Absalom, Absalom! By William Faulkner Summary and Analysis Chapter 6

The narration and the identification of the various narrators in this chapter present something of a problem. This is the chapter where Quentin begins to take over as the main character and as the main narrator, thus revealing his importance as the listener to Miss Rosa's story in the earlier chapters. Furthermore, Quentin's narration, which begins in this chapter, will ultimately bring the story into a full perspective. In other words, this is the narration which will provide all of the missing facts from the other narrations. The question then arises as to where Quentin gets these missing facts. As we later find out in other chapters, Quentin was told some things about the story by his grandfather — things which his father had never known. That is, the grandfather told his grandson (Quentin) things which he had failed to tell to his own son (Mr. Compson, III). But more important, as we later discover, Quentin hears some things directly from Henry Sutpen himself when he accompanies Miss Rosa out to Sutpen's Hundred.

The confusion of the narration, however, lies partially in the fact that Faulkner narrates part of the chapter as omniscient author, and also allows parts to be narrated by Mr. Compson, and by Shreve McCannon, who is first introduced in this chapter. As Faulkner shifts the setting from Mississippi to a dormitory room in Harvard, he also introduces a new character, Shreve, who seems to accept the Sutpen story and who seems to already know as much about the story as we the readers do, and therefore becomes another narrator.

With the introduction of Shreve, we immediately wonder about Faulkner's purpose in creating a new character halfway through the novel. Of greatest importance, perhaps, are the comments made by Shreve when he asks Quentin to tell him about the South. Shreve's reactions serve to raise the novel to another level of meaning. We have seen how Faulkner was very careful to create the Sutpen story as a myth, i.e., to retell the story and give it so many mythic qualities that the reader now feels he knows the story as well as though it were a part of his own life. Now when Shreve asks to be told about the nature of the South and Quentin chooses Sutpen's story, we must see the Sutpen myth as more than a story: it is also allegory. It is for Quentin the story that is most representative of the South. It is the story that he chooses to illustrate what the South is really like. Therefore Quentin, who was not as directly involved as was Miss Rosa and not as indifferent to the story as is his father, feels that this story is a very integral part of his own life and his own heritage. We should remember that Faulkner prepared us for this concept in the first chapter when he wrote that Quentin and Sutpen lived in the same town, breathed the same air, etc. For Quentin the story is an integral part of his own history and his own heritage and in choosing to tell this legend to Shreve, he is also investigating both the legend itself and his own relationship to the past and to his own region.

Shreve serves other functions also. Since Faulkner has gone to such great lengths to make the readers believe in this Sutpen myth, he must now provide someone who will both accept the myth, join in the narrating and interpreting of it and, of equal importance, objectively question that same myth. Shreve also functions as a sensitive and objective commentator who often expresses the reader's incredulousness. He must be a Canadian because someone from another section of the United States would become too involved in the story to be completely objective or, more likely, would already be prejudiced about the Civil War.

Someone from another continent, Europe for instance, would be too distant and foreign. Thus Shreve is included so we can have an objective commentary from a reliable person who is truly concerned with the story and the region.

As the Greek play had its chorus which echoed the thoughts of the audience, so Shreve steps in and asks the questions which the reader would like to ask. And finally, we follow Shreve's reactions from being non-involved to becoming involved directly and emotionally in the story at the same time that we are becoming more involved. He functions as a type of gauge for our own reactions.

In general, with the introduction of Shreve and the shifting point of view in this chapter, the reader has to be careful not to misinterpret any of the material. At the beginning of the chapter, it sounded as though Shreve were asking for the first time to be told about the South, but as the chapter progresses, we become aware that this request must have been some time ago since Shreve knows so much already about the Sutpen story. Yet at the same time, Shreve questions certain aspects such as how did Miss Rosa know that there was someone living at the Sutpen house. Thus Shreve accepts the story, contributes to it, and yet expresses the same disbelief that we the readers often feel.

Another difficulty arises when we realize that Shreve is narrating the story or parts of the story; then, at the same time, Quentin is projecting himself into Shreve's mind and the narration shifts to Quentin who does the actual narration, but is telling the story as though he were Shreve; then to complicate matters Quentin even answers, himself, questions which he poses in the guise of Shreve. These are not insurmountable difficulties, but they do require a close attention to the text and to the point of view.

This is also the chapter in which we first find out that Wash Jones is one of the people who worship Sutpen. And in keeping with certain myths, the demi-god (Sutpen) is killed by his most devout worshipper. But the details will be more fully developed in a subsequent chapter. Again this is part of Faulkner's total narrative technique to introduce a subject as though the reader already knows about it and then to give the full details later.

The strength Judith displays in her actions characterizes her as a Sutpen who remains patient and devoted to her way of life in spite of adverse conditions. This chapter also presents the first symbolic changing of the name from Charles Bon ("Bon" is the French word for "good") to Charles Etienne Saint Valery Bon to Jim Bond with "bond" suggesting something of servitude, bondage, or imprisonment.

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