Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis
by William Faulkner

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Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Akers: a poor Southern hunter who watches the building of Thomas Sutpen’s plantation, “Sutpen’s Hundred,” in the woods. Akers acts as a reporter, telling the other townspeople of Jefferson what is going on

Aunt: the “Aunt” referred to is Miss Rosa’s and Ellen’s aunt. She lived with the Coldfield family, organized Ellen’s wedding and, after Miss Rosa’s mother died in childbirth, took care of Miss Rosa when she was a child

Goodhue Coldfield: Miss Rosa’s father, a respectable merchant and town leader

Ellen Coldfield: Goodhue’s daughter who marries Thomas Sutpen; also the mother of Henry and Judith

Haitian Slaves: often called “wild negroes” or “wild niggers,” these unnamed slaves from Haiti nevertheless exist as a major force in Absalom, Absalom! Like Thomas Sutpen himself, they are newcomers to a savage world

Ikkemotubbe: the Chickasaw Indian agent from whom Thomas Sutpen bought the land upon which he built his plantation, “Sutpen’s Hundred”

Although Chapter Two is narrated in much the same way as Chapter One, it backtracks in that it gives more details about Thomas Sutpen’s arrival in the town of Jefferson, how he built his plantation, and how he became a part of the town.

According to the Sutpen legend, Thomas Sutpen appeared in Jefferson on a Sunday morning, riding a horse. He bought some land from Ikkemotubbe, a Chickasaw Indian agent, and brought a group of French-speaking slaves and a French-speaking architect to the land to build a plantation. They all lived in the wild while carving out the plantation from the raw land, and the entire town was curious about this man and his enterprise. Where did he come from and why was he doing what he was doing?

Sutpen never explained anything about himself to the other townspeople—where he came from or where he got his money—because of that they always held him in some distrust. They looked on in amazement as his mansion and estate rose up from the wilds.

From the first, Thomas Sutpen is characterized as a hard, unscrupulous man. To a certain extent he is a man without a conscience. He bought Haitian slaves to build and work on his plantation, and while they were developing his property, they slept in the mud. He brought an architect from Martinique to design his house. Sutpen kept the architect against his will at the primitive camp, and like the slaves, captured him when he tried to escape. They all lived like this for two years, until the mansion was nearly completed, and Sutpen finally let the architect go.

As long as Sutpen refused to explain anything about himself to the townspeople, they distrusted him, so he decided to gain respectability in another way. When his plantation and mansion were nearly complete, he began to court Ellen Coldfield, the daughter of the most respected man in town.

Sutpen had in mind a “grand design” that Faulkner discusses in more detail later: he wanted to be the patriarch of a dependent empire. The motivation for this is hinted at later.

Thomas Sutpen’s marriage to Ellen Coldfield was part of his grand design. Through the marriage, he would become part of the town and gain respectability.

One of the mysteries in the novel that is never solved is that Sutpen probably entered into an illegal financial arrangement with Ellen’s father, Goodhue Coldfield. This is hinted at in Absalom, Absalom! but never fully explained. However, just before the wedding, Thomas Sutpen is arrested, and it is Goodhue who bails him out. Although we never discover the reason for his arrest, it is significant that Mr. Coldfield signed the bond to free him, even though he was an upright, moral man.

In Chapter Two, the wedding of Thomas Sutpen and Ellen Coldfield is described. It is a tragic wedding: even though Ellen invited 100 townspeople, almost no one came. Con¬sequently, she cried throughout the ceremony. When she left the church after the ceremony, a scene symbolic of her future life awaited her. Sutpen’s Haitian...

(The entire section is 1,138 words.)