Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis
by William Faulkner

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Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Judge Benbow: Miss Rosa’s lawyer, who helps her when she is poverty-stricken

Charles Etienne Saint Velery Bon: son of Charles Bon and his mistress from New Orleans

Shreve McCannon: Quentin’s Harvard roommate, with whom he is narrating the story

Luster: an African-American boy who is a major character in Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury

Using a technique seen in the earlier chapters, the beginning of Chapter Six recalls the reader to the “present,” only in this case the “present” has changed and now we must change our percep¬tions with it. We are no longer sitting with Quentin and Miss Rosa, waiting to go out and see what is at Sutpen’s Hundred; we are recalling the entire story from the safe distance of Quentin’s dormitory room at Harvard University, far away in the north.

Suddenly, the reader is required to shift the whole focus of the narrative framework. The time is now 1910, and two students are sitting, in the night, recalling the myth of the Sutpen clan. From now on, the reader is to understand that the narrative is a story being told by two young men, Quentin Compson and his Canadian roommate, Shreve McCannon.

The chapter begins with an image of snow on Shreve’s sleeve, thereby bringing us into a concrete present. The small detail of winter weather reminds us that we are listening to two young men up North at Harvard University. Then Quentin produces a letter from his father announcing Miss Rosa’s death. This letter may have precipitated the tale, or maybe Quentin brought it out to illustrate the tale; we never know. However, from now on, part of the method of narration of the tale is a dialogue between these two young men.

Quentin talks, then Shreve talks. Shreve adds a lively voice of modern disbelief to the gothic Southern story especially in statements such as “this old dame grew up in a household like an over-populated museum.” Since Shreve, like the reader, is trying to put together the pieces and understand the tale; he reiterates parts of it to make sure he’s clear, and Quentin answers “yes.”

At one point while Shreve is talking, Quentin suddenly realizes that Shreve reminds him of his father. Then an italicized flashback begins, in which Quentin remembers that he and his father went to the graveyard to see the graves of the Sutpens and Coldfields.

Thomas Sutpen paid for his grave and that of his wife, but even in death he did not divulge his place or date of birth. Miss Rosa bought the other graves with money she got from her father’s store; one by one the family buried each other, making (or borrowing) just enough money for the headstones.

Finally Quentin remembers the story of Charles Etienne Saint Velery Bon. He was the child of Charles Bon, born the same year that Charles met Henry in college. Charles Etienne St. Velery Bon and his unnamed mother went to visit Sutpen’s Hundred after Thomas Sutpen was killed. Later, when he was orphaned in New Orleans, Judith sent Clytie to fetch him, and brought him there to live.

During this section, Faulkner gives us his view of women. It is while Mr. Compson is talking again to Quentin, and Quentin is remembering, that the author writes:

“They lead beautiful lives—women. Lives not only divorced from, but irrevocably excommunicated from, all reality. That’s why although their deaths, the instant of dissolution, are of no importance to them since they have a courage and fortitude in the face of pain and annihilation which would make the most spartan man resemble a puling boy, yet to them their funerals and graves, the little puny affirmations of spurious immortality set above their slumber, are of incalculable importance.”

This theme has been constant throughout this novel, and it reappears in Faulkner’s other novels. Faulkner sees women as super-human, tied more strongly to nature than men, and therefore as being somehow more savage than men.

Race is also an important issue in this chapter. When Charles Etienne...

(The entire section is 1,549 words.)