
This quote can be interpreted to be a man’s idea of how women are categorized, leaving any woman who is mixed in the lowest category. “Mr Compson presents us with a fantasy figure who becomes the vehicle through which he expounds his views concerning women, sexuality, and race.”(Li 88). This fantasy figure is the octoroon mistress who is talked about very little, except when Judith finds a picture of her and the child she had with Charles Bon. Although Charles himself is a mixed race, he created a version of himself that would be accepted in the white man’s world. Bon creates the character of his mistress basing her on the fact she was easy for pro creation. “For a price, of course, but a price offered and accepted or declined through a system more formal than any that white girls are sold under since they are more valuable as commodities than white girls, raised and trained to fulfill a woman’s sole end and purpose: to love, to be beautiful, to divert…”(Faulkner 93 ). Additionally, while Henry talks to Charles about his octoroon mistress he says the marriage does not count because she is black and has no rights, therefore no say about the relationship. Due to him being the one who portrays this mistress, the male again has the power. “Neither Sutpen nor Bon envisions a world to which their children can belong. Both create fantasies exclusively for men like themselves, with the requirement, at least on the part of Sutpen, that their heirs be exact versions of themselves.”(Li 89). Charles portrays these scenarios with his own reputation in mind, having control over the situation proving the point that this woman is evermore expendable and “othered.”
Kate Chopin’s character in Desiree’s Baby is introduced as a character with unknown genealogy, having the readers infer she is of a mixed race, causes speculation and prejudices which her husband abuses when he is worried his genealogy will be found our and risk losing his “design.” In an article by Dagmar Pegues “ Fear and Desire: Regional Aesthetics and Colonial Desire in Kate Chopin’s Portrayals of the Tragic Mulatta Stereo”, he points out an obsession with using a black woman’s body in narrative and stories: “examining one plateau of the sexualized stereotype of the dusky-eyed, exotic quadroons and octoroons, i.e. the desirability of their bodies for their white masters, which paradoxically underlies the perpetuation of the white southern hierarchy, as well as by examining portrayals of (sexual and non-sexual) violence and victimization of the black body.” This obsession with the darkness of the body is shown when Desiree is describing Armand, but she did not realize what she was describing. “But Armand’s dark, handsome face had not often been disfigured by frowns since the day he fell in love with her”(Chopin 402). Armand who takes pride in his the inheritance of his wealth, land, and home, has to think about the lineage of his family therefore wanted a male heir, only using Desiree for this. Armand likes to be in control, which is shown when the slaves say how he runs the plantation differently than his father. By using Desiree for a test trial of how his children for look he is in control of his heir. “In the context of the examination of the work of Kate Chopin, the fetishization of the black body, i.e. the fear of the racial Other and a coexistent desire projected toward the body of the tragic mulatta, embodies the complex and paradoxical nature of stereotype as a confluence of knowledge and power.”(Pegues 6). Armand agrees to marry her while knowing her background may have octoroon blood in it, but if their child looked obviously black he would be able to direct the blame to the mother rather then himself, whom he knew was of mixed race. He tried to associate the blame on Desiree for the color of their child’s skin. “That the child is not white; it means that you are not white.”(Chopin 403). He knew she would be too embarrassed to stay knowing she was the reason he had a black child, thus she feels she has ruined his family. Pegues goes on to say “Désirée herself, who is “literally lost”; and she further describes the source of Désirée’s tragedy “not to her assumed ‘taint’ but to the system of racial and sexual oppression where the white patriarchal system is the ‘taint’,” again explicitly saying Desiree’s oppression due to her possible race but because her possible race does not fit into Armands system which she thinks is pure.
In the south, having slaves during this period was not uncommon and are often incorporated in the stories. Thomas Sutpen worked with his slaves to create his plantation to add to his design. But he also had Clytie with a slave women returning to the idea that white man have a desire for their slaves bodies. Similarly, in Desiree’s Baby, La Blanche is a slave on Armands plantation who could possibly have a child with Armand. While Desiree is coming to terms with her sons skin color, she compares is to one of the slaves children, making another connection between Armand and La Blanche. La Blanche is often compared to Desiree even by Armand. Ellen Peel in “Semiotic Subversion” says “Neither has a “proper” name, only a descriptive one. During the scene in which Armand rejects his wife, he explicitly points out the physical resemblance between the women: “As white as La Blanche’s,” he returned cruelly. ” While it does not clearly state that he is abusive to Desiree, Armand is not portrayed to be sweet loving towards her until after the baby is born making it seem that is the only reason he grows more loving.. This violence toward the black body is explicated within Desiree’s Baby when it is known Desiree’s husband is a violent slave owner, who also takes advantage of Desiree’s unknown background.“I believe, chiefly because it is a boy to bear his name; though he says not,- that he would have loved a girl as well. But I know this isn’t true.” (Chopin 402). Desiree admits she is scared of her husband’s violence, possibly showing he has been violent towards her. She then goes on to say “He hasn’t punished one of them-not one of them-since baby is born. Even Negrillon, who pretended to have burnt his leg that he might rest from work- he only laughed, and said Negrillon was a great scamp. Oh, mamma I’m so happy; it frightens me.”(Chopin 402). Although Faulkner does not give the details about the relationship between Clyties mother and Sutpen, his character can be equivalated to Armand just the same. After dismissing Wash Jones, while sleeping with his granddaughter Sutpen’s irresponsibility and cruelty is represented. Another time, is while Sutpen asks Rosa Coldfield to marry him, but only after they have a child so he can have an heir. Linda Dunleavy in “Marriage and the Invisibility of Women in Absalom, Absalom!” examines the situation as Rosa being the only woman who can not give men the ability to belittle her, although she wants to be the woman or the lady that Mr. Compson earlier said gentleman will marry. “Aware that she is inscribing herself into absence, Rosa agrees to marry Sutpen because she wants to have a sexual life and wants to have access to the female experience.” This specific event, correlates to the women’s inability to have control over themselves and if Rosa would have agreed would have been in Sutpen’s power.
To elaborate more, Thomas Sutpen in Absalom Absalom, tells General Compson that in order to achieve his design he would require the following things: money, a house, a plantation, slaves, a family -incidentally of coure a wife. Just as Armand required the same to be content with himself, both portraying the southern male ideals of success and happiness. After Desiree leaves Armand, he may decide to follow in Sutpen’s footsteps and remarry in hopes that he has an heir that can be socially accepted. Thomas Sutpen needed to marry Ellen in order to produce heirs, and gain the towns respect to complete his design of becoming a true southern man with respect within the community, the same as Armand. His desire to marry Judith stems from that, and the hope to make Henry proud. Stephanie Li in the article “Resistance, Silence, and Placées: Charles Bon’s Octoroon Mistress” talked about Bon and Henry’s intricate relationship which added complications to Bon.“Although Bon’s mistress embodies a chaos of identities that overturns all pretense of order, Henry perceives her primarily through the lens of sexual desire. For Henry, issues of race and class are irrelevant in a social order that grants white men the freedom of sexual dominance.” From this is can be determined that both males feel a sort of dominance sexually, Henry liked to imagine Bon’s previous wife as a sexual object, and Bon liked to arouse Henry with the fantasies of this. Turning back to the statement made about white southern hierarchy, the men who feel they need to make a place for themself in the south feel a sense of dominance over the women and sexualize the idea of having an affair with black women. All the male character throughout both Absalom Absalom, and Desiree’s Baby look through the lense of a white male in the south, embodying the culture that sexualizes the black body, and uses women for personal growth within their own design.
