Absalom, Absalom! By William Faulkner Summary and Analysis Chapter 5

Chapter five ends Miss Rosa's narration; beginning with the next chapter, she will fade into the background, but will still remain as a point of reference between Quentin and Shreve. After this chapter, Quentin and Shreve will become the principal narrators. And note in this chapter that part of Miss Rosa's narration is given in the third person. That is, she talks of or about herself in the third person as though she represents the people of the town interpreting her own actions. These shifts in narrative view and modifications even within a set narration create the sense of constant interpretation and also involve the reader more closely in the novel, even though the reader might often be puzzled as to who the narrator is.

This chapter presents two crucial problems. First, if Miss Rosa really thought of Sutpen as being this demonic ogre, why did she agree to marry him? Secondly, how did his request so adversely affect Miss Rosa that she decided to become a recluse the rest of her life?

In our discussion of the Coldfield family, we saw that the entire family was heavily endowed with romanticism. Thus, Miss Rosa must be seen as an incurable romantic. And all of her actions are motivated and dominated by this romanticism.

The time when Miss Rosa began thinking of Sutpen as a demon must have been after Sutpen made his outrageous request to her. Being a romantic, and knowing only a few of the facts of Sutpen's life, she must have viewed him in some strange, mysterious, and romantic way. She knew him only by hearsay since the Coldfields' visits were limited to no more than four a year, and during these visits, Sutpen was seldom at home. Furthermore, Miss Rosa's father was not a man given to gossip or small talk, thus making it rather certain that she learned little or nothing about Sutpen from him.

Until Sutpen reappeared after the Civil War, he had remained a strange, distant, dim figure of legend who became transformed in her mind into some sort of romantic chevalier. Miss Rosa's imagination is enough to make Sutpen fit into her picture of him in the same way that she never saw Charles Bon, but placed all of her abortive dreams and hopes upon him.

The reader should note then that for Miss Rosa, Sutpen and Bon had many qualities in common. Both were people whom she knew mainly by reputation and whom she had very little contact with. Both lived or came from a strange and mysterious world. Both became the epitome of the dashing and romantic hero. Thus, Miss Rosa's reactions to Judith and Charles Bon's engagement again show her extreme romanticism. Since Miss Rosa's life was so barren, she thought of Judith's engagement as her own and projected upon this wedding all her dreams and hopes and became, as she admits, "all polymath love's androgynous advocate." The failure of the wedding to take place shattered her romantic dreams and Miss Rosa was left to face a bleak and realistic world.

But when Sutpen returned from the war, Miss Rosa had one more chance to make her fairy tale come true. His proposal was her last chance to bring "the living fairy tale" not into "frustration's vicarious recompense" but into a living reality. But Sutpen's outrageous request destroyed this last chance that Miss Rosa had. Why? First of all, Faulkner was very careful to make the reader realize that Miss Rosa is not an extreme moralist. Her thefts from her father and her later thefts from the various gardens around Jefferson distinctly suggest that Miss Rosa is not concerned with morality. Therefore, when Sutpen makes his frank, vulgar, and bold request, it is Miss Rosa's sense of decorum and romance which is violated rather than her morals. Her outrage results from the fact that Sutpen has now destroyed all of her romantic dreams by this brutal, realistic proposal.

Thus, for Miss Rosa, Sutpen's evil is that he failed to become the romantic chevalier she was searching for. And when she contemplated the complete downfall of the Coldfield family, she felt compelled to ascribe its destruction to something. Since no one had disappointed her as much as did Sutpen, it was easy to ascribe to him the qualities of evil.

Miss Rosa is quite incorrect as to why Sutpen refused to allow the marriage between Judith and Bon. Her view is distorted by her obsession that Sutpen possesses some superhuman quality. She even attributes to him an almost godlike quality of being able to affect the fate of almost every person with whom he came into contact.

The reader should also note there is an air of determinism and fatalism connected with Miss Rosa's narration. She is partially concerned with explaining why the Coldfield family was completely destroyed. Because she was never able to give a complete and logical explanation, she attributed the family's disaster to some type of predetermined fate. Thus, for Miss Rosa, justice could not exist in a world that would allow the innocent (the Coldfields) to suffer while the evil (the Sutpens) prospered. Consequently, the past and the Sutpen story have one central meaning for Miss Rosa — they are proof that man has little or no control over his own destiny.

The question often arises as to why this entire chapter is narrated in italics. This is a part of Faulkner's total narrative technique, in that this is Miss Rosa's narration, but the italics indicate that it is being remembered by Quentin some four months after Miss Rosa told it to him. Then, the reader should note that Faulkner, as omniscient author, narrates the last page.

This information leads into another problem: How is it that Miss Rosa seems to know what is going on outside her seclusion? Faulkner never answers this question, but instead creates a new character (Shreve McCannon) in the next chapter who will function partly to express the same disbelief in these matters that the reader is now encountering.

The final underlying irony of this chapter is that Charles Bon, who could not achieve recognition by his father during his life, is buried in the family burial ground, thus gaining posthumously some type of family recognition.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Chapter 5 of Absalom, Absalom! appears entirely in




Quiz