Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The theme comprises the contrast between the arrogance of Thomas Sutpen and the lowliness of Wash Jones, and the ultimate consequences of this contrast. Sutpen’s arrogance is everywhere evident, especially in the two parts that make up the main narrative. He rides a stallion, he carries a whip in his hand, and the story opens with him looking down on Milly and his newborn daughter. He is callous and unfeeling toward the girl he has seduced and toward his own child. He cares more for the mare and newborn colt; in fact, Wash comes to realize that Sutpen has arisen early because of the stable birth, not because of the one in the cabin. Sutpen’s statement that if Milly had been a mare he would have provided a stable for her and his stalking out of the cabin without any recognition of his daughter further emphasize his arrogance.

Similarly, with Wash, Sutpen displays only arrogance. When the man who has been his companion in the store and in drinking bouts, the man who has put him to bed on occasion, confronts him with the fact of his seduction of the fifteen-year-old Milly, Sutpen’s only response is to note that Wash is afraid of him. He offers no explanation of his conduct nor does he accept any responsibility for Milly or her newborn child. Wash’s assurance that Sutpen “will make hit right” is never confirmed; it later proves to be misplaced confidence. One can speculate about whether Sutpen would have done better had the child been a boy, but...

(The entire section is 567 words.)