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Major Themes in Absalom

Race: This comes to be the central theme of the "house" of Sutpen and the "house" of the
South. According to the final and most complete Sutpen legend, Henry Sutpen killed
Charles Bon and brought down his father's dynasty to prevent him from marrying Judith-not because Charles was their half-brother, but because Charles had a bit of black blood.
This revelation makes it clear how the values of the South have affected not only Henry
Sutpen, but also the narrator of the story, Quentin Compson. Faulkner leaves room for
some ambiguity as to whether or not Charles Bon actually had black blood, thereby
making it clear that the even the suggestion of black blood is enough to put someone in
the South beyond the pale in a horribly destructive way. Race is a central theme in many
Faulkner works, including his famed A Light in August. Faulkner recognizes that race is
the central problem for the South in the post-Civil War period, and that without a healthy
discussion of this topic, the South will never move forward.
Memory: This theme is weaved into the very structure of the book. Each character tells
the Sutpen legend from his or her own memory; each character exercises selective
memory. Both Miss Rosa and Mr. Compson omit important details from their stories and
the implication is that Quentin does as well. Memory plays an important role in the
plotline of the book as well: Thomas Sutpen's memories of Charles Bon stir him to follow
the young man back to New Orleans and make crucial discoveries, Miss Rosa has lived
her whole life obsessed by memories, and Quentin is attempting to escape his own
memories by fleeing to the North, and Harvard.
History: The history of the South, and especially of the Civil War, forms a compelling
backdrop to the book. It is intriguing, however, that Faulkner does not make a huge effort
to ground the novel in the hard-and-fast dates, locations, and events that many great
historical novels do. Instead, Faulkner's goal is to present an emotional history of the
South that matches the strength and power of the factual history.
"The South": Quentin is asked, over and over again by Northerners at Harvard, about
the South. "What's it like there." When his roommate Shreve asks him to talk about the
South, Quentin responds by telling him the story of the Sutpen legend as he knows it.
And in telling this story, Quentin exhibits all the ambivalence, love, and hatred towards
the region that most Southerners have. It is also important that Quentin tells the story of
Sutpen, unknowingly, as a metaphor for the South and its post-Civil War history and
memory.
Narration: The structure of this book is a series of different, intertwining narratives.
Each narrator brings his or her own set of preoccupations, misinformed knowledge, and
interests to the narrative. As a result, there are three different stories to piece together.
Crucial to this theme is the role of the reader him or herself--Faulkner expects you to
participate in restructuring the Sutpen legend and, through this action, understand how
biased each narrative, each memory, each history, is to each individual.

"Design": Sutpen's "design" rules his life and causes his downfall. The futility of
directing one's life towards an idea or a "design" without emotional concern for other
human beings is well-illustrated through the figure of Sutpen, who is unable to engage
the people that surround him as people, rather than as objects. Sutpen's failure to achieve
his design strictly based on his will is proof that the only designs that succeed in life are
those that account for people as humans rather than as objects.
Haunted House: The original title for this book was Dark House, symbolizing both the
work's Gothic roots and its depiction of the "dark house" of the South. Sutpen's haunted
house on Sutpen's Hundred is a metaphor for the South and all of the sins that it is
responsible for, including slavery and the repudiation of the black "sons" of the South.
Just as Sutpen's haunted house fell because it failed to reconcile the black sons with the
white, the South, too, fell for the same reason.

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