Character Analysis Henry Sutpen


Our first view of Henry is at the violent scene at the end of the first chapter. This first view sets the tone for Henry's character and suggests that he did not take after his father — that he is not a true Sutpen. Rather his sensibility is more delicate, more closely associated with the Coldfield sensibility. Henry, like the Coldfields, is a romantic, and all of the Coldfield romanticism carries over to Henry, as is indicated in the fight scene, the repudiation of his birthright, and the fratricide. Yet in spite of Henry's over-refined sensibilities, it is still his duty to effect the resolution of the situation.

Having established Henry as having the Coldfield sensibility, we then can predict most of his action. He is, perhaps, the least complex figure in this complex novel. His frank and open devotion to Charles Bon indicates that he is a simple, unsophisticated person who responds directly to other people. His rejection of his "birthright" suggests that devotion to a friend takes precedence over familial ties.

Thus, understanding that he responds simply and directly to events, it is completely in character that he has not the sophistication, the experience, or the intellectual awareness to know how to respond to the possibility of incest. Having never encountered so complex a moral problem, Henry is forced to agonize over his approval. He would rather die on the battlefield than have to confront the problem.

Henry, then, brought up under a simple, direct system of values, is almost destroyed before he can come to a decision. But his direct and open love for both his sister and his half brother allows him to place love above social taboos. The decision to permit an incestuous marriage was made independently.

However, while nothing in his past experience prepared him for such a moral question, he was brought up in a system which totally, completely, forbade intermarriage between black and white. This system also determined that one drop of black blood overruled all white blood and that the person with one drop of black blood is automatically a Negro.

Therefore, Henry had to solve the question of incest without prior precedent. In contrast, his society dictated his reaction to the marriage between a black and white, and he acted again simply and directly, as the society demanded. Thus, it is through the character of Henry that Faulkner presents the most vivid criticism of the South. In other words, Faulkner's strong condemnation of the mores of the South is seen in Henry's willingness to sanction incest, while resorting to fratricide to prevent miscegenation.