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

CHAPTER 4

Summary

Mr. Compson continues with his narration, adding detail about previously mentioned events. On hearing of the engagement between Bon and Judith, Sutpen puts his foot down. In the ensuing quarrel, Henry renounces his inheritance and leaves the Hundred with Bon. Soon after, in 1861, the outbreak of the Civil War causes Sutpen to go off to fight for the South. Henry and Charles also enter the fighting. In fact, reference is made to a letter that Charles writes during the war. The letter sheds some light on this enigmatic character. He is obviously an intelligent man, for he has become an officer for the South. He also sees the irony in the fact that he must steal stationery in order to write and letter and use polish stolen from the Yankees in place of ink. The greater irony, however, is that this man, later killed for having Negro blood, is fighting for the Confederacy, which wants to uphold black slavery in the South.

The Civil War has a great affect on those left behind at home. During the war, Mr. Coldfield shuts himself up in his attic, where he starves himself to death. Ellen slowly goes mad after Henry's departure and dies in 1862. At the close of the war, tragedy continues. Henry, who was only a private, and Bon, who was an officer, return from the fighting unharmed. Ironically, Bon, who has survived the war, is soon murdered by Henry at the gates of the Hundred. No one seems to understand his motives, for the locals do not know that Bon is part Negro or that he is the half-brother of both Henry and Judith.


Mr. Compson wonders at Bon's original motives in coming to the Hundred. He reveals that Bon has a black wife and a child in New Orleans, but he does not consider it wrong to propose to Judith. Mr. Compson believes that Bon has the Sutpen blood and charm, which makes him attractive to Henry and his sister. He also wonders about Henry's motive in murdering Bon at the gates of Hundred.

Notes

Quentin Compson, one of the narrators in this chapter, is to be trusted more than Rosa Coldfield, for he was not a participant in the events and is, therefore, more objective. It must be remembered, however, that most of what he knows of the Sutpen saga has been told to him by his father, who did participate in some of the events of the story. Quentin judges Rosa Coldfield, living in her dark, airless room in Jefferson, as a grim and gloomy figure.

Mr. Compson, Quentin's father, is kind in his judgement of Sutpen because he believes that the men of past generations are more noble than the men of the present. He is not so kind to Henry. Compson speculates that Henry must have loved his sister too much to let Bon marry her. He thinks Henry is a country clown, who is simple, romantic, and moralistic; in contrast, Bon is a shrewd, city dweller who has a Negro wife in New Orleans, but still wants to marry Judith. Mr. Compson is full of speculation and prejudice about all three young people. He hints at a homosexual relationship between Henry and Charles and an incestuous link between Henry and Judith. His assumption that this may have been a motive for Henry murdering Bon reflects on Mr. Compson's own twisted logic of mind. William Faulkner demonstrates this weakness of human nature in all the narrators, who arrive at their own judgments on the motive and behavior of the different characters they are talking about.

Compson pessimistically judges the world, especially Sutpen's, as deterministic and fatalistic, where only the survival of the fittest takes place; most people fail, for they are not capable of determining their own fate. Bon is killed in cold blood, and Henry is forced into hiding to escape the law. Then Sutpen himself is killed. William Faulkner asks the reader to judge whether the murders were justified, to take sides with the characters.

The significance of the Biblical title Absalom, Absalom! emerges in this chapter, as Henry defies his father for forbidding the marriage of Judith and Bon. He is more loyal to his friend than his father and does not mind being cut off from the family and his inheritance of the Hundred.

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