Absalom Absalom

Review Of John Dryden’s Absalom And Achitophel

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

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Absalom, Absalom!: Literary Criticisms Review

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

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Review of William Faulkner’s Book, Absalom, Absalom!

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

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A Look at the Different Topics in William Faulkner’s, Absalom, Absalom!

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

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Transferring Violence in Absalom, Absalom

June 7, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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Relations Between Blacks and Whites in Faulkner’s Literature

May 21, 2019 by Essay Writer

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. .

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The Problem with Being There: The Distorting Effect of Personal Experience in Absalom, Absalom

April 18, 2019 by Essay Writer

Absalom, Absalom displays two narrators standing at opposite poles in their understanding of time. The first of these, Rosa Coldfield, narrates to a patiently listening Quentin Compson what one might call the life and times of Thomas Sutpen. This rather faulty description of her act, though, immediately suggests something that is missing from her notion of Sutpen, namely a life and times. She takes Sutpen out of time‹sees him as immortal, alternately considering him a god and a demon. Quentin, the second narrator, has a diametrically opposed sense of time‹he has a near philosophically complete understanding of time in the sense expounded by Henri Bergson. This understanding seems to come through some cultural process of osmosis, through which absolute understanding is inherited. While Rosa’s problem might appear an isolated insensitivity to this heritage, Faulkner delicately traces Rosa’s problem, not to Rosa, but instead to her relationship to the story she is telling, her personal involvement in the story. In this tracing we see Rosa’s problem not as an isolated one, but as a crisis of understanding at the very heart of Faulkner’s own struggles in writing. The monologues of Rosa Coldfield to which Quentin listens have one thing at their center: Thomas Sutpen. At the core of her understanding is her belief in his immortality. When she learned of his death she says denied it: “‘Dead?’ I cried. ŒDead?’ You? You lie; you’re not dead, heaven cannot, and hell dare not, have you/” (172). This denial of Sutpen’s end is complimented by a denial of his beginning when recalling the first time she saw Sutpen: “he first rode into town out of no discernible past” (11). In these first and last moments Rosa states her belief in a Sutpen that came from nowhere and is going to nowhere. In her mind, he is not a creation moving from beginning to end, instead he is perpetually suspended somewhere in between, outside of time. When he goes off to war, she simply “stayed there and waited for Thomas Sutpen to come home,” with never a doubt in her mind that he would survive even the bloodiest of wars (154). This view is not present only in Rosa’s recollection of the macro-structure of Sutpen’s life, but also in the micro-structure. When describing her memory of his marriage proposal to her, she says, “he had never once thought about what he asked me to do until the moment he asked it” (166). Just as in his life as a whole, in his individual actions she sees no cause, no beginning, no thought, only pure action. As these actions came from nowhere, they “left no ripple save those instantaneous and incredible tears” (159). His actions seem to be a single point of energy with no density, and no matter‹no existence outside of their pure energy. Even the words that he says are “not to be spoken and heard but to be read carved in the bland stone” (164). Spoken sentences assume a progression of individual words, one coming after another, and thus a progression of time. Rosa rejects this and instead understands his words as occurring all at once, in an inscription. The lack of dialogue spreads to Rosa’s entire monologue. While she occasionally remembers something that she said or that was said directly to her, her story is primarily bereft of any dialogue. The denial of Sutpen’s existence between moments extends to her entire story. She sees time as a series of points, not a progression or succession.If the essence of time is, as Henri Bergson defined it, two things: “points,” but “in addition, the obscure and mysterious passage from one position to the next” (43), then Rosa has clearly stripped her story of the second‹the passage from one position to the next. It is this succession from one to the next that creates the thing Bergson posits as essential to all beings in time: duration. In stripping her characters of duration she becomes one of the two degenerate types of historians that Nietzsche talks about: the antiquarian. She “mummifies” her past by varnishing each past moment like a piece of furniture and then setting it aside to deny its existence in a larger set of moments, as you would deny a piece of furniture a place in a room. In doing this Nietzsche says one “envelops himself in an odour of decay” (21). Perhaps this is just what Quentin detects when he smells a “dim coffin-smelling gloom” (8) in the room where he sits to listen to Rosa’s story. In the mummification, and the stripping of both Sutpen and her entire past of any flux she strips the past of its temporality. The problem of her a-temporality is compounded by the small number of moments that she sees in the past; if she provides the reader snapshots, she provides very few snapshots. She sees each set of time as composed of only a few isolated moments. Recounting the three months immediately after Sutpen returned home, she says, “And then one afternoon in January Thomas Sutpen came home; someone looked up where we were preparing the garden for another year’s food and saw him riding up the drive. And then one evening I became engaged to marry him” (158). She reduces this three months to two single moments. Her reduction of time is even more apparent on the large scale. As the reader might believe from Rosa’s story, her life was but a few moments: the moment of Bon’s death, the moments of handing food to her father in the attic, the moment where Thomas Sutpen proposed to her, and a few others. Nothing else in her life is revealed except these moments. Thus she is also like the other of Nietzsche two degenerate historians, the monumental historian. As Nietzsche describes, “very great portions of the past are forgotten and despised, and flow away . . . and only single embellished facts stand out as islands” (17). In antiquating and monumentalizing her past, she does a similar thing to her past that Gail Hightower does to his in Light in August. Thinking of the past, Hightower says “the world hangs in a green suspension in color and texture like light through colored glass” (468). He sees the past as a stilllife, more specifically, in both the description of the material as glasslike and green, it seems possible that this is a reference to Keats’ green Grecian Urn. Whether it is or isn’t, the urn is a good objective correlative for what Rosa has done with time. By picking a few monumental moments out of her past and depriving these moments of any movement she makes of her past something like a frieze on an urn. Quentin is patient during Rosa’s monologue but towards the end the narrator reveals that Quentin “was not listening.” He was not listening because there was “something which he could not pass” (172). He needs to go back and recollect something, and from the first moments of recollection he shows himself to be interested in all about the life and times of Thomas Sutpen that Rosa was not, namely the time and his existence as a living, breathing creature. In a phrase, he was interested in re-temporalizing the story that Rosa told him. Just moments after Rosa’s voice had trailed off into the warm Mississippi night he draws into the story one primary element that had been missing from Rosa’s hours of monologue: dialogue. He imagines the dialogue between Henry and Judith just after Henry had killed Judith’s lover, Bon:Now you cant marry him.Why cant I marry him?Because he’s dead.Dead?Yes. I killed him. (172)By assuming this past as a medium in which one word could follow another, Quentin assumes a temporal succession in a way immediately foreign to Rosa’s creation. But the description that immediately precedes this‹Quentin’s re-creation of Judith’s running to the door upon hearing the shot that killed Bon‹already revealed Quentin’s interest in temporal succession. Littering his description with signifiers of temporal flux, he tells of Judith “pausing, looking at