Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
by William Faulkner

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Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Charles Bon: the son of Thomas Sutpen and his first wife, Eulalia Bon, from New Orleans

Eulalia Bon: only child of a Haitian sugar planter. Eulalia married Thomas Sutpen, but he repudiated her when he discovered that she had some African ancestry

Henry Sutpen: the only son of Thomas and Ellen Sutpen

Judith Sutpen: the only daughter of Thomas and Ellen Sutpen

Clytie: the daughter of Thomas Sutpen and a slave; Clytie lives in the mansion at Sutpen’s Hundred

In Chapter Three, the voice is mainly that of Mr. Compson, Quentin’s father. He is telling Quentin the story of Miss Rosa’s life—how she was born to middle-aged parents years after her sister, Ellen, and how her mother died during childbirth. According to Mr. Compson, Miss Rosa grew up alone with her aunt and father, Goodhue Coldfield, who was a cold and bitter old man.

Goodhue Coldfield was not always a bitter man. Before Thomas Sutpen came to Jefferson, he was an honest and upright Methodist, a man so moral that when he bought slaves he immediately freed them. However, due to his dealings with Sutpen, he is caught in the spider web of the slave economy, and, as he ages, he becomes more and more unhappy.

Mr. Compson further narrates that Mr. Coldfield and Miss Rosa visited Sutpen’s Hundred regularly. Although their relations were strained, they made the 12-mile trip twice a year. Then, when the Civil War began, for unknown reasons (likely related to the disgrace of his financial dealings with Thomas Sutpen) Mr. Coldfield nailed himself into the attic, and lived there while Miss Rosa scoured the remains of the family store to survive.

Every day Miss Rosa sent her father food in a basket. Then, one day, the basket didn’t come back down. The neighbors broke in and discovered that Goodhue Coldfield had starved himself to death.

The other plot event that is described in this chapter is the first visit of Charles Bon, Thomas Sutpen’s first known son, at Christmas. Henry Sutpen had met and befriended Bon at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, without knowing who he was. Bon probably plotted the friendship to gain access to his father. Then, one Christmas, Henry invited Charles Bon home for vacation, and very soon Bon and Judith fell in love.

Charles Bon and Judith Sutpen decided very quickly to get married. Ellen Sutpen and Miss Rosa were delighted with Judith’s upcoming wedding; Miss Rosa even stole cloth from her father’s store in order to make Judith a trousseau. Thomas Sutpen was quite aware of Charles Bon’s heritage, and in later chapters we will see his subsequent actions.

In the meantime, Henry and Judith were very happy because their relationship was closer than usual with brother and sister. As Faulkner describes it, it was “that fierce impersonal rivalry between two cadets in a crack regiment who eat from the same dish and sleep under the same blanket and chance the same destruction and who would risk death for one another not for the other’s sake but for the sake of the unbroken front of the regiment itself.” Since Henry was Charles’ best friend, he was overjoyed that Charles was marrying his beloved sister.

Ellen Sutpen was the happiest of all and she bloomed while planning this wedding. Faulkner describes her thus:

“Ellen at the absolute halcyon of her butterfly’s summer and now with the added charm of gracious and graceful voluntary surrendering of youth to her blood’s and sex’s successor, that concurrent attitude and behavior with the engagement’s span with which mothers who want to can almost make themselves the brides of their daughters’ weddings.”

It was as if all of the humiliation that she experienced in her own wedding could be mended by giving a good wedding to her daughter; she lived vicariously through her daughter’s happiness. The happiness, however, was not to last, and is foreshadowed by the image at the end of the chapter of a man on a mule desperately calling at Miss Rosa’s gate.


(The entire section is 1,221 words.)