How William Faulkner Constructs His Characters in Absalom, Absalom! Essay

How William Faulkner Constructs His Characters in Absalom, Absalom! Essay

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How William Faulkner Constructs His Characters in Absalom, Absalom!

Who says what - and how and when - may be the most compelling way William Faulkner constructs his characters in Absalom, Absalom! Storytelling is not just an act in which the saga of the Sutpens is recounted, revised, and even recreated; it is a gesture of self-disclosure. Each revelation about the past provides a glimpse into the present state of the narrating character's mind. The rhetoric, the digressions, the strange (and often obsessive) fixations of each character's account are the products of a range of personalities and view points, unable to agree on a definitive version of the story.

There are, to be sure, overlaps; these are the events in the stories that transcend the proclivities of each narrator and are probably, though not certainly, the basic facts of what happened. We know there was a man named Thomas Sutpen; who came to Jefferson, Missippi; who married Ellen Coldfield; who had two children with his wife; whose son befriended and later killed a man named Bon; whose daughter was Bon's betrothed; who fought in the Civil War; and who longed for a male heir to carry on the Sutpen legacy. The passion of the storytellers makes us forget that these are the only uniformly corroborated elements of the story. Neither Bond's identity nor Sutpen's mysterious past, though they seem so essential to our understanding of the novel, are indisputable. It is not impossible, indeed, that they are inventions of the narrators, perhaps unconscious embellishments of the story in order to do away with all its troublesome lacunae. Like the reader, the characters have had to infer and imagine a great deal to arrive at a plausible rendering of how things really happened.

These discrepancies, as bewildering as they often are, do not exist to indict the narrators for taking creative liberties with history. Faulkner does not see them as liars or manipulators and we should not either. Indeed, there is no "authentic" version of the Sutpen story, and so, within the bounds of the basic facts we have established, there can be no wrong version. This is not objective reporting; what we have instead are personal interpretations. What we also have are expressions of personality. The story Quentin tells says as much about Quentin Compson as it does about the Sutpens and their travails. He brings his own ...

... middle of paper ... involvement in the story, Quentin and Shreve overcome both narrative and temporal convention and finally, after much exhaustion, bring the story a close. At least, that is, for now.

Quentin is very little comforted by the end of his and Shreve's narrative. Shreve, retreating back to his ironic, macho posturing of before, chases the post-story silence away by exclaiming, "The South. Jesus. No wonder you folks all outlive yourselves by years and years and years." Quentin retains his brooding, pensive silence, lying rigidly in the cold dorm room and thinking to himself "Nevermore of peace. Nevermore. Nevermore. Nevermore." The story of the Sutpens has ended, but there has not been (nor will there be) any sort of resolution. Miss Rosa, Mr. Compson, Sutpen, Quentin and Shreve have all tried to bend the story into the shape they most desire, be it a gothic romance, a classical tragedy, a heroic epic, a mystery, or a Southern farce. It is pliable enough, but the story cannot resist being "re-bent" by any narrator who happens upon it. The story, alas, will never be in the exact shape of history. It can, however, be a very close approximation of the patterns of the narrator's mind.

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