the door,” “then caught swiftly up by the white girl and held before her as the door crashed in and the brother stood there hatless . . . the pistol still hanging against his flank.” Words like, pausing, swiftly, and still all fundamentally suggest an understanding of time conscious of its quality as a succession of moments, each passing into one another. All of this: “He (Quentin) couldn’t pass that.” Quentin re-conceptualizes this climactic moment as having all that Rosa never saw in her own past, and then extends this to the whole of Sutpen’s story. In the beginning of his own story he still refers to Sutpen as a demon: “Jones squatted against a post, rising from time to time to pour for the demon from the demijohn” (183). But in the very moment that he refers to the demon, he also refers to the demon as existing in a situation in which moments followed one upon another‹flowing time is suggested in the phrase “from time to time.” Quentin deepens the awareness of this flux by fixing Rosa’s notion of Sutpen’s actions coming out of nowhere. In each of Sutpen’s action, Quentin imagines the uncertainty of Sutpen before acting. Considering the moment in Sutpen’s childhood where Sutpen was rejected entrance into the big plantation house, Quentin imagines Sutpen arguing with himself: “But I can shoot him: he argued with himself and the other: No. That wouldn’t do no good: and the first: What shall we do then? and the other: I don’t know” (235). The extent to which Sutpen’s decisions come from timely deliberation is nearly exaggerated in this one passage, but the display of each decision underscores the way each moment arises out of the one before. In this imagined internal argument he also sees a child who is aware of the consequences of his action, where Rosa saw his actions as somehow preordained. The causal, straightforward movement apparent in Sutpen’s life is a testament to the re-temporalization that Quentin has completed. Rosa’s description ignored that second aspect of Bergson’s definition of time, but Quentin grasps what Bergson called the “obscure and mysterious passage from one position to the next.” Quentin sees the time of Sutpen as “a succession of states, each of which announces that which follows and contains that which precedes it” (25).In that moment where he imagines the child Sutpen arguing with himself, there is another assumption missing from Rosa’s telling, and another element that serves to place Sutpen in a temporal continuum: a young Sutpen. Quentin sees a definite beginning to Sutpen’s life: “he was born in West Virginia in the mountains” (220). And he also narrates Sutpen’s death. The larger structure of Sutpen’s life gains a sense of continuity that is not only present in Quentin’s story, but also in the character’s within Quentin’s story. Sutpen realizes within this story that “he still knew he had courage, and though he may have come to doubt lately that he had acquired that shrewdness which at one time he believed he had, he still believed that it existed somewhere in the world to be learned and that if it could be learned he would learn it yet” (273). Quentin does not merely imagine a man existing in time, he also presents a man who is aware of his existence in time. This awareness underscores the interiority of Quentin’s view of Sutpen. In order to understand the duration of another thing, Bergson says you must “enter into it.” Duration is the absolute of the being‹it is the core‹and to understand this about another person implies that you understand its “states of mind;” that you are in touch with that own being’s subjectivity. In order to do this, Bergson says, “I insert myself in them by an effort of imagination” (21). But this act, and the absolute understanding that comes with it, can only be given by what Bergson says is the highest act of understanding: intuition. As the constant use of the word imagination suggests, along with the interiority of Quentin’s view, Quentin has this intuition of the absolute with his characters.The origin of the distinction between the narration of Rosa and Quentin is elucidated by Faulkner’s distinction between the terms memory and knowing in Light in August. The dense and tangled description begins: “memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects” (119). Memory precedes knowledge, or things that can be recollected‹we can temporarily assume that it is inherited rather than learned experientially. As the entire story of Thomas Sutpen occurred before Quentin was born, his understanding clearly comes to him from something innate. Shreve tells Quentin “you knew it all already, had learned, absorbed it already without the medium of speech somehow from having been born and living beside it” (212). Without the medium of speech, the most clear stand-in for experiential knowledge in this moment, Quentin still understands. In this very same passage Faulkner draws an incredibly subtle but very clear connection between Quentin’s mode of understanding and the definition of memory just mentioned: Shreve continues on, saying that all Rosa and his father had told Quentin “did not tell you anything so much as it struck, word by word, the resonant strings of remembering” (my emphasis 213). Remembering, in its more traditional sense, would not make sense here because it would imply that Quentin actually had experienced something. By assuming memory to be something that comes before knowledge, as Light in August directs us, this moment suddenly makes sense. Quentin’s possession of memory brings with it something vital in his recreation of Sutpen. In contrast to knowing, which recollects information, memory brings with it belief. Belief implies subjectivity, and while Quentin is able to imagine more about Sutpen’s subjectivity than just his beliefs, the word belief suggests the subjective conjuring powers of memory. In its ability to let one individual inside another, memory thus seems close to Bergson’s intuition‹or rather it seems that memory provides intuition.What Rosa works from is knowing, the recollection of events in her own life. “Knowing” is giving a more clear, contextual definition a moment after the already mentioned definition when it is said that the young Joe Christmas, “knew that. He had been doing this for almost a year” (120). Knowing comes from his personal experiences, just like Rosa’s knowledge in Absalom, Absalom. Rosa says that her story comes from “sense, sight, smell: the muscles with which we see and hear and feel‹not mind, not thought: there is no such thing as memory” (143). In another apparent reference to the Light in August definition, we learn that there is no such thing as memory in Rosa’s story because she is overwhelmed by experiential data from the past. Rosa’s knowledge leads her to mythologize the story, while Quentin’s knowledge allows him to fictively create Sutpen’s life. As Frank Kermode tells us “myths are the agents of stability, fictions the agents of change” (39). This stillness of Rosa’s story in contrast to the change in Quentin’s is just what we found in the Bergsonian distinction between the two narrators. But why does Rosa not also have access to the absolute‹she also was born and raised in this climate? Is it Quentin’s Harvard education that differentiates him? Upon a consideration of Quentin in The Sound and the Fury (Quentin (SF) from here on) the difference in narration methods seems not tied to the individual, but instead to the individuals relation to the story he or she is telling. While Quentin (SF) is not consciously telling a story as Quentin (AA) is, he is still trying to make sense of his past, so much so that Jean-Paul Sartre says, he appears to be a “man sitting in an open care and looking backwards” (267). But in looking backward he falls into extreme temporal confusion. He remembers a series of moments disconnected from any temporal grounding. One moment is his mother proclaiming, “We have sold Benjy’s pasture so that Quentin may go to Harvard a brother to you. Your little brother” (60). He returns to this moment a number of times, elsewhere recollecting his mother saying “On what on your school money the money they sold the pasture for so you could go to Harvard” (79). In both of these memories there is a syntactic sense of suspension in which the remembrances of the past have neither start nor finish. In one long page of remembered dialogue he remembers:get out of that water are you crazybut she didn’t move her face was a white blur framed out of the blure of the sand by her hairget out now (91),br>Faulkner leaves out the capitalization and punctuation to underscore the lack of boundaries for each statement in Quentin’s mind. In addition to not having clear beginnings and ends, there are very few recollected moments. In the entire Quentin monologue, he obsesses over a select set of events; as Sartre noted, “around a few central themes (Caddy’s pregnancy, Benjy’s castration, Quentin’s suicide) gravitate