Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis
by William Faulkner

Start Your Free Trial

Download Absalom, Absalom! Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Wash Jones: the poor white squatter who comes to Jefferson after Miss Rosa is born and lives at Sutpen’s Hundred

Summary
At the beginning of each chapter, Faulkner brings us back to the beginning of the novel by portraying Quentin as sitting with Miss Rosa, listening to her stories or waiting to drive her out to Sutpen’s Hundred. Then the other voices join in. In Chapter Four, Mr. Compson’s voice is very much present in Quentin’s head, as Quentin remembers when Mr. Compson showed him a letter.

The main story in this section is about the relationship among the three children of Thomas Sutpen—Henry Sutpen, Judith Sutpen, and Charles Bon. After Henry brought Charles home with him that Christmas, Charles and Judith fell in love. Judith and Henry already loved each other. Since Henry met Charles at college, Henry loved Charles. When Judith loved Charles the circle became complete. This is the section from which the novel takes its title, Absalom, Absalom! (referring to the biblical story of incest), and it is one of the longest in the book.

Henry and Charles are nearly as “in love” as Charles and Judith; Mr. Compson also thinks Judith and Henry are closer than is appropriate for siblings. Chapter Four is mainly about Henry’s relationship with Charles, than the impending marriage to Judith. Faulkner needs to explain the motivation for the action of the characters and the ensuing catastrophe.

When Thomas Sutpen learns of the marriage plans between Judith and Charles, he tells Henry that Charles Bon is also his son. Although Henry is shocked that Charles would deceive him in order to befriend him and make his way into the family, he remains constant in his affection for Charles. He and Charles leave together, enlisting in the Civil War. Faulkner puts these words in quotations, emanating from Mr. Compson’s mouth:

“Because Henry loved Bon. He repudiated blood birthright and material security for his sake, for the sake of this man who was at least an intending bigamist even if not an out and out blackguard, and on whose dead body four years later Judith was to find the photograph of the other woman and child.”

This is an example of how Faulkner gives the reader a plot clue that may be overlooked on a first reading. This is the only mention in Absalom, Absalom! of the photograph of Charles Bon’s wife and child in New Orleans.

The revelation that Charles Bon is part African-American is a shock for the entire family. Henry and Judith’s mother, Ellen, retire to a darkened room, where she lives for two years while she (in typical Faulknerian manner) wastes away and dies. But like Henry, Judith remains steadfast in her love for Charles, and she waits to hear from him.

The letter that Mr. Compson is in the process of showing Quentin is from Charles to Judith (Judith had given it to Mr. Compson’s mother to keep). In that letter, Charles describes the difficulty of fighting in the Civil War. He tells Judith to wait for him. Consequently, Judith spends the war years alone, trying to grow enough food to eat, and stitching clothes from rags. Judith saved the scraps of good material from which to sew her wedding dress.

During the war years, the women were reduced to the basic elements of life: seeking food, shelter, and clothing. They lived together at Sutpen’s Hundred without the men—Thomas Sutpen had also enlisted in the war, as a colonel. Judith remained steadfast in her commitment to Charles.

During the war, Charles was decorated by the Confederates for bravery. This is ironic in view of later events, when it is revealed that he is part African himself. During the war, Henry also learned that not only was Charles his half-brother, but he was one-sixteenth African-American as well. Henry vowed never to let the marriage happen. This is another example of the moral bankruptcy inherent in racism: Henry condoned the marriage when he knew it was incest, but he condemned it when he learned that it was miscegenation.

When the...

(The entire section is 1,397 words.)