A Look at the Different Topics in William Faulkner’s, Absalom, Absalom!
Oftentimes, in literature, a certain theme is established to be considered while reading the writing. These themes are used to remind the reader about the background of the book, or to express a message throughout the book. Some books have more than one theme, to express more than one message. In the book, Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, there are three major theme shown in the book. Set in the South, after the Civil War, the themes in the book are social status, incest, and racism. These theme are constantly shown throughout the plot.
The setting of the book is West Virginia, right after the War Between the States. The book tells a story about Thomas Sutpen, the son of a poor white in western Virginia who has a grand “design,” and the effect his actions have on future generations in Yoknapatawpha County. As an adolescent, Thomas moved with his family from the mountains to the Tidewater region of Virginia and he saw for the first time wealthy planters who owned grand houses and Negro slaves. Ignorant of the aristocratic Southern social code prevalent in his new home, he believed himself equal to his new neighbors until a chance errand taught him otherwise. When delivering a message to a plantation house, a liveried black servant told him to go around to the back of the house, thus destroying his naïve view of life. Realizing for the first time his true social stature, he decided to fight fire with fire: he determined to amass wealth, slaves, and land for himself–in short, to create his “design.” He decided to grow out of his label of white trash. To begin amassing his fortune, he ran away to the West Indies, where he secured a job for a Haitian sugar planter. After heroically defending the plantation during a slave revolt, he married the planter’s daughter, Eulalia, in 1827. Soon after the birth of their son, Charles, Sutpen discovered his wife had Negro blood. Knowing he could never achieve his “design” with a wife who had black blood, he divorced her in 1831, leaving her to raise young Charles alone. Forced to start over, Sutpen arrived in Jefferson, Mississippi in 1833. Since he apparently lacked both possessions and past, the residents considered him an outrage from the very beginning. Nevertheless, he set out to create his design. First, he bought a hundred square miles of fertile bottom land in the northern half of Yoknapatawpha County, near the Tallahatchie River, from Ikkemotubbe, a Chickasaw chief, paid with his last gold coin to have the deed recorded, and disappeared. He returned a month later with a wagonload of wild, naked Negro slaves who spoke no English and a dapper French architect and began to build his house. After two years, the house was completed, and he lived there for another three years in the unfurnished, windowless house, borrowing seed from General Compson to plant his first crop. Five years after his arrival, he furnished the house and reached an agreement with a local merchant, Goodhue Coldfield, to marry his daughter, Ellen. Because of his unsavory reputation among the town residents and their suspicions that he was a thief, however, only a handful attended the wedding. They settled into their plantation, now known as Sutpen’s Hundred, and seldom were seen in town. Sutpen had achieved his goal, and was no longer considered white trash. His main goal, and one theme of the book, was to break the chain of social status in the society, and be something no one expected him to be.
Ellen bore two children, Henry and Judith. In 1859, Henry entered the University of Mississippi, forty miles away in Oxford. There he met and became close friends with Charles Bon, some ten years older than Henry, not knowing Bon was his half-brother. When Bon spent Christmas at Sutpen’s Hundred, he met and initiated a betrothal with Judith, which Henry seemed to approve. On the following Christmas, however, an encounter between Henry and his father resulted in Henry’s renouncement of his birthright and subsequent departure with Bon for New Orleans. When the Civil War broke out the following spring, both Henry and Bon joined a regiment formed at the university, and Sutpen was second in command in Colonel John Sartoris’s 23rd Mississippi Infantry, of which Sutpen was elected Colonel the following year. Bon and Henry remained together throughout the war, but when the war had ended and Bon returned to Sutpen’s Hundred to marry Judith, Henry shot and killed Bon at the plantation gate and disappeared. Bons relationship with Judith was incest, but the closeness of Judith and Henry could also be considered incest as well. Henry killed Bon before their marriage, but why was a mystery. Could it be that Henry loved his sister sexually? This would only strengthen the theme of incest in the book.
The one theme that is constant, throughout the whole book, is racism. Since the book is set in the South, around slavery times, African Americans are portrayed as such. The word nigger appears throughout, and the way Sutpen and others treat their slaves is commonplace, but as seen through the readers eyes, is completely racist. This has to be expected, since Faulkner is trying to portray the South in its true light. If he had chosen not to use certain words or phrases, and not to describe slavery in the way it really was, in order to be politically correct, the full effect of the story would not be felt, thus lowering the magnitude of the book. Though racism is not a good thing, it is used very well as an underlying theme in this story.
William Faulkner wrote a good story, and though writing style is difficult to read and hard to understand, the book is well written. The use of the three themes, social status, incest, and racism, make the book even better, allowing the reader to get the full aspect of the story itself.
Transferring Violence in Absalom, Absalom
At the heart of Absalom, Absalom is the violence of class division, national division, and racial division; particularly the violence between white Southerners and black slaves as a substitute for the violence poor whites would like to commit against wealthy whites. Thomas Sutpen’s barn fights with his “wild negroes” and his youth’s encounter with the slave at the door epitomize this desire for revenge and violence by transferring it. The revelation that he was in Haiti for the revolution sheds a new light on his barn fights and the appearance of the Klan shows this transference at a larger social level. Ironically, the very violence that Thomas Sutpen cannot commit against his former antagonists and objects of jealousy is the violence that kills him when Wash loses control his rage. What begins as a class division between Sutpen’s mountain family and the South’s plantation aristocracy quickly becomes the division and antagonism of the African slave by the poor white.Sutpen, and the poor whites like him, feel frustration that the slaves of these plantation owners seem superiorly dressed, fed, and cared for. In the South, Sutpen “had learned the difference not only between white men and black ones, but he was learning that there was a difference between white men and white men not to be measured by lifting anvils or gouging eyes or how much whiskey you could drink” (183). He noticed that one of the main differences would be the presence of slaves and those slaves’ superior state, seeing “ a nigger who wore every day better clothes than he or his father and sisters had ever owned and ever expected to” (184). Not just the clothes, but the house of the whites were “not quite as well built and not at all as well kept and preserved as the ones the nigger slaves lived in” (185). In innocence, “he still didn’t envy the man…he coveted the shoes” (184). However, that innocence does not exist for the others like his father who do feel a rage and hatred of the man who owns the shoes, which Sutpen may later share.Sutpen, his father, and those like them engage in violence against the African slaves who are the only objects within reach and within their power to hurt that can represent the frustration and hatred they feel towards the plantation attitude of superiority. Sutpen realizes that this violence is useless and only a feeble attempt to fight back. He knows “you could hit them…and they would not hit back…But you did not want to, because they (the niggers) were not it, not what you wanted to hit” (186). When “the nigger told him, even before he had time to say what he came for, never to come to that front door again but to go around to the back,” Sutpen loses some of his innocence and feels the same violent frustration of his father (188). He must do something, like his father must beat the slaves, thinking, “But I can shoot him. (Not the monkey nigger. It was not the nigger anymore than it had been the nigger that his father had helped to whip that night” but the man in the hammock without shoes (190). Yet his voice tells him that it would do no good. Even the rich owner is not the final object of violence, it is beyond individuals, and Sutpen realizes, “‘You got to have land and niggers and a fine house to combat them with” and it’s a “them” beyond the slaves or rich owner (192).Sutpen, does, however indulge in fights with his Negroes as a way of releasing some of that stress and frustration that he feels, knowing the fights will not change anything or bring him closer to his design; yet, he cannot quite escape that need for violence and physical contact in the face of an abstract enemy. This continued physical brutality may also reflect the ultimate failure of his design in that he never really manages to leave that mountain mentality. As the rich owner must have seen his family then, “as cattle, creatures heavy and without grace, brutally evacuated into a world without hope or purpose for them, who would in turn spawn with brutish and vicious prolixity” is exactly the last picture we get of Sutpen’s desperate desire only to procreate (190). In the end, he could not “combat with them,” he could only fight slaves, and fighting the revolution in Haiti did no good because he fought against his mixed marriage and the son who is ultimately the demise of Sutpen. Fighting the slaves in the barn did no good since it just lowered his reputation by revealing his similarity to the slaves that he works with half-naked in the field and now fights in the bar. In the end, transferring violence onto the slaves helped no one and was not a successful means to his design.Work CitedFaulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom. New York: Vintage International, 1986. Print.