innumerable silent masses” (268). From this short description it should be clear that Quentin, even with his Harvard education, has sunk down to the same understanding of the past that Rosa holds in Absalom, Absalom. Now Rosa brings slightly more coherence to her understanding of the past than Quentin (SF) does, but this seems a result of Rosa’s conscious effort to tell a story in Absalom, Absalom. Both share essential characteristics in their recounting of the past. Both understand time as a series of points isolated from any temporal succession from past to future.What can account for the difference between the two Quentins and the similarity between Quentin (SF) and Rosa? Quite simply both Rosa and Quentin (SF) are working from recollections of their own experience, in contrast to Quentin (AA). They are working from knowledge as opposed to memory, and as that definition giving earlier reveals, memory provides the subjectivity of a time past, while knowing is only information. But why do Quentin (SF) and Rosa not also have this memory‹they too were born into the South? The lower level of understanding that Quentin (SF) brings to his own understanding of the past seems due to the corrupting influence of personal involvement in his own story. In that moment already discussed, where Rosa refers to the source of her knowledge, she says all the “sense, sight, smell,” all the experiential involvement, “its resultant sum is usually incorrect and false” (143). As a tentative hypothesis, we might say that personal experience, rather than being the only doorway into understanding, actually obscures the understanding of other times and other people.What Faulkner seems to be putting forward here is an extended version of Marcel Proust’s hypothesis in A Remembrance of Things Past. In this novel the narrator comes up against a constant problem when confronting a physical object in the present: “they appeared to be concealing, beyond what my eyes could see, something which they invited me to come and take but which despite all my efforts I never managed to discover . . . I would stand there motionless, looking, breathing, endeavouring to penetrate with my mind beyond the thing seen or smelt” (195). The narrator realizes that there is something in the intensity of present-ness that never allows you beyond your perceptions. Getting beyond perceptions is the way to the Bergsonian absolute because, “that which constitutes [a thing’s] essence, cannot be perceived from without” (22). In Proust’s idea, the physical involvement not only does not help you reach the absolute, it actually hurts your effort. The narrator’s solution‹and the one that Proust followed in his own life‹was to lock himself in a corked room, away from the sensory world. But Faulkner seems to take this theory further in suggesting that not only does physical involvement obfuscate the essence of something while in the presence of something, it also obscures your vision of it in recollection. In thinking about his own past. Quentin (SF) agrees with his father in saying; “only when the clock stops does time come to life” (54). The forward progression of time seems to great a burden to allow the processing of personal experiences, and only by taking something out of its temporal context‹the context that provides its essence‹can one even begin to come to terms with it. The same is not true for Quentin when dealing with the past in Absalom, Absalom. Faulkner seems to put his finger on what Dorrit Cohn says is “the altered relationship between the narrator and his protagonist when that protagonist is his own past self.” This alteration causes a “profound change in narrative climate” (12-3). The nature of this change is found in the shift from Quentin (SF) and Quentin (AA). The latter Quentin’s possession of a Bergsonian temporality leads to the opportunity for morality in his story where a non-Bergsonian temporality virtually excludes morality. With the succession of moments comes the opportunity for one moment to effect the next, comes causality. Intricately tied to causality is the notion of consequence, or “something that logically or naturally follows from an action or condition.” Finally when one recognizes the multiple possibilities for action in situation‹when one stops seeing action as preordained‹judgement and morality is possible. This comes out more forcefully in Quentin’s differentiation between his and Rosa’s view of Sutpen. In Quentin’s story, Sutpen’s death is met by the same thing it was met by in Rosa’s story: “He’s dead. I know he is dead and how can he, how can he be?” But Quentin quickly says that this phrase was “not meaning what Aunt Rosa meant: where did they find or invent a bullet that could kill him but How can he be allowed to die without having to admit that he was wrong and suffer and regret it” (305). Rosa denies Sutpen’s death because of a belief in Sutpen’s immortality. In contrast, Quentin denies him death because of his belief in morality, and the punishment for derelict behavior. It would appear that Faulkner came upon the problem of personal involvement not only in his characters, but also in his own writing. In between the writing of the two separate Quentins, Faulkner wrote Light in August, a book in which, “Faulkner’s surging narrative dislocations of time have received more attention than any other aspect of the novel” (Sundquist 77). Eric Sundquist sees this novel, about the mulatto Joe Christmas, as possessing a more “distorted shape” than any other Faulkner novels (76). Sundquist’s central argument is that these temporal dislocations and distorted shape are a result of Faulkner’s own interaction with the questions at hand in the novel. The tragedy of the mulatto was “the only tragedy he could thoroughly imagine,” or perhaps we could better say, thoroughly know. He knew this problem because “Faulkner was born in 1897 and virtually grew up with the resurgence of Jim Crow” (64). The essential problem of the mulatto was the contradiction and “simultaneous rhythms of repulsion and union, of hatred and embrace” (64). Faulkner’s involvement in this problem is clear from Irving Howe’s quote that the “mulatto” excites in Faulkner, “a pity so extreme as often to break past the limits of speech” (quoted in Sundquist, 76). This hysteria meant that in the novel Faulkner, Sundquist says, seems to “surrender to something beyond his control” (74). This surrender of control and its results‹the novel’s shape and temporal dislocations‹both mark the problems that Faulkner threw into contrast in Absalom, Absalom with Rosa and Quentin.In the meta-fictive aspect of Absalom, Absalom Faulkner puts on display the crisis he came upon while writing Light in August, while also turning back to a more ordered, controlled form. In both of these aspects of Absalom, Absalom Faulkner seems to be recognizing and exposing the crisis of understanding he came upon in his own writing. In his speech upon winning the Nobel Prize Faulkner discussed the problem of a seemingly random universe, in which people’s thoughts are determined by the question of “when will I be blown up” by a completely unpredictable nuclear bomb. By 1950, when he presented this speech, he thought that it is “the poet’s, the writers, duty” to write not about such a universe, but instead about the moral universe in which “compassion and sacrifice and endurance” are central; qualities only possible in a moral universe. In the transition from his earlier novels, like The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying‹where there are only personally involved narrators‹to narrators like Quentin, we see the fermentation of these beliefs in Faulkner’s own writing. Works CitedBergson, Henri. An Introduction to Metaphysics. New York: Macmillan, 1903.Cohn, Dorrit. Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction. Princeton: Princeton U.P., 1978.Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom. New York: The Modern Library, 1964.Faulkner, William. Light in August. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury: An Authoritative Text Backgrounds and Contexts Criticism. Ed. David Minter. New York: Norton, 1994.Faulkner, William. “Speech of Acceptance upon the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature.” Dec. 10, 1950.Kermode, Frank. The Sense of and Ending. Oxford: Oxford U.P., 2000. Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life. 1874. Trans. Peter Preuss. Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, 1980. 7-22.Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way. New Yorlk: Vintage Books, 1989.Sartre, Jean-Paul. “On The Sound and the Fury: Time in the Work of Faulkner.” 1939. In The Sound and the Fury:An Authoritative Text Backgrounds and Contexts Criticism. Ed. David Minter. New York: Norton, 1994, 265-271.Sundquist, Eric J. “The Strange Career of Joe Christmas.” Faulkner: The House Divided. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983. 63-95.

