Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
Thomas Sutpen is the tragic protagonist of Absalom, Absalom! He typifies Faulkner's vision of the Southern man, tough and crude, with energy, ambition, and a great capacity for hard work. He is a man who risen from humble beginnings to become the wealthiest landowner in the county. He desperately wants to have a son, his legacy to the world and an heir to his wealth.
Thomas Sutpen's real antagonist is himself. He falls victim to his own blind desire to found a dynasty and leave a legacy. The conflict in the novel arises from his great desire for a son and heir. For Thomas Sutpen, "son" means a white man. He rejects his first wife, Eulalia, and their son, Charles Bon, after discovering that Eulalia is one-eighth Negro, which means that Bon also has Negro blood. He then foolishly seeks to have a male heir in other ways.
Henry Sutpen, Thomas Sutpen's son by Ellen Coldfield, serves as the key antagonistic character in the novel. He is a romantic and loves his friend Charles Bon, whose true identity he does not know. He scorns social taboos and rejects his birthright, leaving home when his father forbids Bon from marrying Judith, his sister. Upon learning that Bon has Negro blood, however, Henry's conviction that no marriage should take place between a black and a white makes Henry murder Charles Bon. In this act, he punishes his father, but the terrible conflict of blood and race which they share destroys them both.
The climax of the story occurs when Henry Sutpen kills Charles Bon. In killing his half-brother, Henry destroys himself and his father's grand design of a dynasty. It is ironic that Henry can accept the idea of incest and would like Charles to marry Judith, his half-sister. But, on learning of Bon's Negro blood, he cannot condone a black marrying a white and commits the fratricide.
Absalom, Absalom! ends in bleak tragedy. When Henry kills Bon, he destroys himself and his father in the process. The murder leads to Henry's realization of his father's deep-rooted racial prejudice and how it has affected him; it also leads to his own deep-rooted guilt over killing his friend and half-brother.
Once Henry kills Bon, divine retribution seems to hound Thomas Sutpen for his relentless pursuit of his obsession. His proposal to Rosa Coldfield on the death of his wife, Ellen, results in rejection, and his abominable seduction of the fifteen-year-old Milly Jones ends in his death. Sutpen's grand design of creating a dynasty completely fails, and his estate is ironically inherited by a Negro, Jim Bond, the idiot grandson of Charles Bon. In his portrayal of the Sutpens, Faulkner condemns racial prejudice and its effects on society.