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

Judith Sutpen

Judith Sutpen, Henry's sister and Thomas' daughter, is determined, just like her father. She becomes engaged to the handsome Southerner, Charles Bon, her brother's friend, without knowing that he is her half-brother. She is impassive at his tragic death, but she purchases a marble tombstone for him and sends for his mistress and son to come for a visit from New Orleans. When the mistress dies, Judith sends Clytie to fetch her son, Charles Etienne de Saint Valery Bon, and she and Clytie bring him up on the plantation. One day, he attacks the sheriff and has to flee. He returns years later with a Negro wife to live in a cabin away from the mansion. When he gets yellow fever, Judith nurses him and contracts the disease herself, dying from it even before he does.

Judith is patient and enduring in her hardships. She accepts the fact that her father forbids her marriage to Charles Bon. She understands why her brother has killed Bon and calmly removes the locket, containing a picture of his mistress and son, from the body of the dead man. Even her wild father's mad behavior of wooing Milly Jones does not disturb her calm demeanor. When he is killed, she does not become hysterical but coolly orders his bloody body to be brought up from the fishing camp to be buried. Judith is portrayed as a strong, silent, and tragic figure.

Clytie (or Clytemnestra) Sutpen

Clytie is Thomas Sutpen's eldest daughter, born of one of his slaves. She becomes the companion of Judith, sharing the work and sorrows of the Hundred. Clytie is a strong, compassionate woman, loyal to the family. When Rosa comes in 1865 to help bury Charles Bon, she prevents Rosa from seeing his body. In keeping Wash Jones out of the Sutpen kitchen, Clytie prevents him from becoming powerful. She raises Charles Etienne without a fuss, looks after Jim Bond, and protects the aged and helpless Henry. Even her act of burning down the estate, tragic and misguided as it is, is done out of fierce loyalty to a family that has, in her estimation, paid the price and been punished enough.


Clytie is named after Clytemnestra, the disloyal wife of King Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the Trojan War. Clytemnestra killed Cassandra, daughter of the Trojan king, and Agamemnon, with the help of her lover. Clytie is anything but disloyal, however, causing Mr. Compson to wonder if Sutpen did not mean to name his daughter Cassandra instead. In this case, Clytie's name would somewhat parallel the myth, for Cassandra was a prophetess who warned her people about the impending fall of Troy. She was not believed, and she lived to witness the destruction of her family and city.

Charles Bon

Charles Bon is the first son of Thomas Sutpen, born to his first wife, Eulalia Bon. Sutpen father disowns Charles and his mother when he discovers that she has Negro blood. Although Sutpen continues to support them financially, he never acknowledges Bon as his own flesh and blood. Bon is desperate for some sense of acceptance.

Charles Bon is a tragic figure. Growing up, his mother lies to him about his father, and when he discovers the truth he becomes angry and bitter. He longs for a sign of affection or acknowledgment from Thomas Sutpen, which he does not get even though he comes to the Hundred seeking it. In many ways, Charles is like his father, however, for he is stubborn and determined. In an effort to gain his father's attention, he proposes to Judith, his half sister and stubbornly refuses to break his engagement to her, even though he already has a mistress and son, knows Judith is his half-sister, and meets with Sutpen's violent objections. Sutpen, determined that Bon will not marry Judith, tells Henry about his Negro blood; as a result, Henry feels behooved to murder Bon.

Bon is more sophisticated and polished in his city ways than the clumsy Henry, who is characterized by country ways. In spite of their differences in size, personality, and background, Bon cultivates a friendship with Henry, as his mother has hoped. Ironically, the friendship leads to Bon's death when he stubbornly refuses to break the engagement with Judith. It is significant to notice that Bon's name means "good" in French, suggesting both his initial goodness and what he could have represented to his father; tragically his goodness is corrupted by the prejudice of the South.

Ellen Coldfield

Ellen Coldfield is the daughter of Mr. Coldfield, a merchant in Jefferson, and the wife of Thomas Sutpen. She is a typical Southern girl, delicate but tough. The hostility of the townsfolk before and during her marriage to Sutpen disturbs her. She weeps hysterically at the wedding, but she soon recovers and grows proud to be the aristocratic wife of a wealthy plantation owner. After the birth of her children, Ellen emerges, according to Rosa, as a "social butterfly." She also becomes a powerful mistress of the Hundred, ruling with a close watch and iron hand. As a mother, she is strict with both Judith and Henry, but compassionate towards Clytie.

In the end, Ellen is only a shadow of her husband, unable to function without him. After Henry fights with Sutpen and leaves the Hundred, she takes ill and becomes mentally deranged. She dies in 1862, while Sutpen is fighting in the Civil War.

Wash Jones

Wash Jones is a white squatter who lives in a fishing camp on Sutpen's plantation. Sutpen helps and befriends the impoverished Jones. Little does he realize that he is nursing a viper on his land, for Sutpen meets his brutal death at the hands of Wash Jones. Jones knows that Sutpen's grand design is to beget an heir, so he does not prevent Sutpen from seducing his young granddaughter, Milly Jones, figuring that his status will be enhanced by their relationship. When Milly bears a girl and Sutpen rejects her, Jones, in a fit of anger, attacks Sutpen with a rusty scythe and chops him to death in the reeds by his cabin. Jones then kills Milly and her daughter, before being killed himself by the sheriff. Jones lowly status and cunning ways only serves to heighten the sense of divine retribution when Sutpen is killed by him.

Eulalia Bon

Eulalia Bon is the mother of Charles Bon and the first wife of Thomas Sutpen. When he discovers that she is one-eighth Negro, he deserts her and Charles Bon, though he does arrange to financially support them in New Orleans. She pampers her son and indulges his whims as he grows up. When she hears that Sutpen's son is studying at the University of Mississippi, she plots to send Bon there and arranges for them to meet. In Shreve's estimate, she is a crafty woman, bent on taking revenge against her husband for his desertion.

Jim Bond

Jim Bond is the idiot son of Charles Etienne Saint Valery Bon and his Negro wife. After his father dies of yellow fever, Jim Bond is raised by Clytie and Judith. The changing of his name from Bon to Bond suggests his "bondage" and the decline of the Sutpen family. When Clytie burns down the house, he becomes the sole surviving member of the Sutpen clan; as such, he inherits the ruined estate. In commenting on the tragedy, Shreve says, "The Jim Bonds are going to conquer the western hemisphere." In the figure of Jim Bond, Faulkner mocks both Sutpen's grand design and the racial prejudice of the South, which appears as the greatest evil in this grim, hard, tragic novel.

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