Ambivalence and Anguish: The Inescapability of the Old South and its Destruction of Quentin Compson in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom
William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom identifies the fundamental problem of Southern history as a wretched combination of two predominant qualities: the shameful and abhorrent nature of the past, and the haunting and mythical presence of such a past in the hearts and minds of the descendents of the old South. In the essay “Faulkner and the Civil War: Myth and Reality,” Douglas T. Miller argues that Faulkner often implies the retrospective “moral failings” of the old South but at the same time grants its history an immense mythic and heroic quality. “Much of Faulkner’s writing is concerned with the inability of the descendents of the old order leaders to deal effectively with the modern South,” writes Miller. “To some of these individuals it is the legend of the Civil War that incapacitates them from acting meaningfully in the new South” (204). Quentin Compson’s mental anguish in the final pages of the novel and his subsequent suicide reflect a profound inner estrangement—the myth of the antebellum South and the cold reality of the post-bellum world colliding in the mind of one man who cannot quite come to terms with either. Quentin’s long-winded and convoluted description of the South functions in the novel as a poignant commentary on the painful aura of history that exists below the Mason-Dixon line. It is something even he, a descendent of the South, simply “cannot pass” (Faulkner 139). The South is unintelligible for Quentin, yet its history has been internalized nonetheless. The stories that haunt Quentin into convulsions make the past no more lucid, but they do indicate the innate presence of the South in his soul. Miller contends there is a strong “myth-making quality of Southern memory. ” Quentin can internalize and access such mythical memories of a foregone era because he has been so shaped by that era. In Faulkner: The House Divided, Eric J. Sundquist calls Quentin “one of the remaining fragments of Sutpen’s nightmarish design, and as such [he] continues to express the long trauma that outlived the design” (130).The narrator conveys this profound connection by dissolving the boundaries between past and present. “It was a day of listening too—the listening, the hearing in 1909 even yet mostly that which [Quentin] already knew since he had been born in and still breathed the same air in which the church bells had rung on that Sunday morning of 1833” (Faulkner 23). The juxtaposition between Quentin’s innate association with the old South and Shreve’s fundamental detachment from it explains why the outsider can never embody the varied nuances of such a past. Shreve is removed both geographically and temporally from the legend of the South that he yearns to comprehend. Charles S. Sydnor’s essay entitled “The Southern Experiment in Writing Social History” argues that historians from the South face similar difficulty when explaining their past to people removed from the Southern tradition—“people who have in some measure a different standard of values” (460). [M]uch skill and art are needed if a civilization that is gone is to be made comprehensible to men of the civilization that displanted it. Perhaps the historian can never hope to accomplish the task as well as the novelist can do it. At best, the historian may make a profound and penetrating analysis of a culture, but he is rarely able to make it breathe and move before the eyes of another generation of men (Sydnor 460).Faulkner’s own work both mirrors and emphasizes this inability to translate certain aspects of history across regional lines. In the novel, Quentin—a man separated by time but not origin—tells Shreve: “You can’t understand it. You would have to be born there” (Faulkner 289). In agreement, Shreve says that Southerners have “something [his] people haven’t got”—the internal phantom of a past so repugnant that it can never quite be forgotten. “[I]f we have got it, it happened long ago across the water and so now there ain’t anything to look at every day and remind us of it” (Faulkner 289). The “something” Shreve describes is that certain and stubborn essence that makes the South, the haunting past that has lived decades beyond the Civil War. Sundquist contends that Faulkner’s entire work “is permeated by an aura of decay and failed magnificence—of a grand design gone wrong through the sins of the fathers” (97). More than a lasting problem, Shreve describes the Southern curse as eternal: “[A]s long as your children’s children produce children you won’t be anything but a descendent of a long line of colonels killed in Pickett’s charge at Manassas” (Faulkner 289). No matter how many generations arise, the origins and roots will always trace back to that ill-fated era. The curse is a blood curse—and there is no blotting out the history of the South. In an essay entitled “The Ever-Vanishing South,” Charles P. Roland notes that Southern fiction often “swarms” with long family lineages that go on ad infinitum: “The strengths and weaknesses of the present generation are seen as a legacy from its forebears” (12). In the individual case of Thomas Sutpen and his legatees, the sins and threats of miscegenation and incest pervade the generations and persevere with the life of Jim Bond, leading Quentin to ponder the infinity of memory. Maybe nothing ever happens once and is finished. Maybe happen is never once but like ripples maybe on water after the pebble sinks, the ripples moving on, spreading, the pool attached to a narrow umbilical cord to the next pool which the first pool feeds, has fed, did feed, let this second pool contain a different temperature of water, a different molecularity of having seen, felt, remembered, reflect in a different tone the infinite unchanging sky, it doesn’t matter: that pebble’s watery echo whose fall it did not even see moves across its surface too at the original ripple-space, to the old inevitable rhythm (Faulkner 210).The soft “ripples” in Quentin’s metaphor deviate from the intense reality of his own internal conflict: “[Quentin] began to jerk all over, violently and uncontrollably until he could even heard the bed” (Faulkner 288). Even though Quentin explicitly states, “I’m not cold,” Shreve offers Quentin coats and blames the cool climate of the Northeast; he cannot fathom that Quentin’s “violent and uncontrollable” spasms might have originated from a deep-seeded conflict of self spurred by the vestiges of his history. Unlike Shreve, who has nothing “to look at everyday” to remind him of the past, Quentin must face himself and grapple with his innate, albeit temporally distant, relationship with the South. The unintelligible nature of Quentin’s own history spurs his subsequent mental torment. When Shreve questions his understanding of the history, Quentin appears markedly ambivalent: “I don’t know … Yes, of course I understand it … I don’t know” (Faulkner 289). The South is at once ubiquitous and elusive. “What is it?” asks Shreve, “Something you live and breathe in like air? A kind of vacuum filled with wrath-like and indomitable anger and pride and glory at and in happenings that occurred and ceased fifty years ago?” (Faulkner 289). Shreve’s choice of the word “cease” emphasizes the crux of his confusion: not only did the “happenings” occur fifty years ago, but they also ostensibly ceased, concluded. Quentin’s internal struggles prove, however, that the Civil War was no panacea for the problems of the South, and the conflict yielded no catharsis. At the conclusion of Absalom, Absalom, there is little resolution for Quentin either. Quentin’s failure to understand his own past—one that he is inextricably and inescapably tied up in—contributes to a form of self-estrangement that he cannot overcome. He is neither synonymous with his past nor fully removed enough to function as a true member of his present. Quentin’s mental “miscegenation” reflects the debacle of slavery and the war itself, which Sundquist argues “makes Clytie neither slave nor free and makes Charles Bon neither slave nor son nor brother” (114). This form of “improbable marriage … creates the extraordinary psychological and stylistic turbulence in Faulkner’s reimagining of Quentin’s dilemma” (Sundquist 111). Zygmunt Bauman, author of Modernity and Ambivalence, defines the stranger as an “undecidable” who “disturbs the resonance between physical and psychical distance: he is physically close while remaining spiritually remote” (60). Quentin’s existence hinges on the nostalgic yet horrifying past of Sutpen and the old South to