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My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?

April 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

The novel Absalom Absalom! by William Faulkner is filled with biblical references, from the creation story to Abraham, from David and Goliath to the story of Ham. Faulkner infuses the novel with biblical language, making it impossible to ignore the book’s religious undertones. Throughout the novel, one of the central characters Thomas Sutpen is likened to God through his own “plan” and the creation of his homestead, Sutpen’s Hundred, which mirrors the creation story in the first chapters of Genesis. An even more striking biblical resemblance, however, is how much Sutpen’s first son serves as a Christ-like figure in the book. In the Bible, God sacrifices Jesus for the good of humankind and for the future, so that people will learn from the sacrifice. In Absalom, Absalom!, Sutpen sacrifices his racially mixed son, Charles Bon, by refusing to acknowledge their relationship, in an attempt to preserve his pure white dynasty. Faulkner’s word choice repeatedly connects Jesus to Charles Bon, whose name appropriately means “good,” particularly in the Christmas scene, in which Henry Sutpen convinces Bon to come home to meet his family. Unbeknownst to Henry however, his family is Bon’s family as well. It cannot be an accident that Faulkner had this reunion occur on Christmas, for it’s very name contains the word Christ, and the holiday celebrates His birth. This scene marks a type of birth for Bon as well; it is the first time that he is physically seen by members of his long lost family, and the first time that Sutpen sees Bon as a grown man.The entire recounting of the Christmas scene, told in joint perspective by Quentin and Shreve, is wrought with the images of body and flesh. They describe the imagined perspective of Charles Bon, saying: “but there, just behind a little, obscured a little by that alien blood – in order that he exist in the face of the man who shaped us {Henry and Charles} both out of that blind chancy darkness which we call the future; there; there; at any moment, second, I shall penetrate by something of will -(254).Charles Bon is described as an extension of Sutpen, or created ” -in the face of the man who shaped -” Bon and Henry. This phrase is alluding to the creation of humans “in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1 25-27). Just as God created Jesus in his image, Faulkner infers that Sutpen “shaped” Bon and Henry. The use of the words “face,” and “blood,” emphasizes their physicality. Charles Bon’s existence is corporeal, just as Jesus’ existence, although still an extension of God, is corporeal as well. Faulkner also refers to “that blind chancy darkness which we call the future,” saying that like God, Sutpen created his children with a larger purpose in mind.In addition, Faulkner uses the word “flesh” to describe Bon repeatedly, such as “the living touch of that flesh warmed before he was born by the same blood -to be bequeathed by him to run hot and loud in veins and limbs after the first flesh and then his own were dead” (255). This is another creation reference, discussing how Charles Bon was “born” into a body with veins and limbs and blood. However, this is also a reference to mortality; flesh and bone are distinctly mortal characteristics that inevitably lead one to die. By focusing on words such as “flesh” when discussing Charles Bon, Faulkner is again highlighting Bon’s corporeal existence, and by emphasizing his physical body he is implying that he will die.Jesus’ corporal existence is a profoundly important part of His purpose. Whereas God created humans in His image, Jesus is God in actual humanly flesh and form. The Bible says “God sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him” (John 4 8-10). By placing an enormous focus on Bon’s physicality as well, Faulkner is able to draw a parallel between the two. Ironically, Charles Bon is Sutpen’s only legitimate son as well. Before Ellen, Sutpen was married to a partially black Haitian woman. Once he discovered she was racially mixed he left, never legally ending that marriage. Thus, Bon is Sutpen’s son in the truest form, bastardizing his other “legitimate” children.In addition to the importance of Bon’s physicality, the language of the Christmas scene also suggests more than just the significance of his flesh and body. Through a discussion of the connections between Charles Bon, Henry and Judith, various language suggests that the three represent a sort of trinity, possessing many similar qualities of the Trinity in Christian theology. In the simplest sense, a trinity is a group of three closely related members, which Bon, Judith and Henry clearly are; they form a love triangle that is central to movement of the novel. Within Christianity, however, the Trinity is defined as ” the union of three divine persons in one” (American Heritage Dictionary, 859). Namely, the Father, or God, the Son, or Jesus, and finally the Holy Spirit can be seen as separate entities while at the same time all existing together within one part; God has Jesus and the Holy Spirit within Him, and the Holy Spirit contains both God and Jesus. Together, Judith, Henry and Charles Bon transcend their individual existences, while at the same time maintaining their separateness, like the Trinity in Christianity.From the beginning of the novel Henry and Judith are described as having an extremely close relationship. Mr. Compson, when introducing the dynamic between the three, prefaces it by describing Henry and Judith as “that single personality with two bodies -“(73), already establishing that like the connection within a trinity, Judith and Henry exist in two separate physical bodies, but with the same spirit. It makes sense then that when Charles Bon entered into the picture, things become complete, because he is able to bring the connection full circle.Shreve describes Henry as living in a vacuum where “the three of them existed, lived, moved even maybe, in attitudes without flesh; himself and the friend and the sister” (256). They are able to exist individually, while at the same existing together without flesh, beyond flesh. Considering the abundance of times that Faulkner uses the word “flesh,” within this scene, the statement that they exist without flesh is striking because of it seems contradictory to his other descriptions. Yet, this seeming contradiction exists within the Trinity as well: Jesus exists in flesh and in spirit simultaneously. Later, Shreve says that Henry breathed the thought: “Hers and my lives are to exist within and upon yours” (260), in everything that he said to Bon. The word “within” implies that they exist in each other, whereas the word “upon,” implies being close together yet still separate, again highlighting this seeming contradiction. Through the descriptions of Charles Bon’s body, as well as the description of the relationship between Bon and his siblings, Charles Bon possesses the same duality as Jesus.Bon chooses to go home with Henry for only one reason: he wishes Sutpen to acknowledge him as his child. He believes “if he will let me know just as quickly that I am his son -(255),” everything will resolve itself. Yet for Sutpen, revealing Charles Bon as his son would destroy his plan for the creation of a pure white lineage because Bon is part black. As a result, Bon gets no recognition, “nothing happened; no shock, no hot communicated flesh that speech would have been too slow even to impede; nothing.” (256). Had he received Sutpen’s acknowledgment, even a nonverbal one through “communicated flesh,” he would have gone away, but even a nonverbal communication would have destroyed Sutpen’s image of a perfect dynasty.In a scene between Henry and Sutpen, Sutpen insures that Henry will not allow the marriage between Charles Bon and Judith to take place, thus forcing Sutpen to admit his relationship to Bon. He repeats “he must not marry her, Henry” (283). Henry’s response, repeated many times as well, is “I will – I will – I am going to” (283), can be interpreted as a dissent towards his father’s wishes. However, his comment is not a direct response to Sutpen’s statements; one does not answer the other. In addition to being interpreted as dissent, Henry’s comment “I am going to” is also the beginning of a resolution: Henry is going to make sure that Judith does not marry Bon. Sutpen then does one more thing to make sure that Bon does not destroy his vision of the future; he tells Henry that Charles Bon is part black, knowing that to protect the usurpation of the virginity of his sister, Henry will now prevent the marriage at all costs. In making the decision to tell Henry this, Sutpen is knowingly sacrificing Bon in order to carry out his plan.Sutpen’s lack of acknowledgement when he sees Bon refers to one of the last scenes in Jesus’ life. Jesus and his disciples are praying in the garden, and Jesus calls on God, saying “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mathew 26:39). Jesus asks to be spared from the pain that is coming. Charles Bon realizes that pain is inevitable as well; Shreve imagines that when he left home his mother tells him:”He is your father. He cast you and me aside and denied you his name. Now go and then sit down and let God finish it: pistol or knife or rack; destruction or grief or anguish: God to call the shot or turn the wheel’. Jesus, you can almost see him (238).”Yet like Jesus, Bon still hoped to be spared from the situation, by a sign from Sutpen that would relieve him. Bon believed that only a small sign was necessary, just a communication, a look, would relieve him of his position (257).The fact that Shreve uses the expression “Jesus,” as he often does in his narrative, is particularly significant here. It can be read as “you can almost see him [Bon]” or “you can almost see him [Jesus]”. Shreve’s constant use of the expression “Jesus” adds to the Christmas scene particularly because of the repeated juxtaposition of the name “Jesus” next to the descriptions of Charles Bon , making yet another connection between the two. In another instance, Faulkner’s reference to Bon as Jesus is unmistakable: Faulkner capitalizes the pronouns for both Sutpen and Charles Bon. “The two of them both believing that Henry was thinking He (meaning his father) has destroyed us all, not for one moment thinking He (meaning Bon) must have known -” (267). This choice deifies both Bon and Sutpen; in literature pronouns are never capitalized unless referring to God or Jesus.In the Christmas scene, when Bon and Sutpen meet and Sutpen ignores him, Bon reflects on the meaning of this rejection, thinking “My God, I am young, young, and I didn’t even know it; they didn’t even tell me that I was young” (257). At this moment, Charles Bon realizes the pain that will follow. His thoughts are lamenting why this is happening; he is too young to be experiencing such pain. However, at one point Shreve comments “Jesus, he must have known it would be, “(258) not only invoking Jesus’ name again , but assuming that Bon must understand the inevitable pain.. Regardless, it is not an accident that Bon’s words began with “my God -“. This statement invokes the scene in the bible when Jesus is on the cross, and, moments before His death He looks to the sky and says “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mathew 27:46). Jesus’ words are in the form of a question, yet they too are a realization of pain. Charles Bon asks why it must happen to him, because he is so young, and Jesus asks why He must be the one to be forsaken.Ultimately, both Jesus and Charles Bon were sacrificed for the same reasons: a vision for the future. Bon was sacrificed because his existence threatened to reveal the racial impurity in the white dynasty that Sutpen built for so many years. Jesus, as well, was sacrificed so that people would remember, and things could change in the future. Interestingly, both men were aware that they were walking into their death; Jesus was given the opportunity to deny that he was the King of the Jews, and absolve himself. Charles Bon was given his opportunity as well, when Henry warned, “Don’t pass the shadow of this post, this branch, Charles” (283)) and yet he still made the choice to continue. Charles Bon was buried by three women cut off from society, Clytie, Rosa, and Judith. Jesus as well was buried by three women: Jesus’ mother, Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Mary, Lazarus’ sister.The similarities between Charles Bon and Jesus build up slowly throughout Absalom, Absalom!, first through just the language, and then through parallels in scenes surrounding their deaths. The most significant parallel, however, is that they were both sacrificed for visions of the future. This becomes apparent particularly when Bon is first rejected by his father, and exclaims, though only in his thoughts “My god I am young -” just like Jesus proclaimed “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At this moment, Jesus is ignored by God; he is denied acknowledgement and is not rescued from his pain, just as Bon ultimately is not rescued either.

