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Free Study Guide-Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 3

Summary

Quentin continues listening as his father relates the history of Sutpen's family, including Sutpen's strange marriage to Ellen and the birth of their two children, Henry and Judith. Judith, with her tomboy ways, blossoms into a young woman who is as tough as her father. Henry goes away to college to study at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. By the time his two children are grown, Sutpen has become the biggest single landowner and cotton planter in Yoknapatawpha County. Ellen, reconciled to her fate as Sutpen's wife, has developed into a proud, rich woman.

Compson also wonders about many things during the chapter. He questions why Rosa would have considered marrying Thomas Sutpen, when she obviously hated him. He also wonders if Sutpen meant to name his daughter Cassandra instead of Clytemnestra. Cassandra was the princess of Troy who predicted its fall, as well as her own death at Clytemnestra's hands. Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon who led the Greeks against the Trojans in The Odyssey, was responsible for the deaths of Agamemnon and Cassandra. Ironically, Clytie presides over the ruin of the Hundred at the end of the novel.


Compson then tells about Charles Bon for the first time. One Christmas Henry brings this young friend home to Sutpen's Hundred for the holidays; no one, including Henry, is aware that Bon is really his half-brother by Sutpen's first marriage. Ironically, Judith falls in love with Charles during the visit. When Bon returns the next Christmas, he proposes to Judith, but Sutpen forbids them to marry. As a result, a fight between Henry and his father begins. In the end, Henry formally renounces his heritage and permanently leaves the Hundred with Bon.

Soon after the departure of Henry, Sutpen goes off to fight in the Civil War. He becomes a respected officer, admired by his soldiers. Compson then relates how Sutpen at fifty-five suddenly starts growing portly. He also tells about Sutpen becoming engaged to Rosa after his wife's death; she, however, abruptly leaves the Hundred before their marriage and returns to her father's store.

During the Civil War, Rosa's father refuses to sell supplies to the townspeople. He withdraws into the attic of his store, where he lives like a recluse before dying. Rosa becomes an orphan and is too proud to go and live with Judith at the Hundred. Instead, she depends upon her aunt.

Notes

Mr. Compson narrates this entire chapter, but not all of the information he gives is factual. He tries to guess why Rosa behaves the ways she does and why she thought about marrying Sutpen after Ellen died when she obviously hated him; his perception of her is quite different from her own attitude in the first chapter. William Faulkner uses these shifting viewpoints to show how the perception of truth is colored by human judgments.

It must be remembered that Rosa is a romantic. Alone and dependent on her romantic aunt, Rosa becomes much like her. She starts writing poetry about love matches. When Judith gets engaged to Charles Bon, Rosa is thrilled and projects her own dormant romantic longings into her niece's life. Though she has never met Bon, she fancies herself in Judith's position as his bride! It is once again obvious that the Coldfields are sentimental and imaginative.

In his portrayal of the Sutpens, William Faulkner satirizes aristocratic Southerners for their greed, ambition, and heartlessness. Sutpen becomes a wealthy, powerful landowner at the cost of his Negro slaves, and Ellen flaunts the status and power which money has brought her. In their attempts to live up to their roles in society, they share similar characteristics.

It is important to note that in this chapter, and several others in the book, Faulkner hints that there has previously been some kind of relationship or agreement between Sutpen and Coldfield, and the reader is made to feel that perhaps Sutpen had something to hold over Coldfield's head. Perhaps, this played into Mr. Coldfield's willingness to let his daughter, Ellen, marry Sutpen, even when the local folk where violently opposed. It is even suggested that Sutpen is partially to blame for Coldfield's starving himself to death in the attic. The nature of the relationship between the two men is never given in the book, and the reader must use imagination to guess what it might be. Whatever the relationship is, however, has obviously contributed to the negative feelings that Rosa has for Sutpen. This is not the only detail left unexplained in the book. For example, Faulkner never tells the reader where Sutpen has gotten his wealth or why the architect was willing to come to the wilderness with Sutpen and stay for two years. The lack of information serves to cast doubt on Sutpen's character.

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