the extent that he cannot fully align with the physical reality of living in the 20th century. Indeed, one of the subtlest—and most thorny—difficulties inherent in Southern history is the “cultural difference between the old South and modern America” (Sydnor 460). In many ways, Quentin is torn between two worlds. Contrary to Abraham Lincoln’s vision in his House Divided speech, Quentin’s past impedes his being “all one thing, or all the other.” He is mentally unsound because he encompasses the old South yet contemporaneously exists in 1909. Quentin’s breakdown is based on his inability to strike the “balance between nostalgia and rage” necessary to lead a complete and contented life; he instead occupies both (Sundquist 112). Says Bauman: “Oppositions enable knowledge and action; undecidables paralyze them” (56). Quentin’s ambiguous response to Shreve’s question about his own comprehension of the South signals the novel’s conclusion, where Quentin ardently yet unpersuasively maintains that he does not hate the South. Shreve’s initial inquiry about the nature of the South functions as a precursor to Quentin’s psychological deterioration and consequent death in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Shreve’s loaded questions lead Quentin “through an agonizing rehearsal of Thomas Sutpen’s flawed design, through the might have been that had to be, and bring him to the threshold of his suicide” (Sundquist 100). “Tell about the South,” Shreve asks. “What’s it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all” (Faulkner 142). Quentin attempts to answer the questions in his detailed account of Sutpen’s Hundred and the consequences such an abomination necessarily caused, yet by the novel’s conclusion he realizes he can never fully explain the South to someone like Shreve. Even more troubling is Shreve’s final question, “Why do they live at all?” Although Quentin does not explicitly give an answer, the response lies in Charles Bon’s letter to Judith. [W]ithin this sheet of paper you now hold the best of the old South which is dead, and the words you read were written upon it with the best … of the North which has conquered and will therefore, whether it likes it or not, will have to survive, I now believe that you and I are, strangely enough, included among those doomed to live (Faulkner 104-5).Quentin is doomed to live in the same way, doomed to a life dominated by the duality of one mind and one soul. Quentin’s collapse reflects the “utter fragility of the South’s own vision of itself,” as he has effectively stigmatized himself as a cultural stranger in the post-bellum world (Sundquist 99). Bauman defines stigma as “an otherwise innocuous trait”—such as Quentin’s bond with history—that “becomes a blemish, a sign of affliction, a cause of shame … eminently fit for the task of immobilizing the stranger in his identity of the excluded Other” (67-8). In asking about the South, Shreve indirectly implies and exposes Quentin’s innate cultural difference—a flaw Quentin himself does not recognize until the conclusion of the novel when he finds “that contagion [has spread] to his bedroom in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1910” (Sundquist 129). Bauman asserts that stigmatized individuals often “go out of their way to rid and suppress everything which makes them distinct from rightful members of the community … to guarantee their reclassification as insiders” (71). Quentin lacks such social flexibility because the essence of his stigma is the inescapable past embedded in his very being. To achieve full domestication, the stranger must “demonstrate the absence of old abomination,” says Bauman. “To prove the absence of a trait is an endemically inconclusive task [because] to unmake the past is downright impossible.” Faced with the inability of this task, Quentin hopelessly resolves to “unmake” his present—and future—by committing suicide in 1910. Works CitedBauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and Ambivalence. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1991.Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom. Vintage International: New York, 1990.Miller, Douglas T. “Faulkner and the Civil War: Myth and Reality. ”American Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 2, Part 1. (Summer, 1963) pp. 200-209 Roland, Charles P. “The Ever-Vanishing South.” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Feb. 1982), pp.3-20Sundquist, Eric J. Faulkner: The House Divided. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 1983.Sydnor, Charles S. “The Southern Experiment in Writing Social History.” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Nov. 1945), pp. 455-468.
Relations Between Blacks and Whites in Faulkner’s Literature
Part of an old southern family from Mississippi, William Faulkner chooses to inscribe in his writing the culture of his white heritage: the stories, myths and nightmares of the South. He particularly selects to portray the fall of the old aristocracy and its interaction with the people in the imaginary town of Jefferson. He also engages his fictive world with a moving, often tragic, awareness of the impact of racism and prejudice against Black Americans. Faulkner’s writing not only reproduces the social and political institutions based on racism in the South, it frequently analyzes that racism, demonstrating its damaging impact on both races. Some of his chief concerns were the nature of evil and guilt in the chaotic relationships between blacks and whites, the resentment that they encounter against each other and the inexplicable attraction that often result from it. Faulkner’s black characters in particularly have difficult times dealing with all these issues that take them places where they question their true identities and the meaning of their life. At the end, most of these characters’ actions and lives are the result of the way they are treated according to the color of their skin. African Americans characters are a regular presence in Faulkner’s stories, even if they represent stereotypes: the tragic mulatto, the Mammy, the faithful retainer, the rebellious marginal man. Faulkner’s black characters were not written purely from personal contact and observation of life in the environs of Jefferson, Mississippi. He alludes to and perpetuates well-established myths of black identity and culture. Faulkner, born and raised in Mississippi in the early twentieth century has the point of view of the typical white man who sees blacks as primitive and dependant of white superiority. But at the same time he intents to stay neutral and only give the point of view of the inhabitants of Jefferson while telling the stories. The imaginary town is filled with atypical personalities who at one time or another find themselves the center of attention because of what they are: black, or “Negro” (the term Negro has a negative connotation and induces the reader to visualize the situation the way it was back in those days). The whites in the old-fashioned South aristocracy castigated blacks as worthless and never treated them as equal. Faulkner grew up in that state of mind “Faulkner struggled with this culture and this heritage [of racism and violence against blacks] all his life” and therefore transfers it to his writing.1 The theme of racial prejudice is brought up in several of Faulkner’s works: in Light in August (1932) the prejudice is shown to be most destructive when it is internalized in the character of Joe Christmas who believes that one of his parent was Negro; in Absalom, Absalom! (1936) Charles Bon is rejected by his father and brother because of his mixed blood. However, Faulkner’s most outspoken moral evaluation of the relationship and the problems between blacks and whites is to be found in Intruder In the Dust (1948), the story of Lucas Beauchamp who is falsely accused of murder. In the novel The Sound and the Fury (1929), the principal black character is Dilsey Gibson, mother of three children, who has been a faithful domestic servant and “Mammy” to the white Compson family for thirty years. She is strong and independent but retains her fidelity to the Compson family.The characters range from the traditional southern Mammy figure or the Negro help working in the white Masters plantation, to characters with a higher position that want to relate to these aristocratic southern families and want to be treated as equal. Faulkner’s black characters identify themselves with the way they are treated by whites, and the interaction between the two races is described as if everything that matter in the South involved around the subject. Racism was predominant at that time in America and was even