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“Mother Sister Wife”: An Evaluation of the Disparagement of Women and its Antagonistic Effects in Absalom, Absalom!

March 21, 2019 by Essay Writer

Deeply entrenched misogynistic attitudes pervaded the nineteenth century. Almost all men expected women to fill the role of mother, sister, or wife. They could not imagine and often actively worked against a society in which females could exist outside of these three main positions. William Faulkner firmly establishes this societal rule in his work Absalom, Absalom! by infusing the text with pleasantly phrased yet forgettable sexist language. In an unexpected and bothersome way, the author positions Thomas Sutpen, the main character whose actions typically have adverse and even deleterious effects on those around him, as the protagonist of the novel by consistently wrapping the plot around the success or failure of his projects and ambitions. However, Faulkner encounters a problem in characterizing an antagonist to oppose Sutpen as no believable male character of the time would expend the energy to intentionally thwart the efforts of a monied man to build a reputation and a legacy. His solution lies in the women of the novel. By subtly stressing the inflexible expectations of women yet initially characterizing Rosa Coldfield as a seemingly strong and independent female, Faulkner creates the opportunity to tear her down and transform her into a negative character in the sense that she both corrupts and negates the typical feminine position. Due to her withdrawal from the terms of society, Rosa can no longer exist as a character in her own right but only as an inverse; she becomes the antagonist, the anti-Sutpen.

In keeping with nineteenth century culture and attitudes toward the female gender role, Faulkner firmly places women in a narrow category with rigid expectations. Referring to Mr. Coldfield, Faulkner’s use of the line “at a time when he had mother sister wife…to support” punctuates this point with its intriguing lack of punctuation (60). The oneness of the term that the missing commas create indicates that these female personas, usually associated with different characteristics and time periods in life, are to the male characters indifferentiable. Bon, Sutpen, Henry, and the other men in the novel see no need to separate this overarching designation because in their experience, the women in their lives have filled or will fill these positions at some point. Though “daughter” might arise as an expected addition, the men rarely treat Ellen, Judith, Rosa, and Clytie in the loving and tender way associated with that relationship. The seemingly all-encompassing nature of the “mother sister wife” leaves little room for the women in the novel to have any other role. Therefore, the women cannot act outside of the triumvirate capacity given to them without repercussions both in the plot of the novel and in their reception as characters.

