Summary and Analysis Chapter 8


At this point in the story, Shreve is becoming so involved that he ceases to be a listener and begins imaginatively recreating part of the story himself. One of the principal images in the chapter is that of, nottwo people (Henry and Charles) on the battlefield in the 1860s, but four people (Henry and Charles; Shreve and Quentin). By this, Faulkner wants the reader to become one of the people there and wants the reader to also enter into the story and create the scenes along with Shreve.

A large portion of the chapter is devoted to examining the figure of Charles Bon and this examination is narrated mainly by Shreve. Bon becomes a pivotal figure in that the collapse of Sutpen design is directly related to Bon's actions. In actuality, however, the large section of this chapter dealing with Charles, the lawyer, and the mother gives us very little insight into Charles' motivation, and furthermore, tends to slow down the narrative.

The connecting link between Sutpen's conception of the design and his failure to achieve its completion is represented in Sutpen's refusal to recognize his son, Charles Bon. He conceived of the design so as to establish such a great dynasty that none of his heirs would ever be turned away from any door. The completion of the design became such an obsession to Sutpen that the original purpose was either obscured or completely obliterated. Bon's need for recognition and acceptance as he is turned away from his father's door parallels the episode where Sutpen was turned away from the plantation. Thus, when Sutpen rejects his own son, he seems to have forgotten all the torment and anguish he felt when he was himself rejected. Sutpen's rejection as a boy brought about the inception of the design, and Sutpen's rejection of his own son brings about the failure of the design and its total collapse. Thus, in one way, it may be said that the story centers on Sutpen's relationship with his sons.

Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of the entire novel lies in Sutpen's adamant refusal to acknowledge his son, especially since we hear from Bon that he would have been content with the slightest sign or indication of acknowledgement. However, if we remember that the Sutpen design was conceived so that no son of his would ever be turned away, then if he acknowledges a Negro as his son, his design is defeated since all white peoples' doors would automatically be closed to him. Even if Sutpen privately or secretly acknowledged Bon, then the design would be a travesty and he would be betraying the dreams of that young, innocent boy who was once turned away from a door. Thus, Sutpen is trapped because if he acknowledges Bon, then the design either fails or becomes a travesty; if he refuses to acknowledge him, then the design collapses, since Henry will be forced to murder his brother and all doors will be closed to him.

Charles Bon's search (the search-for-a-father theme) is a theme often used in modern literature. Faulkner uses this theme in connection with incest, miscegenation, and the fate of the South. Bon's search for a father is made more poignantly appealing in that he did not desire a formal acknowledgement but only a sign, however small. But it should be remembered that all the time Charles Bon is searching for recognition from his father, he is willing to deny his own son, Charles Etienne Saint Valery Bon, in order to achieve his purpose. But even though this is so, that is, that Bon is willing to commit an ethical violation, it does not in any way excuse Sutpen from his failure to acknowledge his son. Sutpen still carries the burden of the guilt for denying his son.

Only at the end of the Civil War does Bon finally realize that Sutpen will never acknowledge him. He then sets in motion his plan to marry Judith, his half sister. His reasoning is probably that Sutpen will then be forced to acknowledge him in order to prevent the marriage. However, Charles underestimates the romantic and impulsive nature of his brother Harry.

In the two brothers, the Sutpen and Coldfield traits are again emphasized. It now becomes clearer that Henry possesses the weak, romantic Coldfield traits and Bon possesses the Sutpen traits. For example, Bon's insistence and firm determination to carry out his plans are qualities which mark him as a Sutpen. And whereas these factors in Sutpen enabled him to create Sutpen's Hundred, these same qualities in his son Charles are the main factors causing the design to collapse.

Since Sutpen can save the design only by acknowledging Bon as his son, an acknowledgment which he refuses, the resolution now must depend on Henry, who possesses the romantic Coldfield temperament, integrity, and conscience. It is nevertheless Henry's duty to effect the resolution to the situation.

It now becomes clear why Faulkner devoted so much of this chapter to the Henry-Charles relationship at the university. Henry met and formed a strong allegiance to Bon at the university. We can now return to the Christmas scene in the library when Sutpen revealed something to Henry which caused Henry to repudiate his father — a repudiation which foreshadows the complete destruction of the Sutpen design. Faulkner offers only suggestions through Shreve as to what transpired between father and son that could cause Henry to make so dramatic a gesture. Thus we, like Shreve, must recreate the scene and offer motives. First, had Sutpen merely revealed that Bon was Henry's brother, Henry would have accepted this information gladly since he has already formed such a strong love for Bon and has already told Bon that he would like to have an older brother just like Bon. Therefore, Sutpen must have revealed not only that Bon is Henry and Judith's brother, but that Bon has known it all along and has been deceiving and using Henry for his own personal gain and revenge. Consequently, Henry had to repudiate this accusation, go with Bon, and see if deceit and revenge were Bon's main purposes.

Thus for four years Henry could neither deny Charles nor allow him to proceed with his plan to marry Judith. Henry becomes convinced that Bon's purpose is not just revenge when Bon, now an officer, risks his life to rescue his brother Henry, who lies wounded on the battlefield. This view, therefore, clears up some confusing matters earlier in the novel when Mr. Compson maintained that it was Bon who was wounded and Henry who saved Bon so that he could later kill Bon. Now it becomes more plausible that it was Bon who saved Henry, and even though this discovery is made by Shreve, who could not actually be certain, yet in a short scene it is verified by the omniscient author.

Ultimately, Henry's acceptance of incest is in one way equated with the defeat and doom of the South. But when he learns of Bon's Negro blood, this rapidly changes the relationship and presents the climax of the novel. Even though Henry is able to acknowledge Bon as his brother, he cannot allow Bon to become his brother-in-law. Thus, Henry is forced to kill his brother after acknowledging him. Consequently, Faulkner's condemnation of the mores of the South lies in Henry's accepting such a horrible thing as incest while being unable to accept a man with one-sixteenth Negro blood as his sister's husband.