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Absalom, Absalom!

About the Book

Absalom, Absalom!

When he completed Absalom, Absalom! in May 1936, Faulkner said, "I think it's the best novel yet written by an American." He described it as "the story of a man who wanted a son through pride, and got too many of them and they destroyed him." It is the epic tale of Thomas Sutpen, who grows up as a dirt-poor boy in backwoods Appalachia and has his first glimpse of social hierarchy when his family moves to a plantation in Tidewater Virginia. One day he goes to the mansion's front door, carrying a message, and is told by a slave wearing the master's livery that he must go around to the back door. This experience has a searing effect on the boy's consciousness. From that moment forward, he sets in motion his grand design: to become, at any cost, a man of wealth and power. He goes to colonial Haiti and marries the daughter of a plantation owner he has saved from death during the slave revolt there, but he abandons his wife and newborn son, Charles Bon, when he learns that his wife has a strain of Negro blood. In 1833 he arrives in Mississippi with a gang of Haitian slaves, cheats a Chickasaw Indian out of a hundred square miles of land, and begins with a ruthless and fanatical determination to build a mansion in the wilderness, to carve out a plantation, to gather wealth, to acquire a second wife and forge a dynasty that will carry on his name. But the son he left behind returns to haunt him. At the university Charles Bon becomes the best friend of Henry, the son of Sutpen's second marriage, and eventually Henry kills Charles in order to prevent him from marrying their sister Judith. Henry repudiates his father and flees; ultimately Sutpen, with his plantation in ruins after the Civil War, is reduced to selling trinkets in a backwoods general store. After his plan to breed yet a third family with the sister of his dead wife fails, Sutpen impregnates the teenage daughter of a poor white man, who kills him with a scythe when he insults the girl because she has given birth to a daughter. In an ironic coda to Sutpen's dream of dynastic grandeur, the only descendant who survives to carry on the Sutpen blood is the grandson of Charles Bon, another of Faulkner's "idiots."

While it is the most challenging of Faulkner's works, Absalom, Absalom! also contains the most mature and profound examination of his greatest themes: the South's mixture of horror and pride in its own history, the interrelationship of incest and miscegenation, the tragic legacy of slavery, and, as always at the heart of it all, the family drama.

Absalom, Absalom!
by William Faulkner

  • Publication Date: January 11, 2013
  • Paperback: 313 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 0679732187
  • ISBN-13: 9780679732181