more severe in the South, black lynching was an everyday occurrence and as the Jim Crow laws came to personify the system of a government promoting racial oppression and segregation in the United States. The Jim Crow system emerged towards the end of the historical period called Reconstruction, during which Congress had enacted laws designed to order relations between southern whites and newly freed blacks. Southern whites felt profoundly threatened by increasing claims by African American for social equality and economic opportunity. In reaction, white controlled state legislatures passed laws designed to rob blacks of their civil rights.In his novels, Faulkner goes beyond that idea and chooses to show the relationships between blacks and whites in the most intimate and profound ways. He takes his characters places where the complexity of their identity alters who they are and their relations with others. In the novel Light in August Joe Christmas, who believes to be mixed blood, is unable to bear the struggle of his individuality and comes to perform the most horrific acts: he has a shocking way of treating women, he either beats them or treats them like prostitutes and even kill them ” she was watching his face and began to move backwards slowly before him, staring at him, her face draining, her mouth open to scream, then she did scream”(225); he doesn’t have respect for anybody not even the church “we could see brother Bedenberry talking to him, trying to pacify him quiet, and him jerking at brother Bedenberry and slapping his face with his hand”(323). His constant preoccupation is his racial uncertain identity and he isolates himself because he refuses to accept either of the two racial categories he could belong to. Nevertheless Joe Christmas knows how to take advantage of the situation and exploit it: after having sex with a prostitute he tells her that he is black because he knows that she thinks that a black costumer is beneath her and won’t take his money or he tells white men that he is black just to provoke them into a fight.Charles Bon, in the novel Absalom, Absalom! doesn’t resemble the character of Joe Christmas. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that he is mixed blood (maybe because he knows it for a fact) and chooses to go Jefferson with his friend Henry Sutpen (who is actually his half brother) to meet his father. Once in the Sutpen’s house, Charles doesn’t reveal his real identity and enjoys the treatments given to a white man until the truth finally comes out and he is rejected by what he thought would be his family and killed by his brother who couldn’t accept the idea of him being in part a black man. In this story, the character himself is not subject to a change but those bound to him are.In Intruder in the Dust Lucas isolates himself, identifying with neither the black nor the white community of Yoknapatawpha. Nonetheless, he is connected to both: he has inherited land and three thousand dollars from the McCaslin estate, yet white society and the law consider him a black. Quite willing to ignore this racial reality, he reinvents himself: independent, prideful, and contemptuous of all others. Part of the process of rejecting his racial background and patrimony required that he rename himself, which he did in a way that echoes Faulkner’s own change of name for independence from his family. Faulkner changed the spelling of his name from Faulkner; Lucas Beauchamp was born Lucius Quentus Carothers McCaslin Beauchamp. By establishing Lucas’s independence from both races Faulkner avoids the perhaps impossible task of depicting the complexities of black society, as Richard King puts it “Faulkner’s creation of Lucas was artistically and morally daring for a white writer, Southerner or not.”2Another aspect of the relationship between blacks and whites analyzed in Faulkner’s novels is the intimate and sexual relations. Inter racial relationships at that time weren’t even an option, not in the open at least. The fact that some of the characters are mixed blood implies that one of their parents is white and every single time it is the father. It appears that it was more acceptable for a white man to have sexual relations with a black woman while for a white woman to have relations with a black man was shameful, even for a prostitute. Southern racial distinction allowed white men to use black women as sexual objects but a black man could be hanged immediately if he even spoke familiarly with a white woman. But there is the exception of Joanna Burden, character in Light in August, she is Joe Christmas lover and during their lovemaking she murmurs “Negro! Negro! Negro!”(260) her sexual passion seems to be directed to the racial aspect of the situation. “Within six months she was corrupted” (260) this is refers to Joanna Burden’s passion for Joe Christmas, but could that be the reason why white women were not allowed to have sexual relations with a black men, because they might like it? Men in another end did not think twice before having sex with a black woman, a multitude of Faulkner’s characters have offspring who are the result of a relation with a black woman. As young as fourteen years old, Christmas and a few friends were taking turns in having sex with a black girl; it could be for proof of superiority that white men would have sex with black women or it could also be that they associate them with feminine qualities. In the short story That Evening Sun Faulkner takes the issue even further as Nancy (a black servant in the Compson’s house) is pregnant with another man’s child, a white Baptist named Stovall. As a result, her husband Jesus is “waiting outside of the cabin to slit her throat” because he cannot bear the idea of his wife having an other man’s child, even worse, a white man’s child. Go Down, Moses (1942) is the direct sequel to Absalom, Absalom!, it is Faulkner’s second most painful and agonizing novel because it shows the consequences to man and culture when the present is built on a past of miscegenation. The novel, named for a gospel song that is a cry for a rescuer for blacks, traces a new aristocratic family on a plantation in Yoknapatawpha, but the McCaslins, like the Sutpens, are guilty of miscegenation. In fact, when Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin impregnates his own daughter by a slave woman, the girl’s mother commits suicide in an icy creek at Christmas. Through his writing, Faulkner tries to analyze and understand the nature of human beings, how can they be so similar and so different at the same time? Black or white, people respond a certain way mostly to protect themselves, the behavior is then learned and repeated over and over again, generations after generations. Nancy’s remark (That Evening Sun) “I aint nothing but a nigger …it aint none of my fault”, expose the way she has internalized the condemnation to such an extent that she really believes that she is without value. Even when they try to alienate themselves from each other, blacks and whites always find themselves on the same path and even if they fight against, or for, what they are at the end they are fighting for the same thing: the acceptance and the acknowledgment that they matter.Faulkner struggled with this culture, and this heritage all his life. In his last years, he spoke up in newspaper letters against the punishment of blacks, which he thought was excessive. He lost the friendships he had and the recognition of his own brother and much of his family. At the same time, he wrote in Ebony magazine of all places, the leading black national magazine published in the North, an argument that precisely echoes Ike McCaslin in “Delta Autumn”: he argued that the South should go slowly and independently on matters of race, taking perhaps a hundred, perhaps a thousand years to assimilate everyone into a single race.3NOTES1 “Faulkner and Racism” Critical Essays on William Faulkner .ed. Arthur Kinney 265.2 .”Lucas Beauchamp and William Faulkner: Blood Brothers,” Critical Essays on William Faulkner, ed. Kinney 234. 3 “Faulkner and Racism” Critical Essays on William Faulkner, ed. Kinney 265-278.BIBLIOGRAPHYBinley, Leslie. “Literary Pilgrimages: William Faulkner”. The New York Times May 10 1998: 23-24.Cowley, Malcolm. The portable Faulkner. Viking.Boston,1986.Faulker, William. Absalom,Absalom! New York. Vintage International Ed. 1990.Faulker, William. Light in August .New York. Vintage International Ed. 1992.Hamblin,Robert W. and Charles Peek. “A William Faulkner Enciclopedia”. Questia Online Library. Greenwood Press, 1999. Kinney,Arthur F. “Faulkner and Racism”. Critical Essay on William Faulkner Connotations 3.3 (1993-94): 265-278.
