Absalom Absalom A narrative Perscective

Metropolitan State College of Denver

Absalom, Absalom!; An Innovative Narrative Technique

Eng. 413. Major Authors: William Faulkner
Shawn Montano
Friday, December 06, 1996

Guilt should be viewed through the eyes of more than one
person, southern or otherwise. William Faulkner filters the
story, Absalom, Absalom!, through several minds providing the
reader with a dilution of its representation. Miss Rosa,
frustrated, lonely, mad, is unable to answer her own questions
concerning Sutpen’s motivation. Mr. Compson sees much of the
evil and the illusion of romanticism of the evil that turned
Southern ladies into ghosts. Charles Bon and Henry Sutpen are
evaluated for their motives through Quentin Compson and Shreve
McCannon. Quentin attempt to evade his awareness, Shreve the
outsider (with Quentin’s help) reconstructs the story and
understands the meaning of Thomas Sutpen’s life. In the novel
Absalom, Absalom!, a multiple consciousness technique is used to
reassess the process of historical reconstruction by the
Chapter one is the scene in which Miss Rosa tells Quentin
about the early days in Sutpen’s life. It’s here that Rosa
explains to Quentin why she wanted to visit old mansion on this
day. She is the one narrator that is unable to view Sutpen
objectively. The first chapter serves as merely an introduction
to the history of Sutpen based on what Miss Rosa heard as a child
and her brief personal experiences.
The narration of Absalom, Absalom!, can be considered a
coded activity. Faulkner creates the complex narration beginning
at chapter 2. It ironic that one of Faulkner’s greatest novels
is one in which the author only appears as the teller of the
story in one brief section; The details of the hero’s arrival,
Thomas Sutpen, into Jefferson in chapter 2. Although Faulkner
sets the scene up in each section (The omniscient narrator), most
of the novel is delivered through a continual flow of talk via
the narrators.
Quentin appears to think the material for the first half of
the chapter 2. The narrator, throughout the novel, works as a
historian. The narrators seem to act like a model for readers.
The narrator actually teaches the reader how to participate in
the historical recollection of Absalom Absalom! The narrator
also introduces the reader to things to come. The complexity of
the novel involves more than just reading the novel. The reader
must become an objective learner as to the history of Mr. Sutpen.
Mr. Compson’s section of chapter two (43-58) contains words
like “perhaps” and “doubtless.” For example: Compson speculates
that Mr. Coldfield’s motivation for a small wedding was “perhaps”
parsimony or “perhaps” due to the community’s attitude toward his
prospective son-in-law (50). The aunt’s “doubtless”: did not
forgive Sutpen for not having a past and looked at the public
wedding “probably” as a way of securing her niece’s future as a
wife (52). Faulkner uses these qualifiers to heighten the
speculative nature of the narrative, so that Compson’s engagement
in the metahistorical process, rather that Sutpen’s history,
becomes the primary focus (Connelly 3).
As Mr. Compson continues his presentation of the Sutpen
history, Compson begins to explain Sutpen on two very different
planes of significance. Sutpen, through the narration of Mr.
Compson, becomes the tragic hero and a pragmatist (Duncan 96).
After this, Compson switches his approach to one of more personal
involvement. The beginning of chapter 4, Faulkner displays this
with the use of phrases like “I believe” or “I imagine” Mr.
Compson begins to use a more humane approach to the telling of
the story. Mr. Compson demands Henry “must have know what his
father said was true and could not deny it” (91). Compson make
assumptions based on his own conclusions at this time. The words
“believe” and “imagine” again reveal for the reader that he/she
must make some of their own speculations in order to ascertain
some of Sutpen’s historical facts.
Mr. Compson is creating his own reconstruction of Sutpen’s
history. Again, Faulkner uses words like “believes” and
“doubtless” to make us understand Compson’s explanation of the
past. The reader is now compelled to believe the narrator.
Compson insists at the end of this passage that “Henry must have
been the one who seduced Judith” (99). It appears that this
passage is extremely important to Compson’s account. Rather than
just collecting the facts and then recording them, the reader now
begins to realize the all history is subject to interpretation.
With the reader beginning to question the historical
reconstruction of Sutpen’s life, Miss Rosa take over the
narration in chapter 5. It’s important to know that her
narrative is in italics. The italics signal a break from
normally motivated narrative. “when the narrators shift to
italics, they show almost a quantum leap to the