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

CHAPTER 9

Summary

After telling and retelling the Sutpen saga, Shreve and Quentin are exhausted. They try to sleep, but Quentin has a shivering fit of convulsions. Shreve is concerned, but Quentin says that he feels fine. His memory takes him back to that dramatic evening in summer when Rosa urged him to go with her to the Hundred to verify her suspicion that someone is there in hiding. In pitch darkness he and Rosa stumble along. She pants and whimpers in fear and expectation. Rosa asks Quentin if he has a pistol. When he says that he does not have a pistol, she gives him a hatchet to arm himself.

When Rosa and Quentin reach the house, old Clytie tries to stop Rosa from climbing the stairs, but she cruelly knocks Clytie down and goes up. Quentin helps Clytie to her feet. As Rosa comes back from the bedroom, Jim Bond appears, and Clytie asks him to take her to the buggy. Quentin, curious to see what has happened, goes into the room where Rosa went. He finds Henry Sutpen lying in bed, near death, and talks to him. He then escorts Rosa home; she is obviously badly shaken by the visit. Quentin then goes home himself, also feeling deeply disturbed.

Three months later, Rosa calls an ambulance to pick up the sick Henry, but Clytie fears it is the sheriff's van coming to arrest him. As a result, Clytie torches the crumbling mansion with herself and Henry inside. Rosa soon dies herself, leaving Jim Bond, the idiot son of Charles Etienne, as the sole owner of the burned-down estate. Sutpen finally has an heir at last; ironically he is a retarded Negro.


Notes

Quentin and Shreve are so physically and emotionally charged by the dramatic events in the Sutpen saga that they are too exhausted to sleep. Quentin starts shivering convulsively, and Shreve is worried about his friend. Quentin assures Shreve that he is fine. He knows that the power of the past and his own role in recreating the story has brought the convulsions on.

Quentin now tells about his visit to the Hundred with Rosa Coldfield. Rosa had summoned him to accompany her to the ruined Sutpen plantation to investigate Rosa's hunch that someone was hiding there. The reader was told about this visit much earlier in the novel, but no information was given about what was found during the visit. William Faulkner creates dramatic tension and suspense in the plot by holding back this vital piece of information until this last chapter.

As Quentin tells of the visit, it is like a gothic mystery, for Faulkner uses dramatic, poetic language to convey the sensation of fear of the unknown as his characters travel towards and into a dark, ruined house. Quentin can remember smelling Rosa's camphor-reeking shawl as they roll out of Jefferson to the plantation in the pitch dark. He can still feel Rosa trembling as they walk up the dark, weed-choked drive. As they enter the house, Clytie lights a match, which surprises and spooks both of them. The mysterious, retarded Jim Bond appears to add to the intensity of the scene. Then finally, Quentin enters the bedroom and finds the wasted and yellowed form of Henry. The entire evening with Rosa is a nightmare, unreal and terrible.

Once again, Faulkner weaves a complex web of circumstantial evidence from the accounts of multiple narrators. Quentin, the youngest Compson, knows all about the tragic collapse of the Sutpen dynasty because he was invited to participate in the last drama of discovery of the fugitive at the Hundred. Yet, as he begins his narration, he has not put all of the Sutpen saga together into an understandable whole. During the novel, Quentin retells the facts of the story to Shreve in order to gain an outsider's view and to see it the puzzle can be solved; Quentin want to understand Sutpen's motive in his efforts to beget a male heir when he has two sons and the puzzle of Henry's motive for the murder of his half- brother.

Shreve, the objective outsider, interjects his own thinking into the tale. He also sees the parallel between the fall of the Sutpen family and the fall of the South. By Quentin rejecting the Sutpens, Shreve assumes he is also rejecting his homeland. Shreve shrewdly asks Quentin why he hates the South. Quentin denies it vehemently and says, "I don't hate it!" Shreve and the reader are not convinced by Quentin's denial.

The reader learns more about some of the characters seen earlier in the novel. Rosa, despite her fright, emerges as powerfully driven by her need to uncover the mystery of who is hiding at the house. Clytie's protective urges are also highlighted. She does not want Henry to be disturbed any further and tries to stand in Rosa's way. Later, when Rosa sends the ambulance to come pick up Henry, Clytie, imagining that the police are coming to arrest him for the murder of Bon, burns down the mansion rather than give him up. This misguided act shows her fierce devotion to Henry and the Sutpen family.

After telling his story, Quentin reflects on the letter from his father informing him of Rosa's death. Shreve comments that the follies of the South outlive themselves, by years and years. In response, Quentin makes a very deep remark: "I am older at twenty than a lot of people who have died." On this powerful, moving note of exchange the novel ends, and Quentin shows himself to be not merely a spectator, but an actor who has fully participated in the Sutpen tragedy.

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