Faulkner uses frankly stated assumptions about females’ functions and capabilities to continue to cement a simplistic view of the female characters in the novel. Bon’s strong assertion of and belief in the notion that the octaroon mistresses “fulfill a woman’s sole end and purpose: to love, to be beautiful, to divert” produces a sense of certainty about the concept that women can do nothing but function for the benefit of a man (93). The excerpt itself has a sense of beauty to its phrasing; it almost seems able to evoke a sigh if read aloud which makes it appear significantly more pleasant and innocent than sexist and demeaning. The euphonious nature of the phrase masks the danger of the ideology it illustrates and thus allows it to slip cunningly into the subconscious of the twenty first century reader. A woman’s purpose obviously goes beyond the three listed by Bon, but the idea can easily stick with the reader and affect the perception of female characters without a true realization of the origin of the disdain.

This same method of rapid and forgettable sexism appears in deceptively nonthreatening conversations between characters. While discussing Rosa’s story with his son Quentin, Mr. Compson ponders that “maybe women are even less complex than [being able to think politically] and to them any wedding is better than no wedding and a big wedding with a villain preferable to a small one with a saint” (40). The conversation between the father and son does not center on their opinions of women, yet the disparaging language still emerges when they debate the motivations behind female choices. This simplistic and reproachful understanding of women pervades their society so thoroughly that they cannot help but use it as justification for their theories. Though this picture could be disregarded as an outdated representation of marriage, the association of “women” with “less complex” still registers. In conjunction with other negative language, this wording reinforces the sentiments of the male characters that females do not have equally valid judgement, concern themselves mainly with appearances, and cannot reason beyond surface level.

With these attitudes firmly fixed and regularly reiterated, Faulkner insinuates that the main male characters would encounter less trouble and opposition if the women did not intervene. When interpreted through the sexist lens that the author has fashioned, women both directly and indirectly antagonize the men in the novel. As Sutpen develops his land and his reputation, he lives “in the spartan shell of the largest edifice in the county, not excepting the courthouse itself, whose threshold no woman had so much as seen, without any feminized softness or window pane or door or mattress…[with] no woman to object” (30). In Sutpen’s mind, women exist as a means to an end and are in impediment unless they help him accomplish his current goals. This purposeful isolation desired in the antebellum period and long after operated within the mindset that the ability to tolerate a woman’s presence only when the man desired it made the man superior to others who did not have the means to regulate their interactions. Furthermore, the choice of the courthouse as a comparison for the grandeur of Sutpen’s woman-free environment creates a noteworthy contrast. You go to a courthouse to legally legitimize a marriage; to conjure an image of a house and in turn a legacy greater than that of a courthouse and marriage suggests that Sutpen’s vision as the protagonist goes beyond a simple affirmation of a connection to a well-regarded family.

Rosa plays a direct role in upsetting Sutpen’s grand plan by breaking away from her expected womanly role and denying his desires. After Ellen dies, Rosa moves to live with Judith and Clytie. When Sutpen returns from war and proposes marriage, he suggests that he and Rosa “breed together for test and sample and if it was a boy they would marry” (144). Rosa rightfully finds this proposition appalling and immediately moves back to town, thus refuting the regulations of her society. Sutpen suggests the proposition because in his amoral mind, he sees Rosa simply as a logical means to produce another male heir. Since to him women can only fill the “mother sister wife” role, it makes perfect sense for him to expect Rosa to occupy the position as well. The use of the words “test and sample” emphasize the superfluous and expedient view of women in the novel. Sutpen expects to experiment with them as he pleases and fails to acknowledge the inhumanity of this proclivity. He even verbalizes this vexing attitude when he assigns Wash Jones’s granddaughter Milly a place lower than his mares after he “tests” with her and does not favor the outcome (151). Regardless of the degrading nature of his request to Rosa, because he is in a twisted way the protagonist of the novel, Rosa suffers repercussions because she refuses her expected role.

Throughout the novel, Faulkner develops Rosa as a seemingly resilient and determined character that places value in her own independence and maturity which suspiciously diverges from his typical depiction of women. At one point, she even entertains the idea that she “lived out not as a woman, a girl, but rather as the man which [she] perhaps should have been” (116). The use of the past conditional tense in the phrase denotes a sense of regret and a negation of femininity. Rosa easily could have been born male, every human has that fifty percent chance, but instead Faulkner opts for the words “should have” which conveys the sense that one ought to lament being born female. However, in conjunction with and ostensibly in reaction to the thought that a woman could occupy the same mental space and presence as a man, the author razes any hope that a strong female character could exist opposite of Sutpen. As a consequence of her rejection of the restrictive yet overarching womanly position that Faulkner has established, Rosa resorts to slinking around the town picking greens from people’s yards and shows no gratitude for the generosity extended to her by her neighbors (138, 171). Swiftly she develops into a pathetic and destitute character. Since she negates the expected female mold, she can no longer fit into society. This contemptible behavior along with negative phrases regarding women like “less complex” that slyly slither largely unremembered alongside the reader throughout the novel force a palpable disinclination toward Rosa. Exasperatingly though, the only reason perception shifts and she transforms into this unfavorable parasite is because of the rigid and sexist gender role that the time period and Faulkner enforce for women.

The roles of antagonist and inverse exist as the only places left for Rosa to fill because she rebuffs her place as a woman in the highly masculinized world of the novel. She vengefully details the life and detestable influence of Thomas Sutpen, prevents him from having more sons for heirs, and ultimately causes the ruin of everything he has built in her quest to find Henry. As she and Quentin approach the old and now dilapidated mansion, Rosa says under her breath that she “will have to find it [whether Henry is there or not] out” (292). As the negator and antagonist, she no longer has the option of “should,” “could,” or “would” regarding her actions. Rosa loses her place as a true character after stepping beyond the womanly realm, and therefore, she loses her choice in the necessity of her actions. She has to cause the downfall of Sutpen’s legacy because the author has purposefully left no other option for her. Rosa does not conform to the position that Faulkner crafts and the male characters exclusively accept; therefore, she must elicit disdain as a woman and bring about destruction as the anti-Sutpen.

The sexism laced language that Faulkner uses to craft the restrictive ideology surrounding the female role in society frustratingly and unfairly sanctions Rosa as the antagonist opposite the strange protagonist of Sutpen and allows for the fiery resolution of the novel. This conclusion evokes the sentiment that contradiction of the traditional female role begets devastation. If people assume that alternate places in society for women only bring destruction, they create a cyclical pattern of thought that continually reinforces this notion. Faulkner could not have written Absalom, Absalom! without confining women to a rigid box and forcing Rosa outside of that box. In fact, nineteenth century Southern culture could not have functioned without this uncompromising characterization: women had to conform to the expectations of the “mother sister wife” because without it the white males would lose their incorrectly assumed innate role as the protagonists of society.

