Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 828

New Character:
Theophilus McCaslin: present during the burial of Charles Bon, he said a Confederate prayer over the Catholic man

Chapter Five is the end segment of Miss Rosa’s story. It tells the events of the Sutpen drama as they related to her, and then her voice is left behind.

The plot is simple. After Wash Jones brings the news to Miss Rosa of Charles Bon’s murder, Miss Rosa immediately goes out to Sutpen’s Hundred. Miss Rosa, Judith, Clytie, and Theophilus McCaslin are the only ones who were present at Charles Bon’s funeral. They carry the coffin, dig the grave, and bury Charles Bon together.

After the burial, Miss Rosa decides to stay on at Sutpen’s Hundred. There, the three women live “the busy eventless lives of three nuns in a barren and poverty-stricken convent,” trying to grow enough food to eat. Miss Rosa no longer has a place in town after her father’s death: the store was ruined, and she needed food, shelter, and company. Consequently, she plans to honor her sister Ellen’s last wishes, and “take care” of her niece Judith.

Miss Rosa lived at Sutpen’s Hundred for seven months, until Thomas Sutpen straggled home from the war. Although they occupy the house together, the women rarely see Thomas Sutpen, except at mealtime: they inhabit the inner world of the house, and he inhabits the outdoors.

However, three months later, Thomas Sutpen unexpectedly proposes marriage to Miss Rosa. His way of doing it is typically blunt—he walks into Judith’s bedroom, where the three women sit each evening, puts his hand on Miss Rosa’s head and says: “You may think I made your sister Ellen no very good husband…. I believe I can promise that I shall do no worse at least for you.”

At first Miss Rosa was happy to be engaged. She was still young and had no other prospects. However, Thomas Sutpen then suggests that they attempt to conceive a son before marriage, and Miss Rosa is horrified at his callousness. She returns to Jefferson to live the life of a poor spinster and bears him a grudge for the rest of her life.

This chapter ends with a flashback to the scene in which Henry rushes into Judith’s bedroom and tells Judith that he has just shot and killed her fiancé, Charles. Faulkner now gives us the dialogue that ensued between Henry and Judith. Like that between Henry and Charles (just before Henry shot Charles), it is very simple and direct:

Now you cant marry him.
Why cant I marry him?
Because he’s dead.
Yes. I killed him.

After giving the reader this brief but important piece of dialogue, Faulkner reveals something else to carry the readers interest—a suspenseful element.

At the end of the chapter, Faulkner finally tells us why Miss Rosa has called Quentin to her house. Miss Rosa tells Quentin that there is still “something” at Sutpen’s Hundred, something “living hidden in that house.” Miss Rosa has asked Quentin to go with her and see what or who it is.

Faulkner’s use of extremely simple, direct dialogue functions well as a contrast to his more florid, poetic language. As in Chapter Four, in Chapter Five, Faulkner creates a contrast at a structurally significant moment—in this case, at the end of the chapter, at a point where the author wants to create dramatic suspense to keep the reader reading.

Faulkner stresses the suspense by giving us only partial information about what might be in the house. It is a hint, to keep us reading, that something dramatic is about to happen. In terms of literary style, it is a bone—the mystery of the “something” in the house—to keep us worrying at his text. At this point, we cannot tell whether it is a natural or supernatural being, and the reader is naturally curious.

Chapter Five is written almost entirely in italics. The use of italics signifies a shift to a different depth of language. It is no longer Mr. Compson telling Quentin stories. It is Miss Rosa speaking for herself again, but at a different level, as if the story had become separated from the participants and had entered the realm of universal myth. The story, which is mainly about a man, Thomas Sutpen, is told mainly by a woman—Miss Rosa; in many cultures it is the women who are the bearers of the tales.

The final section, the recapitulation of the murder of Charles Bon, is not written in italics, and that signifies that this is a pivotal scene in the novel. It is told in direct, dramatic speech, from the viewpoint of the omniscient narrator, the voice that sees all. It is as if Faulkner were taking the reader through stages, as in a film, first giving us soft focus and showing us blaring newspaper headlines.

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