Published in 1936, Absalom, Absalom! is considered by many to be William Faulkner’s masterpiece. Although the novel’s complex and fragmented structure poses considerable difficulty to readers, the book’s literary merits place it squarely in the ranks of America’s finest novels. The story concerns Thomas Sutpen, a poor man who finds wealth and then marries into a respectable family. His ambition and extreme need for control bring about his ruin and the ruin of his family. Sutpen’s story is told by several narrators, allowing the reader to observe variations in the saga as it is recounted by different speakers. This unusual technique spotlights one of the novel’s central questions: To what extent can people know the truth about the past?
Faulkner’s novels and short stories often relate to one another. Absalom, Absalom! draws characters from The Sound and the Fury, and it anticipates the action and themes of Intruder in the Dust. Further, Absalom, Absalom! is one of Faulkner’s fifteen novels set in fictional Yoknapatawpha County. This is the first of Faulkner’s novels in which he includes a chronology and a map of the fictitious setting to better enable the reader to understand the context for the novel’s events. The map includes captions noting areas where certain events take place. The map shows events that happen in Sartoris, The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, and Light in August, as well as those that occur in Absalom, Absalom!
Despite Faulkner’s roots in the South, he readily condemns many aspects of its history and heritage in Absalom, Absalom!. He reveals the unsavory side of southern morals and ethics, including slavery. The novel explores the relationship between modern humanity and the past, examining how past events affect modern decisions and to what extent modern people are responsible for the past.