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

CHAPTER 6

Summary

This chapter begins in the winter of 1910, the story's present, in the Harvard apartment where Quentin and Shrevlin McCannon, his Canadian roommate, discuss the Sutpen saga. Quentin gets a letter from his father informing him of Rosa's death. The narration is done by Quentin, Mr. Compson as quoted by Quentin, and by Shreve, who gives his own viewpoint as an outsider. As the Sutpen saga is further fleshed out through these narrations, the reader learns that Henry Sutpen has told Quentin some things which his father does not know.

Shreve, who has heard part of the story before, recounts Rosa Coldfield's rejection of Sutpen and Sutpen's plan to pursue the granddaughter of Wash Jones, Milly, for an heir. Wash, a worker on the plantation who at this point is also a companion to Sutpen, drinks with him often. The war has made Sutpen poor, and he sets up a small store to sell cheap goods. Sutpen gives candy and ribbons to the fifteen year old Milly to attract and seduce her. Soon, Milly is pregnant. One Sunday morning in 1869, Sutpen finds that Milly has borne him a daughter, and he disavows her and the child. Wash Jones overhears the scene and in a frenzy whips and kills Sutpen; he then murders Milly and the child before being killed himself by the sheriff.

Quentin interrupts the narrative to tell about his strange experience of coming upon the graves of the Sutpens in the family cemetery that is full of cedar trees. Judith somehow scraped together enough money for a tombstone for Charles Bon, whom she loved, but never married. Through the sale of her father's store, she also had enough money to purchase a tombstone for herself.


Quentin then tells the story of Charles Etienne Saint-Valery Bon, the son of Charles Bon and his Octoroon mistress; the illegitimate lad was raised by Clytie and Judith at the Hundred. In his wild youth, Charles Etienne gets in trouble with the law by attacking the local sheriff. At Judith's request, Quentin's grandfather, General Compson, bails him out and sends him away from Jefferson. He later returns with a Negro wife. They soon have a son, Jim Bond, who will eventually become the final survivor of the Sutpen clan. In 1884, Charles Etienne gets yellow fever. Judith, in nursing him, comes down with it herself. She dies first, followed soon after by Charles Etienne. The plantation and house becomes the property of Clytie and Jim Bond. Clytie guards it fiercely, at one point chasing off Luster, a Negro boy who comes snooping around.

Notes

This chapter is another difficult one, for the point of view changes several times, between Quentin, Shreve, Mr. Compson, and Faulkner himself, as the unnamed omniscient narrator. To help the reader follow the narration, Faulkner has put Shreve's account in italics and Quentin's in plain type. From this point forward in the novel, Quentin will become more and more the principal narrator; by the end of the book, he will bring all of the Sutpen saga together into more of a whole. The reader will learn that Quentin knows more than some of the other narrators because his grandfather has told him more about the Sutpens than his own father knew; also he learns some things from Henry Sutpen, when he is discovered hiding at the Hundred by Rosa and himself. The fact that Quentin chooses to tell the Sutpen saga to Shreve proves that Quentin feels the past is very important and is himself very influenced by it.

It is interesting that Shreve McCannon, Quentin's roommate at Harvard, is introduced as a new character by Faulkner in the sixth chapter of the novel, which is more than half-way through the book. It is also interesting that Faulkner lets Shreve narrate part of the Sutpen tale. Although Shreve is only repeating the story that Quentin has told him, his retelling adds an important viewpoint to the story -- that of an outsider, for whom the Sutpen saga will be viewed differently. Shreve's speculation and his love of exaggeration make Quentin look at the old facts in a new light. Shreve's tale also helps to raise the Sutpen saga to a mythic level so that it can become an allegory, where the fate of the Sutpens stand for the fate of the entire South. It is important to notice that Faulkner has made Shreve a Canadian, which makes the reader believe he is more objective in interpreting the Sutpen story; he has no prejudices about the family heritage, the South, or the Civil War.

Quentin is surprised to hear Shreve questions and speculate about events, almost like his own father, Mr. Compson. Shreve keeps wondering out loud why Sutpen forbids Judith's marriage to Bon and fights with Henry, his own son, ruining his desire for a dynasty. He also wonders why the great Sutpen stoops low at sixty to seduce the granddaughter of a "white trash" squatter. Shreve looks upon Sutpen as a mad, impotent old man, whose daughter Judith, with her cold-blooded "impenetrable face in her homespun bonnet," takes after him.

The decline of Sutpen can be seen in his relationship with Wash Jones, who worships Sutpen and wishes himself to be considered an equal to him; Clytie, however, calls Wash "white trash." When Jones brings fish and vegetables to the back door, Clytie takes them without letting the man into the house. In this gangling, malaria-ridden white man, whom he had given permission fourteen years prior to squat in the fishing camp of the Hundred, Sutpen now finds a drinking companion and potential ally. In Jones' young granddaughter, Milly, Sutpen sees a chance to fulfill his devilish plan to have a male child to continue his now-broken dynasty.

Mr. Compson, in his letter, recounts General Compson's story of Charles Etienne's visit to Bon's grave in 1870. He also imagines the trip of Clytie to New Orleans a year later to fetch the boy after his mother's death. To Judith and Clytie, family ties take precedence over racial distinction, for they take in Charles Etienne, with his Negro blood, and raise him. Later, Charles Etienne is so shocked to find that he is not purely white that he challenges the world by marrying the blackest, ugliest Negro he could find. In this act, he mocks himself, the Sutpen family heritage, and the world at large.

Mr. Compson recalls the quaint inscription on Judith's tombstone: "Pause, Mortal; Remember Vanity and Folly and Beware." From her chosen words, it would appear that Judith has learned much about life from the family in which she was reared, especially from her arrogant father. Judith, in taking in Charles Etienne, seems to be making up for her father Thomas Sutpen's racial prejudice. Quentin remarks on Judith's behavior, saying that "beautiful lives women live - women do."

William Faulkner heightens the suspense by not revealing who is at the Hundred that evening when Rosa and Quentin go to investigate. Quentin makes Shreve hang on his words as he talks, for he chooses not to reveal all he knows. Quentin's omission shows how humans hold power over their listeners as much as by what they do not say as by what they do.

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