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Free Study Guide-Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner-Free Book Notes
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CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Narrators

Rosa Coldfield

As a link between both past and present, Rosa Coldfield is an important character and narrator in Absalom, Absalom! This embittered sixty-five-year-old woman, in her black shawl, hat, and voluminous gown, views Sutpen as a demon who is responsible for the downfall of her family - the Coldfields. In chapter, one she recounts some of Sutpen's history to Quentin. She goes back to 1833, when Sutpen first came to Jefferson as an aloof and arrogant man obsessed with building a mansion and a dynasty. It is amazing that Sutpen has been dead for forty-one years when the novel opens, but Rosa's hatred is still fresh and intense, for she has dwelled on it in her solitary misery for almost half a century.

From Rosa's account of Sutpen, Quentin pictures a man of epic size, who is heroic, greedy, ambitious, and cruel. He feels, however, that Rosa is overly romantic, adding her own desires, aspirations, and opinions to the Sutpen story.

In truth, Rosa has been a romantic, but the dreams of her youth have turned sour. When young, she wanted to marry and was romantically inclined toward Charles Bon. She even fantasized that Bon loved her instead of Judith. Rosa, through her dreams about Bon, lived out her romantic longings since she had no romantic attachments of her own. When Sutpen proposed to her, she felt it was her last opportunity for marriage and eagerly accepted the offer. Though she refuses to admit it in her old age, she obviously admired Sutpen then and felt he was a good catch. Then Sutpen made his outrageous proposal to Rosa that she bear him a male heir before the marriage could take place. She was horrified by his proposition and rejected his offer; thereafter, she judged Sutpen as a demon.


Rosa was greatly influenced by her romantic aunt, whom she was named after. Both women have a rigid outlook on life and seem to be ruled by hatred and jealousy. Since Rosa is much younger than her sister Ellen, the two of them are not close, and Rosa resents that she is not eagerly sought at Sutpen's plantation. Though she dislikes blacks, Rosa is jealous of Clytie, Sutpen's illegitimate daughter who is treated with favor at the Hundred. She is also jealous of Judith, her niece who is older than she, especially when she wins the love of Charles Bon. During her narration, she expresses little emotion about Henry and makes no judgement about his murdering Bon.

By chapter five Rosa vanishes from the novel for a period of time, not appearing again until chapter nine when Quentin tells of the evening when he goes with Rosa to the Hundred to investigate her suspicion that someone is in hiding there. In this last chapter, Rosa appears larger than life, first as a tense, eccentric, old woman whimpering with fear in her "musty camphor-reeking shawl" and then as a "fierce and implacable and dynamic driving" force charging up the stairs to see who is living at the house. Faulkner obviously does not portray Rosa as an entirely weak or helpless victim.

Rosa's life is a tragedy. Her early days are spent hating her father and grieving over the loss of her mother. Most of her adult life is spent brooding over the fact that she is an old maid and contemplating her hatred of Sutpen. As a result of her negative emotions, Rosa's narration is not objective and cannot be fully trusted by the reader, even though she is the sole narrator who is closed involved with the Sutpen saga and active in the plot of the novel.

General Compson

General Compson is Thomas Sutpen's good friend in Jefferson. He admires Sutpen's courage, self-confidence, and ambition and feels he is an innocent and a victim of forces beyond his control.

In chapter seven, Quentin portrays Sutpen through the general's eyes. In General Compson's narrative, Sutpen's youthful trauma, his bewilderment at class distinctions, and the insult he suffers at being driven off from Pettibone's door add complexity to the earlier one-dimensional presentation of the protagonist. General Compson portrays Thomas Sutpen as a self-made man who rises from poverty and overcomes adversity to become a wealthy plantation owner. His grandson, Quentin, while appreciating the general's revelations, realizes that his narrative is full of poetic bits, speculation, and his own personal slant.

General Compson himself is a brave soldier who loses his arm in the Civil War, but goes back to fight for the South. Though his narration is twice-removed in Quentin's retelling, it is full of fire, enthusiasm, and immediacy.

Mr. Compson (Jason)

Mr. Compson is an interesting narrator, full of his own personal judgments on the motives of characters like Rosa, Sutpen, Henry, and Charles Bon. However, he is not very reliable in his speculations. He is not close to Sutpen, like his father General Compson, or Rosa, and his narrative is colored by his distance from the characters.

Chapters two through four are dominated by Compson's narration, which is full of colorful imagery and complex metaphors. He sees Ellen, Sutpen's wife, as inhabiting "a shadowy miasmic region something like the bitter purlieus of Styx...and then like some swamp-hatched butterfly...into a perennial bright vacuum of arrested sun." The sensual and sexual excite him, so he indulges in his fancies, regardless of the facts. He hints at incest between Henry and Judith and homoerotic love between Henry and his half- brother, Bon. Quentin regards these notions of his father as strange and erroneous.

Compson is able to see that Rosa's history is a subjective viewing of facts. But, like her, he feels that fate and destiny have played a major part in Sutpen's fortunes. He believes that Sutpen is desperate to fulfill his plan so that he can prove that he is in control of his destiny. But Sutpen, in spite of his determination, fails time and again to create his dynasty, confirming for Compson his conviction that mankind is not in control, but the victim of fate.

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