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The Absalom in Absalom, Absalom!

March 5, 2019 by Essay Writer

As a classic source of insight and wisdom in the Western heritage, the Bible has been studied, questioned, and alluded to for as long as it has captured the imagination of believers and novelists alike. As such, this perennial text lends itself easily to allusion, but we might well question the point of Biblical allusions, particularly when they are subtle and symbolic as in Faulkner; what extra meaning can be gained by a reference to an ancient tale that can not be said straight out? Part of the answer lies in how biblical themes are reworked in the novel; we must keep track of which Biblical details/themes/plots are brought into the novel, which are left out, and which are purposely drastically altered. Even the details that seem to correspond to some exact parallel in the Biblical text in a one-to-one mapping are meaningful when we consider just which substitution the novelist makes for its Biblical counterpart. Great writers will use all of these methods to comment on the Bible or have the Bible comment on the novel; either way a new masterpiece is created besides these two texts, produced by the interaction between them. The allusive power of the Bible allows for stories to comment on other stories, producing a rich, multi-layered work that not only tells a tale but questions itself at the same time. This is perhaps part of the reason behind the mesmerizing effect the Bible has had on modern novelists – it allows for a new window through which a dialogue on storytelling itself can emerge. Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! is largely concerned with the power of storytelling to reshape memory and give meaning to the past and as such making allusions to the Bible (and other classic texts1) is central to the novel. We will explore how Faulkner reshapes the story of 2 Samuel 13-18 to shed light on the novel, the Bible, and the timeless stories of human passion that link them.

Faulkner reshapes the Samuel story to such an extent that the biggest hint to the reader is given in the novel’s title itself. Nevertheless, there are direct hints that link Sutpen with David, Henry with Absalom, Charles Bon with Amnon, and Judith with Tamar. The novel seems to be mainly concerned with these Biblical characters, and though a case could be made for links to other peripheral characters, the suggestions for this are more tenuous (there are however many direct references to other parts of the Bible as we shall see). Sutpen is established as David early on: he carries the suggestive red beard and somewhat facetiously claims to have cut off a piece of a Yankee coat tail (here we should be cautious in comparing the Yankee forces with Saul – Faulkner often plays with the Biblical tale, not always suggesting a symbolic link). The climatic would-be incest scene and its corresponding murder cues us in to the counterparts to Tamar, Amnon, and Absalom, but these are by no means kept certain as the narrative progresses. While the Biblical Amnon seems to be ruled by a whim of lust after his virgin sister, whom he quickly casts aside after the rape, Charles Bon (ironically carrying the name “good”) seems to become a more dignified character as Quentin obtains more information. While lacking moral scruples (in regards to bigamy and incest, the last of which he is unconscious of) he is unwilling to abandon his octoroon wife and is just as unwilling to leave Judith to whom fate seems to have prearranged a marriage. He is careful not to offend both Henry and Judith in speech and in letters; conscientious till the end, he carries a photograph of his mistress to tell Judith “I was no good, do not grieve for me” (p. 287) before his inevitable death. Judith is also a far cry from Tamar (who is Biblically an innocent, pitied Lucretia) – she seems determined to have the wedding at all costs, even, it is suggested, under the threat of incest, carrying that Sutpen determinism to the bitter end; (there is also an ironic reversal of the death kiss David gives to Absalom when Sutpen kisses Judith before receiving news of Bon’s death). Henry too is not exactly the Biblical Absalom, who is described primarily as someone who seeks justice (for his sister’s rape and his banishment): “Oh that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would to him justice!” (2 Samuel 15:4). Henry is similar in his firm stance on respecting his sister’s honor, yet he is far less righteous in the novel, and seems complicit in the incest fantasy, “taking that virginity in the person of the brother-in-law” (p. 77). These are just a few of the ways in which Faulkner twists the Biblical story, and the more we read the more complicated the sibling relationship becomes. All three of them seem to have a hint of sexual longing: Henry and Judith have a “relationship closer than the traditional loyalty of brother and sister” and “eat from the same dish” in an ironic reversal of the Biblical scene; Charles and Henry have a curious relationship with Henry being despoiled by Charles if he could only “metamorphose into the sister” (p. 77), yet Charles is also described as wearing “feminine garments” leaving us to question who is the seducer and who is seduced. Even Sutpen, despite his reservations about the Bon-Judith union, seems to have had incestual longing in his childhood seeing “his sister pumping rhythmic up and down above a washtub in the yard, her back toward him, shapeless in a calico dress and a pair of the old man’s shoes unlaced and flapping about her bare ankles” (p. 191). It seems that every permutation of lust is allowed free reign (though often with “unconscious” hopes, “subconscious” desires (p. 75)), at least in Quentin’s and Shreve’s rendering of the story, leaving us to wonder just what remains of the Biblical tale.

The reason behind this becomes clearer when we consider that the narrators are themselves trying to understand the tale, sometimes filling in pieces from their own imagination (as when Quentin and Shreve suggest that Bon had known Judith was his sister). Quentin is trying to “pass that door” (p. 142), to understand just “Why? Why? Why?” (p. 135) it happened and in order to do that he has to “reconstruct the causes”, often with “old virtues” (p. 96). His tale becomes the reversal of the Biblical one, (in which, at least on the surface, the motives seem clear), and by filling in and shifting details he can provide a rational explanation for an inexplicable tragedy. This then is the largest difference between the Biblical tale and novel: the Bible is succinct, giving simple motives to characters that may not explain their full psychology but allow for the larger plot to move faster; while the novel is a Biblical exegesis of the same story, creating details out of thin air in order to explain what seems a harrowing, unnatural tale of incest, fratricide, patricide, lust and power. It is perhaps this chaos and not only his son’s death that David mourns with that recurring eulogy “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33), repeating the same four words endlessly. This brief passage is one of the most moving because the Bible rarely wastes words and this circular repetition seems a chilling reminder of the incomprehensible events that David can not reason through. That passage is mirrored innumerable times in the novel – “I will believe! I will! I will!” (p. 72, 88, 89); “No! No! Not that!” (p. 101); “Judith! Judith!” (p. 110), “Henry! Henry!” (p. 109) – as if presciently mourning the destruction before the end when Quentin gives the final mourning “I don’t hate it!” (p. 303). There he is speaking about the South which is part of Faulkner’s larger preoccupation of Southern myopia and megalomania personified in Sutpen. But we need not limit the novel to a purely racial/regional perspective; we can look at the larger lesson for man in his “courage or cowardice, the folly or lust or fear, for which his fellows praise or crucify him” (p. 123).

