Absalom, Absalom

Analysis

Like other Faulkner novels, Absalom, Absalom! allegorizes Southern history; the title itself is an allusion to a wayward son fighting the empire his father built. The history of Thomas Sutpen mirrors the rise and fall of Southern plantation culture. Sutpen's failures necessarily reflect the weaknesses of an idealistic South. Rigidly committed to his "design," Sutpen proves unwilling to honor his marriage to a part-black woman, setting in motion his own destruction. Discussing Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner stated that the curse under which the South labors is slavery, and Thomas Sutpen's personal curse, or flaw, was his belief that he was too strong to need to be a part of the human family.[2]

Absalom, Absalom! juxtaposes ostensible fact, informed guesswork, and outright speculation, with the implication that reconstructions of the past remain irretrievable and therefore imaginative. Faulkner stated that although none of the narrators got the facts right, since "no one individual can look at truth," there is a truth and the reader can ultimately know it.[3] Most critics have tried to reconstruct this truth behind the shifting narratives, or to show that such a reconstruction cannot be done with certainty or even to prove that there are factual and logical inconsistencies that cannot be overcome. But some critics have stated that, fictional truth being an oxymoron, it is best to take the story as a given, and regard it on the level of myth and archetype, a fable that allows us to glimpse the deepest levels of the unconscious and thus better understand the people who accept (and are ruled by) that myth—Southerners in general and Quentin Compson in particular.[4]

By using various narrators expressing their interpretations, the novel alludes to the historical cultural zeitgeist of Faulkner's South, where the past is always present and constantly in states of revision by the people who tell and retell the story over time; it thus also explores the process of myth-making and the questioning of truth.

The use of Quentin Compson as the primary perspective (if not exactly the focus) of the novel makes it something of a companion piece to Faulkner's earlier work The Sound and the Fury, which tells the story of the Compson Family, with Quentin as a main character. Although the action of that novel is never explicitly referenced, the Sutpen family's struggle with dynasty, downfall, and potential incest parallel the familial events and obsessions that drive Quentin and Miss Rosa Coldfield to witness the burning of Sutpen's Hundred.


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