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

CHAPTER 5

Summary

Quentin and Rosa go to visit the plantation, and Rosa narrates the Sutpen saga from the time she was desperately summoned in 1865 to the Hundred. She speaks of the burial of Bon, her engagement to Sutpen, their heated argument, her retreat to her father's house, and her forty-three years' of contemplation on the evil character of Sutpen. Rosa tells Quentin that she suspects that there is someone else living at Hundred beside Clytie and Jim Bond, the idiot son of Charles Etienne, Charles Bon's son by his mistress. She expects to confirm her suspicions when she visits the place with Quentin.

Rosa's story weaves back and forth in time, from 1865 to her early childhood. She hates her father, who she believes caused her mother to die by making her pregnant. She is also bitter and angry about her solitary state and jealous of the friendship and love between Judith and Clytie. She feels that after Ellen's death the house at the Hundred should have belonged to her. In 1865, Clytie prevents her from seeing Bon's body. This frustrates her, as she has never actually seen him, but only heard of him, and fantasizes about his romantic good looks and youth. Rosa's dreams and reality mingle in her narration.


Notes

This is a difficult chapter. Rosa narrates it, but she often speaks of herself in the third person, as if she were some unnamed citizen of the town telling the story. This shift in voice make for difficult reading; it also mirrors the difference between how Rosa is seen or appears to be seen by others and how she would like to be seen. She is an outsider in the Sutpen clan, but wishes she were an integral part of it.

Rosa has an extremely romantic nature. In her teens she is half in love with Bon and stitches Judith's bridal gown, half-dreaming that it is her own. When Henry murders Bon, she is not shocked by the act, but is merely sad that her dream-lover is dead. She is also surprised that Bon is buried in the Sutpen family cemetery. It is ironic that Bon, who was never recognized by his father in life, is given a place by him in death.

On Sutpen's return, Rosa finds Sutpen less of an ogre than she has previously represented him to be and agrees to marry him, believing that his is her chance to live the romantic existence she has dreamed about. His bold and vulgar demand that she prove her fertility and capability by providing him with a male heir, however, is too shocking for her. All of her romantic ideals are destroyed by his demand, and she has no choice but to break off the engagement. She is also made to believe that Sutpen has no feelings and is incapable of love. Subsequently, she turns the man into a completely evil character in her mind.

Rosa's romanticism, combined with disappointed hopes, has rendered her bitter, as evidenced by the fact that for forty-three years she has lived in solitude as an old maid. She calls herself a "warped chrysalis," destined never to fly. She blames her father for her mother's death. She blames Sutpen for the destruction of the Coldfield family. In rejecting Sutpen, she knows his dream of a Sutpen dynasty is shattered. Because her emotions are so volatile, however, the reader may question her perceptions and wonder if she has always hated Sutpen.

Rosa has a distorted view of Sutpen as a superhuman controller of people's destiny. She is not entirely irrational, however, and Quentin realizes this. She is aware of the gossip about her strange ways as an old maid in Jefferson, but she does not care. She is also aware of much that goes on in the town. Her shrewd instinct that someone or something is living at the Sutpen estate will turn out to be right. Henry, old and emaciated, is in hiding there, but the reader is revealed this truth only in chapter nine.

The emerging narrative voices that Faulkner employs now begin to comment upon one another, showing the multi-faced nature of the construction of truth in real life. The reader can begin to judge the reliability of Mr. Compson's narration, as Rosa's story confirms and contradicts elements of his. He does not fully understand Rosa's complex relationship with the Sutpens, but he is not far from the truth in his assessment of how Rosa hated her cowardly father.

The chapter is narrated primarily in italics, indicating that Quentin is recollecting her story four months after Rosa has related it to him. Quentin's perceptions of Rosa, therefore, form another layer of interpretation in this chapter. The next three chapters will be narrated primarily by Quentin as he attempts to explain the Sutpen story and life in the South to himself and his Canadian friend, Shreve.

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