Study Guide

Absalom, Absalom!

by William Faulkner

Absalom, Absalom! Analysis

Places Discussed (Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Yoknapatawpha County

Yoknapatawpha County (YOK-nuh-puh-TAW-fuh). Fictional county in northwestern Mississippi that Faulkner called his “little postage stamp of native soil.” By the time Faulkner wrote Absalom, Absalom! he had used this setting in five novels. For this novel, however, he drew a map of the county on which he identified places used in both this and the earlier novels. Faulkner gave the county an area of 2,400 square miles and a population of 6,298 white residents and 9,313 black residents. With the Tallahatchie River serving as the northern boundary, the Yoknapatawpha River—an old name for the actual Yocona River—as the southern boundary, Yoknapatawpha bears a remarkable resemblance to, but is not identical with, Mississippi’s real Lafayette County.


Jefferson Yoknapatawpha’s fictional county seat, is likewise patterned after Oxford; however, Faulkner also includes a town called “Oxford” in the novel. A rural, agricultural county with a large number of plantations, including Sutpen’s Hundred, Yoknapatawpha is a miniature of the South during the nineteenth century. Amid a society permeated with racial prejudice and class consciousness, the character Thomas Sutpen is both spurred toward his goal and denied the opportunity for success. Despite his efforts to achieve respectability, most members of Jefferson’s aristocracy regard him as an outsider and fail to recognize that he mirrors the flaws of their society.

Sutpen’s Hundred

Sutpen’s Hundred (SUHT-penz). Plantation built by Thomas Sutpen on a “hundred square miles of some of the best virgin bottom land in the country.” Having failed in an earlier attempt in the West Indies to achieve his “design,” Sutpen purchases land from a local Chickasaw chief. With the help of a French architect and slave labor, he ruthlessly sets out to establish a dynasty in Yoknapatawpha County. He spends two years building his...

(The entire section is 817 words.)

Absalom, Absalom! Historical Context

The Civil War Aftermath
Almost one-third of the southern men who went to fight in the Civil War (1861–1865) died, and almost...

(The entire section is 778 words.)

Absalom, Absalom! Setting

Absalom, Absalom! is set in the fictional city of Jefferson, Mississippi, and in Yoknapatawpha County, the setting of fourteen other...

(The entire section is 251 words.)

Absalom, Absalom! Quizzes

Chapter 1 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Who is the main narrator of Absalom, Absalom!?

2. Who is the main character in Absalom, Absalom!?

3. How is Miss Rosa related to Thomas Sutpen?

4. Why did Thomas Sutpen marry Ellen Coldfield?

5. How many children does Thomas Sutpen have in Jefferson?

6. Explain the biblical allusion in the title Absalom, Absalom!

7. Describe the literary style Absalom, Absalom! is written in.

8. What historical event parallels the rise and the fall of the Sutpen dynasty?

9. What historical time-period is Faulkner writing about?

10. What is the name of the town in which Faulkner’s...

(The entire section is 251 words.)

Chapter 2 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What type of land did Thomas Sutpen buy from Ikkemotubbe?

2. Why was Ellen Coldfield crying during her wedding ceremony?

3. In what month and year were Thomas and Ellen Sutpen married?

4. Is Thomas Sutpen a moral character?

5. How many years did the French architect work on the mansion at Sutpen’s Hundred?

6. Why did the French architect live in a tent and eat venison for two years in the wild?

7. The slaves (called “wild negroes”) that Thomas Sutpen owned came from what country?

8. From what viewpoint is Chapter Two narrated?

9. What happened to Thomas Sutpen just before he got married?


(The entire section is 266 words.)

Chapter 3 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What was the final result of Sutpen’s dealings and interaction with Mr. Coldfield?

2. How did Miss Rosa take care of her father during the Civil War?

3. How did Miss Rosa discover that Mr. Coldfield had died?

4. Who sewed Judith’s trousseau?

5. Where was the material for the trousseau from?

6. Did Ellen Sutpen approve of Judith’s betrothal?

7. What insect does Ellen Sutpen resemble?

8. Who narrates Chapter Three?

9. Why is the narration in Chapter Three suspect in authenticity?

10. How is the future foreshadowed at the end of this chapter?

1. The end...

(The entire section is 288 words.)

