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

CHAPTER 2

Summary

The plot continues to advance through flashback as the views of Quentin's father, Rosa, and the townsfolk blend to graphically describe Sutpen's building of his mansion and his marriage to Ellen. The locals of Jefferson are curious, suspicious, and mistrustful of the aloof Sutpen. When Sutpen takes a room in Holston House Hotel, the townspeople observe him carefully. They question why this bachelor would build a mansion in the wilderness, miles away from the town of Jefferson. For two years of non-stop work, Sutpen drives himself , his French architect with his flowered waistcoat, and his slaves in order to finish the magnificent house. When it is completed, he lives alone for three years in the empty house in baronial splendor. The local people speculate about his future plans and decide that he needs a wife.

One day, after a long absence, Sutpen returns to his mansion with his wagon loaded with furniture. The townspeople think he has stolen the furniture and go armed to his house. Sutpen coolly confronts them, giving them an explanation; they seem to reach an understanding of each other.


Sutpen has made a plan for himself. He changes into an ironed frock coat, buys flowers, and goes to the Coldfields' house, where he proposes to their daughter, Ellen. They plan to marry in two months. Sutpen and Ellen want a big wedding, but the suspicious townspeople refuse to come, despite the efforts of Ellen's aunt, who goes door to door asking people to attend. At the rehearsal, when no one but some of the local Chickasaw Indians and Sutpen's slaves show up, Ellen weeps.

Although the townspeople also refuse to come to the marriage ceremony the next day, they stop outside the church to watch the event from their carriages. As Ellen and Sutpen come out after the wedding, the townsfolk pelt them with clods of dirt and vegetables. As Sutpen shields his bride, he appears arrogantly unmoved by the ridiculous behavior of the townsfolk. Ellen, however, again weeps over the horrible experience.

Notes

In this chapter, told in part by an unnamed omniscient narrator and in part by Mr. Compson, Faulkner portrays the growth of the legend of Thomas Sutpen. He is a large man with a red beard and pale eyes. The local folks suspiciously watch his every move, seeing him at work and observing his grit, ambition, and relentless zeal to succeed. Quentin's father relates the fearful reactions of the town to this aloof man. He also remembers General Compson's comments on Sutpen's tremendous will: "Given the occasion and the need, this man can and will do anything."

It is obvious that Sutpen is an ambitious and skilled planner. He builds a mansion in the wilderness by driving his architect and his slaves. He goes on a trip and returns with furniture for the house. He dresses in his frock coat, buys flowers, and proposes to Ellen. He marries her two months later, in spite of the disapproval of the local folks.

Sutpen's proposal to Ellen is given serio-comic treatment. As he rides to Jefferson, he appears as a caricature of an old, chivalrous knight riding out to win the hand of his lady. His bravery and coolness, however, are real. He tries hard to earn respectability and dares the public to attack him. He defies the townsfolk to interfere at his wedding and keeps his slaves as sentinels to protect his party from attack. Unfortunately, the cruel locals wait outside the church in their carriages and throw dirt and vegetables at the newly weds. Sutpen calmly shields his bride from the onslaught. Later, however, Sutpen grows wild when he hears a rumor that he sets his slaves to fight each other like cocks.

Ellen's shame and grief at being boycotted by her own townspeople at her wedding is tragic. When dirt and vegetables are tossed at her, it is more than she can handle; she breaks down and weeps. By contrast, Sutpen seems cold and uncaring; it appears that he is incapable of love or compassion.

It is important to notice that Sutpen is developed in this and other chapters through a narrator's description of him. In fact, nothing totally new is learned about Sutpen in this second chapter; instead, more detail is given about some things learned in chapter 1, especially the things related to his marriage to Ellen Coldfield. The fact that the protagonist is not presented directly, but through circumlocution, makes him seem a more mythic character. Faulkner adds to the mythic proportion of the novel by pointing out the fact that the past is really a part of the present, emphasizing the continuance of history and developing a key theme.

It is important to notice that Compson, with admiration, describes Sutpen as a strong, powerful, and determined man. In spite of these traits, he will be defeated. Thus begins the allegory of Sutpen to the South. The Southern states were also strong, powerful, and determined, but they were also defeated in the Civil War, and their way of life was brought to an end, just as life at Sutpen's Hundred is destroyed.

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