The novel refers to other Biblical tales of brotherly strife, mainly the Cain-Abel and Essau-Jacob stories – Rosa’s outburst after the murder “Henry! Henry! What have you done?” (p. 109) echo Genesis 4:10, and Henry giving up his birthright links him with the more impetuous brother Essau. The parallel with the three older brothers (Cain, Essau, Absalom) shows their characteristic of being less intelligent/lucky and more violent (perhaps because of this) than their younger sibling (Abel, Jacob2, Amnon). Sutpen says appropriately “No son of a landed father wants an older brother” (p. 253), yet Charles ironically insists on wanting an older brother just like his father; he gets exactly that and perhaps the novel is implying some inevitable quarrel between the “romantic” and “fatalist” born of the same blood and doomed to strife.

In addition to the brother-brother theme there is the father-son motif; a passing reference to Abraham seeking immortality through his descendants (p. 260) reminds us of the central place that lineage holds in the Hebrew culture (and paradoxically recalls the threat of impotence and infanticide). The Bible is certainly preoccupied with this central theme of lineage which often requires great sacrifices (Lot and his two daughters, Abraham and Hagar). We are told that Sutpen’s ultimate goal was to have a son, as if all the ensuing chaos stems from that simple need of continuing life. Seen from this perspective it is a sad irony that the very progeny is doomed to fight itself, ultimately destroying the patriarchal father-figure as well.

The preoccupation with lineage leads to concern with race as well, and there are many parallels between the Biblical strife for purity and the same Southern ideal. Charles Etienne is compared to Lilith and one of the “sons of Ham” (p. 150-60), both outcasts from the traditional line of descent. Sutpen is repulsed to find his wife has “negro blood” and in the end his rejection of his mixed-blood daughter Milly leads to his death, implying that his vision of passing some pure lineage through a male is doomed to fail. This also has implications for Faulkner’s South, in particular his Yoknapatawpha county where the blacks comprise two-thirds of the population and the whites are “only in the surface matter of food and clothing and daily occupation any different from the negro slaves who supported them” (p. 78). This outcast race is the sacrifice with which the lineage can continue; Charles Etienne, though he can pass as a white, decides to belong to the outcasts, “treading the thorny flint-paved path toward the Gethsemane which he had decreed and created for himself, and where he crucified himself and come down from his cross for a moment and returned to it” (p. 169). The Christ image here is seen more as pointless sacrifice than a source of salvation and indeed most of the Christ references in the novel have that undertone3. This Biblical reversal underscores the despair of both Sutpen’s dynasty and the South as a whole, their legacies filled with suffering but no redeemers.

Sutpen’s ambitious goal to build his “hundred” seems analogous to David’s building of a great Jerusalem (which would imply that his stay in Haiti is David’s Hebron; the time periods of six years in Hebron and thirty three in Jerusalem seem to roughly agree with the novel). That word “hundred”4 permeates the novel as much as Sutpen’s name and image5; when his dream is over we are told that his hundred square miles is better described as “Sutpen’s One”, as if all those repetitions boil down to one man, one obsession, one child. But understanding that singularity is tantamount to understanding existence itself which is why Quentin bifurcates the story into larger branches, trying to fathom what must essentially remain a mystery. In the face of nature and chance, Sutpen built his horrific legacy from a wasteland and some sixty years later nothing of it remains, save Shreve’s story and the tombstones (which may be possible counterparts to Absalom’s pillar that served as his remembrance in place of a child – 2 Samuel 18:18). While Mr. Coldfield had no one to confess his last thoughts to and Sutpen died too soon to even have guilt, the story itself that Miss Rosa is dying to tell leaves that scratch that can “be remembered even if only from passing from one hand to another” (p. 101). That scratch is Faulkner’s text itself; as we make sense of Sutpen’s horrific legacy we also find new meaning in its Biblical counterpart, and the dialogue which emerges between the two brings a new perspective on how stories are told and the historical reality that lies behind them. Though we may never know what deeper roots, motives, and seeds of chance lay behind David’s last cry for his son, we can nevertheless begin to reconstruct that which is central to the timeless tale and its modern renderings by continuing that ancient tradition of storytelling.

Notes

1) Besides the Agamemnon and other mythological references there are several Shakespearean allusions, including this passage mirroring Macbeth and linking the novel with Quentin’s other tale, The Sound and the Fury: “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow beyond the immediate fury” (p. 232). Clearly the Bible is not the only source of allusions for the novel, however the title at least suggest it may be the main one.

2) A case could be made for Sutpen as Jacob as well – he is wounded in the thigh and wrestles with the black man much like Jacob with the angel. Again, Faulkner’s allusions can work on many levels and do not always allow for simple symbolic substitutions.

3) Just a few examples of ironic Christ references:

– The boxes of stove polish Bon’s infantry receives instead of food are described sarcastically as “the loaves and the fishes as was once the incandescent Brow, the shining nimbus of the Thorny Crown” (p. 103).

– Quentin’s grandfather’s reversal of Mark 10:14 – Suffer (‘the’ ironically removed) little children to come unto me: “what did He mean by that? How, if He meant that little children should need to be suffered to approach Him, what sort of earth had He created…” (p. 161).

– Henry can not say to Bon “I did that for love of you; do this for love of me” (p. 72) as if Christian ethics can not apply in their lives.

– Wash thinks of Sutpen before killing him “[He is] bigger than the scorn and denial which hit helt to his lips like the bitter cup in the Book” (p. 231), mimicking Christ’s “let this cup pass from me” in Gethsemane.

4) Some examples of the word “hundred” permeating the novel:

-Rosa and Quentin haven’t exchanged a “hundred words” (p. 5).

– Clytie hasn’t seen Sutpen a “hundred times” (p. 48).

– A description of a “hundred windows” with a “hundred still unbrided widows” (p. 97).

– “He’s not going to come within a hundred yards of those cedars anyway” (p. 153), says Mr. Compson

– The “hundred dollars” for the tombstone (p. 163).

5) Identities are often mixed to the point that the reader has trouble telling who the “he” refers to in the novel (though, we are told, Quentin and Shreve always know). Henry and Sutpen are often linked as one person, as are Judith and Sutpen. A few examples of this merging identity are:

– The fighting scene in the stable where Ellen runs in looking for Thomas and Henry runs out instead (p. 21).

– We are told that Henry was fourteen then, the same age that Sutpen was when running away (p. 40).

– Judith watches Sutpen fight the same way that Sutpen would watch Henry fight (p. 95); and they are described as “too much alike” (p. 96) to the point that they do not need to talk.

– Quentin, his father, and Shreve all blend into one: “Maybe we are both father… or maybe Father and I are both Shreve, maybe it took Father and me both to make Shreve or Shreve and me both to make Father or maybe Thomas Sutpen to make all of us.” (p. 210).

That last phrase points to the significance of the blurring of identity – Sutpen’s shadow is so large that every other character around him (or talking/listening to his story) can be seen as an extension of him.

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