Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis
by William Faulkner

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Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
French Architect: Thomas Sutpen brought him from Martinique to build his mansion and kept him captive on the plantation for two years, until the house was nearly finished

General Compson: Quentin Compson’s grandfather, Mr. Compson’s father, Thomas Sutpen’s first (and only) friend

Melicent Jones: Wash Jones’ daughter, who gives birth to Milly Jones in 1853

Milly Jones: Wash Jones’ granddaughter, seduced by Thomas Sutpen, who gives birth to a baby girl and is killed, with her baby, by her father, Wash Jones

Major de Spain: the Jefferson sheriff who killed Wash Jones

Pettibone: the wealthy plantation owner from whose door Thomas Sutpen was turned away, during an incident that inspired Sutpen to build his own empire

In Chapter Seven, Faulkner finally gives us the motivation for Thomas Sutpen’s seemingly inhuman actions. The story came originally from Sutpen himself, in strange circumstances. The French architect, who Sutpen forced to live in a tent for two years, has escaped, so Sutpen is pursuing him with his slaves and dogs, and General Compson is along for the ride. When the architect tricks them by using engineering skills to propel himself a long distance, the slaves and the dogs lose his scent. While waiting for them to find it again, Sutpen recounts the story of his boyhood to General Compson

Thomas Sutpen came from an impoverished family in the West Virginia mountains. When he was young, his family set off to make a better living, but his mother, who provided the main impetus for the trip and for the family’s stability, died on the way. Sutpen’s father was an alcoholic who was barely able to keep the family on the road. He kept stopping at taverns, drinking, and losing all the money the family had.

Eventually, as Faulkner writes: “taverns now become hamlets, hamlets now become villages, villages now towns and the country flattened out now with good roads and fields and niggers working in the fields while white men sat fine horses and watched them…” The Sutpen family found a place to live and settled down once again, on the Pettibone plantation.

The Sutpens became sharecroppers and there Thomas Sutpen learned the cruel lesson of social division. One day he went to deliver a message to the plantation house, but was turned away from the front door by a well-dressed African-American slave. He never forgot this humiliation. The rest of the Sutpen myth, and Sutpen’s “grand design” to build a plantation and be a patriarch himself, is an attempt to overcome this humiliation.

During his school years, Thomas Sutpen decided he would rather be a slave owner than be a slave. In school, he learned that people “made their fortunes” in the West Indies, so he took his chances and sailed there, where he defended a French plantation against a Haitian uprising. In doing so, he met and married the plantation owner’s daughter who, in a plot complication, both made him wealthy and provoked a dilemma. He discovered that she was part African herself, which meant that she could not help him to further his grand design of creating a racist economic system. Sutpen repudiated Eulalia Bon and divorced her, leaving her and their son in New Orleans. Sutpen himself moved on to Jefferson, Mississippi.

The chapter ends with the final tragic event in Sutpen’s life. After Miss Rosa refuses his proposition to try to have a son, Sutpen seduces Milly Jones, the granddaughter of his handyman, Wash Jones. When she gives birth, Sutpen rides to her shack to see if it is a male. Jones kills Sutpen with a scythe, and kills his granddaughter and the child as well.

In an ironic tragedy, the “demon” Thomas Sutpen is finally (and literally) mowed down by a man who resembles himself at the beginning of his life—a poor white with no real home. Thus, the story comes full circle, and the dreams of a “grand design” are ended abruptly and violently.

This chapter begins with Shreve’s...

(The entire section is 1,019 words.)