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Absalom, Absalom! is primarily a social tragedy, concerned with the Themes of legitimacy, legacy and racial prejudice. With its biblical and epic allusions, however, it also takes on the qualities of a mythological tale. Thomas Sutpen's story becomes a parallel to that of the Southern United States. Because of their prejudices towards blacks, Faulkner suggests that the Southern whites lost everything, just as Thomas Sutpen does in the novel.
Another key theme of the novel is appearance vs. reality. Throughout the novel, Faulkner is concerned with the difficulty of uncovering truth and of the many faces which it acquires when colored by individual human perspectives, fears, motivations, and interests. The story of Thomas Sutpen is created by a number of narrators, who may or may not be reliable, leaving the reader to construct his or her own version of reality from the various tales told.
A number of minor Themes are interwoven into the plot. Faulkner explores the Themes of incest, fratricide, and miscegenation, as well as questioning the various motivations of human conduct. The novel also explores Southern attitudes of envy, mistrust, and prejudice and the cultural values of a society struggling for stability in the period following the Civil War. Finally, it emphasizes the importance of man's relationship to the past.
The mood and atmosphere of the novel are primarily grim and gloomy. Faulkner exposes the ugly truths of racial prejudice, mistrust, and the ironic role of fate in human destiny. Faulkner's stream of consciousness technique of probing the psychology of his characters and their actions also gives the work a complex, brooding, introspective feel. Faulkner's characters often experience feelings of self-condemnation and failure, and the horror of death and disaster haunts the novel throughout.