Absalom, Absalom! - William Faulkner

"O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son."


The title for this novel is taken from the Old Testament of the Bible. The story of King David and Absalom is about a son who rebels against his father and a brother who forcibly commits incest with his sister. Absalom! undertakes these same themes.

Thomas Sutpen's deepest desire to be a great patriarchal figure at the head of a powerful dynasty stems from a humiliating experience as a teenager, when he was rejected at the front door of a plantation owner's "big house" and told in effect by a black servant that trash like him must use the back door.


'I have raised about me sons to bear the burden of mine iniquities and persecutions..that I might rest mine eyes upon my goods and chattels, upon the generations of them and of my descendants increased an hundred fold as my soul goeth from me.'


Faulkner delved into the psychological motives for man's actions, examined the consequences of those actions, and the plight of his own making. These are revealed in the conflicts that Sutpen undergoes in this novel, tooted as one of Faulkner's greatest achievements, a masterpiece characterizing the human heart at war with itself.


Themes of slavery and racism, incest, miscegenation, fratricide, the failure of the mores and morals of the Antebellum South are reflected in Sutpen's ambitious schemes to achieve his life's "design".

Thomas Sutpen's story mirrored the downfall of the Southern plantation culture of the aristocratic old south. He epitomized the flawed ideals that the South held on to so dearly, for which they went to war, for which they would have rather died than secede. There are strong allegories between Sutpen, his family, anyone connected to him, and the Civil war. As the family rose and fell, destroying itself and those around them; so was the war lost, with all it was fought for and against, left in ruins.


Then there is the irony of Jim Bond's existence and survival.


I think that in time the Jim Bonds are going to conquer the western hemisphere. Of course, it wont quite be in our time and of course as they spread toward the poles they will bleach out again like the rabbits and the birds do, so they wont show up so sharp against the snow. But it will still be Jim Bond; and so in a few thousand years, I who regard you will also have sprung from the loins of African kings.


Faulkner was prophetic.


Not wanting to tell a tale in a boring linear fashion, Faulkner wrote with the unique style of circular motion, circumventing and evading, looping back and forth between narrators, from present to past to present again. It was effectively cyclical, predestined, karmic - as in the allusion to Absalom in the bible where the sins of the father are inflicted upon the sons, "violence begets violence."


By relating the family saga through four different narrators(Rosa Coldfield, Mr. Compson, his son Quentin Compson, and Quentin's Harvard roommate Schreve McCannon), where the past is continually revised in the telling and retelling by people each interpreting the tale differently, Faulkner teased the reader with bits of information a little at a time. The reader would gradually become conscious of motivations, events, facts and timeline; he would be left to explore, question and separate speculation from 'truth' and be able to form his own account of what actually transpired.

The looping history is especially evident in the Henry- Charles-Judith triangle, as well with Sutpen-Henry- Charles: it's very compelling ~no spoilers, read the book you'll get it.
When all the pieces fall into place, there's only the realization that Absalom! is a work of art.


Faulkner is addictive.


I started reading Faulkner's novels well over a decade ago, when Oprah's Book Club was pushing the Summer of Faulkner boxset. These were enjoyable, easier novels to read. So I was up for the challenge of Absalom! - it has the reputation of being one of the more difficult pieces, basically for its complexity of language.


Right off the bat- Faulkner is his own foreign nation with a unique, unmatched language which some might describe as "Faulknerese" or "Faulknerian." This is ever so evident in Absalom! And as a visitor who would tackle the language of an alien country, he would falter at first, need to repeat sentences over and over, spend some time with it, mull over words, assimilate, absorb. Before long, the brain would adjust; the master's lexicon would take on rhythm, tempo, lyricism. It would become a poetic symphony to the eyes.


Revisiting Faulkner-land through Absalom! was gloriously frustrating but immensely and equally gratifying. One of the narrators, Quentin Compson, is a major character in the Sound and the Fury - one to add to my growing Faulkner list.