“I am Telling”: Narrative and Identity in Absalom, Absalom!
Who says what – and how and when – may be the most compelling way William Faulkner constructs his characters in Absalom, Absalom! Storytelling is not just an act in which the saga of the Sutpens is recounted, revised, and even recreated; it is a gesture of self-disclosure. Each revelation about the past provides a glimpse into the present state of the narrating character’s mind. The rhetoric, the digressions, the strange (and often obsessive) fixations of each character’s account are the products of a range of personalities and view points, unable to agree on a definitive version of the story.There are, to be sure, overlaps; these are the events in the stories that transcend the proclivities of each narrator and are probably, though not certainly, the basic facts of what happened. We know there was a man named Thomas Sutpen; who came to Jefferson, Missippi; who married Ellen Coldfield; who had two children with his wife; whose son befriended and later killed a man named Bon; whose daughter was Bon’s betrothed; who fought in the Civil War; and who longed for a male heir to carry on the Sutpen legacy. The passion of the storytellers makes us forget that these are the only uniformly corroborated elements of the story. Neither Bond’s identity nor Sutpen’s mysterious past, though they seem so essential to our understanding of the novel, are indisputable. It is not impossible, indeed, that they are inventions of the narrators, perhaps unconscious embellishments of the story in order to do away with all its troublesome lacunae. Like the reader, the characters have had to infer and imagine a great deal to arrive at a plausible rendering of how things really happened.These discrepancies, as bewildering as they often are, do not exist to indict the narrators for taking creative liberties with history. Faulkner does not see them as liars or manipulators and we should not either. Indeed, there is no “authentic” version of the Sutpen story, and so, within the bounds of the basic facts we have established, there can be no wrong version. This is not objective reporting; what we have instead are personal interpretations. What we also have are expressions of personality. The story Quentin tells says as much about Quentin Compson as it does about the Sutpens and their travails. He brings his own experiences and opinions to the story, which the reader may discover embedded in the narrative he recounts. The same, of course, is true of Miss Rosa, Mr. Compson, Shreve, and all the others. At any point in the multiple narratives in Absalom, Absalom!, it is essential to keep in mind that there are two stories being told: one, the tragic history of the Sutpens, the other, the unwitting autobiography of the raconteur.This essay attempts to examine the different narratives in the novel in order to identify and analyze the traits of each of the narrators. By doing this, I also hope to clear up some of the ambiguities of the narration in the novel. The question in Absalom, Absalom! is often “Who is speaking?” rather than “How does this character speak?” Shifts in font, the passing on of stories (“I heard it from A who heard it from B…”, etc.), and the long sentences and paragraphs obfuscate which character is telling the story. With a better understanding of the “voice” of each of the characters, much of the confusion surrounding these parts of the narrative should clear up a bit.Miss Rosa is the first of the characters to tell the Sutpen saga. She is also a participant in the story and her version is perhaps the most impassioned and aggressive. Her relationship with Sutpen (first as sister-in-law, then as bride-to-be) has left her angry and bitter. Indeed, even after the passing of several decades, she still recalls the man through “outraged recapitulation.” A completely ruthless and nefarious Colonel Thomas Sutpen serves as the central figure of her story.Before Rosa tells her story, though, she chooses a listener: Quentin Compson. Quentin is confused by her selection. She sarcastically claims that she is telling him the story because he may one day “enter the literary profession” and if his wife should ever want a new gown, he could “write this and submit it to the magazines” for money. He knows that “she dont mean that” but he struggles to discover the real reason she has beckoned him into her dark, wisteria scented room. His next hypothesis approaches the truth but fails to account for some of the specifics: “it’s because she wants it told…so that people…will read it and know at last why God let us lose the War: that only through the blood of our men and the tears of our women could He stay this demon and efface his name and lineage from the earth.”This is part of Miss Rosa’s motivation, but it still does not answer the question “Why Quentin?” Couldn’t anyone pass on the story? Mr. Compson offers a very simple, practical explanation which proves to be true later in the novel. “It’s because,” he tells Quentin, “she will need someone to go with her [to Sutpen’s Hundred] – a man, gentleman, yet one young enough to do what she wants, do it the way she wants it done.” He then adds: “And she chose you because your grandfather was the nearest thing to a friend which Sutpen ever had in this country.”Although Quentin later – and somewhat comically – disappoints Rosa by failing to bring an ax on their excursion to Sutpen’s Hundred, as a listener he serves two purposes for Rosa. First, he can help her bring her story to its close by confronting the last physical and human remnants of the Sutpen legacy. And second, he can be receptive to the story in a way only an “insider” could be; there was a connection between the Sutpens and Compsons two generations ago and it exists still “through heredity.” Because Rosa needs Quentin much more than Quentin needs her, she knows she must shape her story in such a way that it presents a persuasive case for going to Sutpen’s Hundred.It’s not surprising, then, that she waits to reveal her real reason for wanting to visit Sutpen’s Hundred until after the most exciting events of the story (along with her most melodramatic rhetoric) have been divulged. Her timing is impeccable. At the beginning of chapter five, she commences her account of the showdown between Henry and Bon, Sutpen’s return from the Civil War and the dilapidated state of the property and family. As usual, though, Miss Rosa’s main focus is the character of Sutpen and in this chapter she gives some of the most stirring images of him in the book. Before she even begins her account of what happened, she describes him as”the brute instrument of that justice which presides over human events, which incept in the individual, runs smooth…but which, by man or woman flouted, drives on like fiery steel and overrides both weakly just and unjust strong, both vanquisher and innocent victimized.”In tone and syntax, her portrayal of Sutpen is wrought with frenzied, Biblical, and apocalyptic language. He is, in her mind, the source of all the evil ever done unto her and her family. Rosa follows this with a more subtle rhetorical tactic. Near the end of the chapter, she plaintively sums it up by saying “that was all. Or rather, not all, since there is no all, no finish; it’s not the blow we suffer form but the tedious repercussive anti-climax of it, the rubbishy aftermath to clear away from off the very threshold of despair.” Quentin, by now, is engrossed in the saga. Miss Rosa knows that she can tantalize him into accompanying her to the house with the enigmatic claim that “there’s something in that house…something living in it. Hidden in it.” Here is a chance to rid the family of the “rubbishy aftermath.” Here is a chance to indulge Quentin’s curiosity and relieve Miss Rosa’s uneasy superstition.It has been pointed out by many critics that Absalom, Absalom! is full of Gothic overtones. The women in the novel seem to embody these Gothic elements more than anyone or thing else in the novel, with Miss Rosa, because she is the most fully developed female character, being somewhat of a gothic ingenue. Her descriptions are informed by a sense of dark, brooding fate and archetypes – the maiden, the demon, etc. – playing out lives whose outcomes were determined long ago. Her story has, like the gothic novel, three main registers, which may exist either independently or intermingled: the romantic, the monstrous, and the tragic. Most of the romance of her story naturally involves the two couples in the Sutpen saga, Thomas and Ellen and Bon and Judith. The marriage between Ellen and Sutpen is, according to Rosa, both “a living fairy tale” and “an