Absalom, Absalom

Ambivalence and Anguish: The Inescapability of the Old South and its Destruction of Quentin Compson in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom

William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom identifies the fundamental problem of Southern history as a wretched combination of two predominant qualities: the shameful and abhorrent nature of the past, and the haunting and mythical presence of such a past in the hearts and minds of the descendents of the old South. In the essay “Faulkner and the Civil War: Myth and Reality,” Douglas T. Miller argues that Faulkner often implies the retrospective “moral failings” of the old South but at the same time grants its history an immense mythic and heroic quality. “Much of Faulkner’s writing is concerned with the inability of the descendents of the old order leaders to deal effectively with the modern South,” writes Miller. “To some of these individuals it is the legend of the Civil War that incapacitates them from acting meaningfully in the new South” (204). Quentin Compson’s mental anguish in the final pages of the novel and his subsequent suicide reflect a profound inner estrangement—the myth of the antebellum South and the cold reality of the post-bellum world colliding in the mind of one man who cannot quite come to terms with either.

Quentin’s long-winded and convoluted description of the South functions in the novel as a poignant...

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