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Free Study Guide-Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner-Free Book Notes
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The telling and retelling of the tragic tale of the Sutpen family has been told by the following narrators:

Chapter 1: Rosa Coldfield narrates to Quentin, and Quentin reflects on his own memories.

Chapter 2: The voices of the town are narrated by Mr. Compson, and Faulkner makes comments as an omniscient third person narrator.

Chapter 3: Mr. Compson narrates to Quentin.

Chapter 4: Mr. Compson narrates to Quentin.

Chapter 5: Rosa Coldfield narrates to Quentin, as remembered by Quentin.

Chapter 6: Quentin narrates to Shreve, quoting Mr. Compson, and Shreve gives his views.

Chapter 7: Quentin and Shreve both discuss what Thomas Sutpen told General Compson and what Mr. Compson knows of the story.

Chapter 8: Quentin and Shreve further analyze the Sutpen saga, discussing the lives of Judith, Bon, and Henry.

Chapter 9: Quentin narrates and becomes part of the saga.


William Faulkner, in the line of other twentieth century experimental novelists, such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Henry James, used the stream of consciousness technique in his novels. He has his characters engage in long, extended monologues, often internal, in which their passing thoughts seem to appear in their totality. This technique allows the reader to get into the mind of a character and be privy to information that would not be revealed merely by a character's words or actions. Stream of consciousness novels take as one of their premises that the web of daily life is composed of infinitely small and shifting elements that are important. The novelist tries to capture the rich, moment-to- moment moods, thoughts, and feelings that their characters undergo. In Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner employs stream of consciousness in the narrations of his primary characters, giving the reader deep insight into their minds.

In a similar vein, Faulkner uses multiple narrators and shifting points of view to show the difficulty of knowing the truth about any person or situation. Through the course of the novel, multiple sets of facts and truths emerge through the various versions of the Sutpen saga that are narrated by the story's characters. The evidence of each narrator is colored by his or her judgment, creating a complex and fascinating web of legend around Thomas Sutpen and his family tree. Sometimes the stories told by different narrators directly conflict with one another, and the reader is left to judge which information is accurate.

The mood evoked by Faulkner's narrative technique is especially sensual and evocative. The shifting points of views of various narrators, incorporating dreams, desires, and memories, creates a confused but symbolic medley, rather like the experience of life itself. Faulkner uses moods, sights, sounds, sensations, and smells to bring his story to life, from the September dust to the pitch black darkness of the night to the shivering cold of Quentin to the fear and paranoia of Rosa. Chronological time is obliterated as the story moves from experience to experience, recollections to recollection, and past to present and back again.

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