edifice like Bluebeard’s.” Similarly, she notes that in the garden where Judith and Bon would stroll, she felt a “fairy tale come alive.” The romantic is always teetering on the monstrous, though, as the Bluebeard comparison (and the potential incest) highlights. When treating her own “romance” with Sutpen, Rosa does away with any pretence of tenderness and describes the whole affair – including the man himself – as a monstrosity. He was, she says, an “ogre” and “a madman who creates within his very coffin walls his fabulous immeasurable Camelots and Carcassonnes.” In the end, she sees the whole story subsumed by its tragic ending and she proclaims her sister’s very first encounter with Sutpen to have been unnoticed evidence of a “fatality and curse on the South and on our family.”Mr. Compson, removed from the heart of the Sutpen saga by a generation, approaches his storytelling with distance and without personal grievances. His version of the story rivals Rosa’s in its grandiosity, but it is more a classical tragedy than a gothic novel. Mr. Compson’s tendency is to aggrandize where Rosa’s was to romanticize. He is not willing to dismiss Sutpen as pure evil; indeed, he considers him a tragic hero, a man with “alertness for measuring and weighing event against eventuality, circumstance against human nature, his own fallible judgment and mortal clay against not only human but natural forces.” The whole saga is an epic tragedy, with “people too as we are and victims too as we are, but victims of a different circumstance, simpler and therefore, integer for integer, larger, more heroic and the figures therefore more heroic too.” In this schema, Sutpen has no agency either to cause or to prevent the horrible things that happen to his family and himself. Mr. Compson explains, rather swept up in his own rhetoric, that Sutpen was”unaware that his flowering was a forced bloom…and that while he was still playing the scene to the audience, behind him fate, destiny, retribution, irony – the stage manager, call him what you will – was already striking the set and dragging on the synthetic and spurious shadows of the next one.”It is likely that Mr. Compson inherited his sympathetic view of Sutpen from his own father, who was Sutpen’s one friend in Jefferson. Sutpen confided in the elder Compson the story of his childhood and early adulthood – everything, that is, that took place up until his appearance in Jefferson. Mr. Compson repeats Sutpen’s story to Quentin and, although it is being passed on for a third time, Sutpen’s frank, detached narrative comes through with as little adulteration as Quentin’s memories of Miss Rosa’s story.Thomas Sutpen’s narrative is unique in the novel. It covers most of, but not all, the years of his life preceding his arrival in Jefferson. He is, it would seem, mysterious even to himself, for he recounts his own life story from a faraway, even dreamy point of view. Colonel Compson recalls being unsettled by Sutpen’s utter divorce from his earlier life: “He was not talking about himself. He was telling a story. He was not bragging about something he had done; he was just telling a story about something a man named Thomas Sutpen had experienced, which would still have been the same story if the man had had no name at all, if it had been told about any man or no man over whiskey at night.” Sutpen seems to have transcended all personal entanglements in order to establish his vast dynasty in Jefferson. Rosa may not have been far from the truth when she declared Sutpen to be no more than “a walking shadow.”It is evident, though, that his past is not so neutral a topic as he would have it seem from his tone. His trouble when he was younger, Sutpen tells Colonel Compson, was “innocence.” He explains that “all of a sudden he discovered, not what he wanted to do but what he just had to do, had to do it whether he wanted to or not, because if he did not do it he knew he could never live with himself for the rest of his life.” The use of the word “innocence” followed by this description of Sutpen’s almost impersonal ambition makes it clear that the purpose of his “design” was never pleasure and wealth for their own sakes. Rather, he set out to settle scores and to triumph in order to avenge the mistreatment he had received in the world. He has no personal targets just as he has no personal attachments to the process. He is, however, determined to succeed.In spite of – or perhaps because of – his detachment as a narrator, Sutpen tells his own story like a myth, which later becomes the inspiration for Mr. Compson’s version of the entire Sutpen saga. “What I learned,” Sutpen recalls of his brief period of schooling, “was that there was a place called the West Indies to which poor men went in ships and became rich, it didn’t matter how, so long as that man was clever and courageous.” This candid recollection tells us two things. The first is that the “design” is every bit as calculated and deep-rooted as Sutpen claims. Apparently, too, the rancor Miss Rosa suspects to be the basis of Sutpen’s actions is in fact callous solipsism. The second is that Sutpen envisions himself on a kind of heroic quest and his honor is invested in its success. He manages to make his position extraordinarily convincing and sympathetic to Colonel Compson, who observes that “destiny had fitted itself to him, to his innocence, his pristine aptitude for platform drama and childlike heroic simplicity.”By the end of Sutpen’s life, though, these heroic aspirations have become an ironic prelude to an impossible situation. With Bon’s return, Sutpen’s design quickly comes undone. If he acknowledges Bon, the legacy splits between his two sons, one of which has negro blood. If he doesn’t, Judith will marry Bon and there will be both incest and miscegenation in the Sutpen line. When he comes to Colonel Compson to finish his story, then, his tone has changed a great deal. He no longer assumes that the success of his design is inevitable. Indeed, it seems unlikely. Before, it was Sutpen as a young Ulysses; now he comes before Colonel Compson as a bedraggled old Lear. He still believes in fate, but he now appreciates its ironic blindness, as he gives a “clear and simple synopsis of his history,” all the while “trying to explain to circumstance, to fate itself, the logical steps by which he had arrived at a result absolutely and forever incredible.” Sutpen never takes responsibility for the outcome of his life and Colonel Compson never levels blame at him either. With his naive will to power (and his perfectly serene articulation of his “fate”), Sutpen dies, at least in his own eyes, a tragic hero, brought down by his tragic flaw: an “abysmal and purblind innocence.”Quentin and Shreve, the last of the narrators in Absalom, Absalom!, are also the most difficult to identify since they are often more of a narrating tag-team than individuals telling their own stories. Shreve does not always wait for Quentin to finish parts of the story; he’s perfectly happy to come up with his own ending, supply his own details, and anticipate outcomes with gleeful zeal. This is not the first time since coming to Harvard that Quentin has had such an eager – and unsought – audience. He has been approached multiple times with the same round of inquiries: “Tell about the South. What’s it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.” Faulkner significantly omits the question marks here, morphing the nominally interrogative into a series of staccato commands. Like the others, Shreve is not initially receptive to Quentin’s careful narration. He just wants some abbreviated anecdotes about the stereotypically “Southern” way of life. His motivation at first is only enthusiastic curiosity; it takes some time before he begins to ask rather than tell Quentin what happened.At the beginning of the shared narrative (chapter 6), Shreve assumes almost complete control. Quentin is still mulling over his father’s letter about Miss Rosa’s death and he does little more than interpolate a “yes” into Shreve’s enormous monologue. Clearly, Shreve has heard bits and pieces of the Sutpen story before. He playfully reverses their roles by ending enormous sections of his narrative with a simple yes-no question so that he is really just asking and answering the questions at once. Quentin is merely a tangential participant in Shreve’s enormous feat of memory and creative reinterpretation. With a touch of irony, he recasts the story in grandiloquent language and the kind of imagery and allusions one would expect of a Harvard undergraduate:”If [Sutpen] hadn’t been a demon his children wouldn’t have needed protection from him and [Rosa] wouldn’t have had to go out there and be betrayed by the old meat and find instead of a widowed Agamemnon to her Cassandra an ancient stiff-jointed Pyramus to her eager untried Thisbe.” Because Shreve, as a Canadian, is a complete outsider to the story, he comes to it with no personal affinities to any one character or aspect of the saga. Unlike Rosa’s gothic and Mr. Compson’s classical interpretation, Shreve’s account is a mixed-bag of genres, blending the comic, the tragic, the farcical, and the absurd. His only one consistent tone is “exciting” and he does all he can to make his story evocative and even self-consciously scandalous.With all this frenetic rhetorical vim, it soon becomes apparent what Shreve is attempting to do with the story: dramatize it. After his exhaustive recapitulation of the story, he remarks to Quentin “Jesus, the South is fine, isn’t it. It’s better than the theatre, isn’t it. It’s better than Ben Hur, isn’t it. No wonder you have to come away now and then, isn’t it.” Again, Faulkner omits the quotation marks, leading the reader to believe that Shreve is simply asserting his pre-conceived notions of the South rather than actually reacting to the story. His view of the Sutpen saga as a Southern drama proves just how much of an outsider he is. He has very little conception of the people involved in the story and thinks only in terms of sweeping conflicts and transgressions followed inevitably by some wholesale, melodramatic finale.Shreve also has a deep appreciation for ironic endings and, half in jest, he begins to shift the focus of the story from Thomas Sutpen himself to his three children. The “character” Sutpen seems to have impressed Shreve much less that either Rosa or Mr. Compson. Indeed, Sutpen was interfering with the action of Shreve’s narrative, with his psychological ambiguities and waning life span. Shreve wants a story of passion and youthful impetuosity and the aging Sutpen is no longer an acceptable protagonists. He is perfectly delighted to concentrate on Henry and Bon, whose ironic secret is far more in keeping with Shreve’s idea of a good story.Quentin, unhappy at the prospect of Shreve taking the Sutpen saga and running amok with it, finally jumps in and takes control of the narrative. Shreve summarizes the story with his hyperbolic language up until the point when Rosa and Quentin arrived at Sutpen’s Hundred. Quentin keeps his distance from the narrative at first, but midway through Shreve’s energetic if inaccurate story telling, Quentin thinks to himself “Yes, I have had to listen too long.” The thought occurs to him twice more. Faulkner signifies Quentin’s growing involvement in the story by alternating increasingly longer passages of Quentin’s interior monologue with Shreve’s story. By the end of chapter six, the two sections are of equal length; Quentin is ready to be the story teller.Unlike Shreve, Quentin puts a great deal of effort into telling the story as coolly and as calmly as possible. He speaks with a “curious repressed calm voice” and refuses to indulge Shreve by acknowledging the Canadian’s frequent, semi-sarcastic interruptions. Quentin’s goal as narrator is to make sense of what happened to the Sutpens and to reconcile himself to it. His discourse is deliberate and assertive, his attitude “brooding.” For Quentin, the Sutpen story is no drama, but an incomplete puzzle requiring serious attention and a very minimal sense of humor. Shreve is intrigued by the story but a bit exasperated -“but go on…go on” – with Quentin’s narrative style as well.It is not until Quentin begins discussing Sutpen’s children that the narrative act becomes collaborative. Quentin is amenable to Shreve’s request that he discuss Henry, Judith and Bon, but there is a slight hesitance. This is clearly the part of the story that is both the most fascinating and the least lucid, for Quentin as well as for Shreve. Nonetheless, Quentin chooses to proceed and, just before beginning, he formulates in his mind the crucial analogy articulating the relationship between the past of the story and the present of the narrators:”Maybe nothing ever happens once and is finished. Maybe happen is never once but like ripples maybe on water after the pebble sinks, and ripples moving on, spreading, the pool attached by a narrow umbilical water-cord to the next pool which the first pool feeds, has fed, did feed, let this second pool contain a different temperature of water, a different molecularity of having seen, felt remembered.”Quentin is very unsure, as the multiple “maybes” no doubt indicate, about the significance (or even the validity, for that matter) of his analogy. But by finally realizing that the actions of the past come to bear on the outcomes of the future, the Sutpen history becomes much more accessible to him. He no longer feels a need to be quite so distantly reverent; it is, after all, his story too and he has every right to poke and prod at it for personal reasons.At last, Quentin and Shreve compromise on their understanding of the proper way to relate the history of the Sutpens – that is, rather than assert their own versions of the story, they allow the story to assert itself over them. Henry and Bon are brought to the forefront of the narrative and the pace of the story slows down so that the focus is not on the dramatic aspects, but on the personal. These changes intensify the emotional impact of the story immensely. Quentin and Shreve, full of bravura, are at first embarrassed by their deep investment in the story and try to disguise their “youthful shame of being moved.” The intimacy the story creates between the two boys is so acute, in fact, that Faulkner begins to use sexual analogies to describe their joint narrative. At first, Quentin and Shreve are reluctant and regard each other “almost as a youth and a very young girl might out of virginity itself – a sort of hushed and naked searching.” As they progress further into the story, Faulkner describes their narrative process as “creating between them…people.” And ultimately, Quentin and Shreve unite in a “happy marriage of speaking and hearing…in order to overpass to love” and create a story in which “there might be paradox and inconsistency but nothing fault nor false.”This narrative “marriage” is not only between speaking and hearing but between past and present as well. As Quentin glimpsed in his pebble and pool analogy, the present frequently just reiterates what has already happened. History, in this sense, is a pattern appearing again and again over the course of time. This is why what happened to Henry, Bon, and Judith is not simply an inscrutable story (as Quentin originally thought) or grand drama (as Shreve believed with great joviality). Indeed, it is something that could happen to the two of them. With this in mind, the boys really do imagine themselves as Henry and Bon, converging in experience through the use of narrative, “so that now it was not two but four of them riding the two horses through the dark over the frozen December ruts of that Christmas: four of them and then just two – Charles-Shreve and Quentin-Henry.” Notably, it is at this point also that Faulkner notes (for the first of perhaps half a dozen times) that the story has gone beyond an exchange of words and understanding between two people: “it did not matter (and possibly neither of them conscious of the distinction) which one had been doing the talking and which the listening.” Through their imaginative involvement in the story, Quentin and Shreve overcome both narrative and temporal convention and finally, after much exhaustion, bring the story a close. At least, that is, for now.Quentin is very little comforted by the end of his and Shreve’s narrative. Shreve, retreating back to his ironic, macho posturing of before, chases the post-story silence away by exclaiming, “The South. Jesus. No wonder you folks all outlive yourselves by years and years and years.” Quentin retains his brooding, pensive silence, lying rigidly in the cold dorm room and thinking to himself “Nevermore of peace. Nevermore. Nevermore. Nevermore.” The story of the Sutpens has ended, but there has not been (nor will there be) any sort of resolution. Miss Rosa, Mr. Compson, Sutpen, Quentin and Shreve have all tried to bend the story into the shape they most desire, be it a gothic romance, a classical tragedy, a heroic epic, a mystery, or a Southern farce. It is pliable enough, but the story cannot resist being “re-bent” by any narrator who happens upon it. The story, alas, will never be in the exact shape of history. It can, however, be a very close approximation of the patterns of the narrator’s mind.