Chapter 4 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How does Henry feel about Charles Bon when he first brings him home?

2. Who is more sophisticated, Henry Sutpen or Charles Bon?

3. Why do Henry and Charles leave Jefferson suddenly?

4. What does Ellen do after Henry and Charles leave?

5. Who is the letter from that Mr. Compson is showing Quentin?

6. Who is the letter to?

7. What is the letter about?

8. Who brought the news of the murder to Miss Rosa?

9. What is a good way to read and understand this novel?

10. What is the name of the literary style in which Absalom, Absalom! was written?

1. When Henry...

(The entire section is 289 words.)

Chapter 5 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. How far is Sutpen’s Hundred from the town of Jefferson?

2. What happened to Ellen Sutpen during the Civil War?

3. What happened to Ellen Sutpen’s flower beds during the Civil War?

4. Why does Miss Rosa choose to live at Sutpen’s Hundred?

5. Who else is living at Sutpen’s Hundred?

6. Why does Thomas Sutpen propose marriage to Miss Rosa?

7. Why does Miss Rosa refuse him?

8. From what cloth did Judith sew her wedding dress?

9. What is the purpose of the use of italics in this chapter?

10. Who is the main narrator of Chapter Five?
1. Thomas Sutpen’s plantation,...

(The entire section is 299 words.)

Chapter 6 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Who are the main narrators of this chapter?

2. What is their verbal relationship?

3. How does Faulkner bring the reader’s perceptions and expectations back into a “present”?

4. What is the letter that Quentin is holding in his hand about?

5. Which character freely uses colloquial language like “this old gal” and “this old dame”?

6. Who does Quentin think Shreve sounds like?

7. What scene does Quentin remember?

8. Which character is often referred to as “the demon”?

9. Who does the demon drink moonshine with while laying on a hammock?

10. How is Charles Etienne Bon related to...

(The entire section is 274 words.)

Chapter 7 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What are the “dragons’ teeth” to which Shreve refers?

2. What further information in Chapter Seven is given about Mr. Coldfield’s relationship to Thomas Sutpen?

3. What is Thomas Sutpen’s “grand design”?

4. Why won’t Thomas Sutpen eat sugar?

5. What was the main event that precipitated Thomas Sutpen’s grand design?

6. Why doesn’t Thomas Sutpen ever tell the date or the place of his birth?

7. Why was it so difficult for Sutpen’s family to follow the pioneer trail west?

8. Why does Thomas Sutpen repudiate his first wife?

9. Where does Thomas Sutpen make his fortune?

10. How...

(The entire section is 293 words.)

Chapter 8 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Where is the most contemporary action of Absalom, Absalom! taking place?

2. To whom do these words refer: “the two of them creating between them, out of the rag-tag and bob-ends of old tales and talking, people who perhaps had never existed at all anywhere….”?

3. At what university did Henry Sutpen meet Charles Bon?

4. What are the major differences between Henry Sutpen and Charles Bon?

5. How does Quentin further confuse his identity with that of the characters in the story?

6. How does Quentin describe the atmosphere in the Harvard sitting room?

7. How does Shreve describe the Harvard sitting room?


(The entire section is 265 words.)

Chapter 9 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Where was Thomas Sutpen born?

2. Where was Faulkner’s great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner, born?

3. How old was Thomas Sutpen when he set off to complete his “grand design”?

4. How old was William Clark Falkner when he left his family to make his fortune?

5. In what state of the Union did Thomas Sutpen and William Clark Falkner settle?

6. What role did Thomas Sutpen and William Clark Falkner play in the Civil War?

7. How did Thomas Sutpen and William Clark Falkner finally die?

8. How many children did Thomas Sutpen have?

9. Who is the only surviving member of the Sutpen clan?


(The entire section is 253 words.)