Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 737

New Characters:
Colonel John Sartoris: a Faulknerian figure, whom Thomas Sutpen replaced as commanding officer in the Civil War

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Colonel Willow: the man who told Thomas Sutpen that his son Henry was wounded

In Chapter Eight, the main remembered “action” of Absalom, Absalom! is over. Faulkner has already described Thomas Sutpen’s early life, his arrival in Jefferson, his marriage to Ellen Coldfield, the friendship of Henry Sutpen and Charles Bon, the betrothal of Judith Sutpen and Charles Bon, and the two main murders—Henry’s murder of Charles Bon, and Wash Jones’ murder of Thomas Sutpen. Consequently, Chapter Eight ties up the loose ends of the Sutpen tragedy.

In this chapter the story of Charles Bon is described by Quentin and Shreve in much more detail. Charles Bon grew up in New Orleans, and eventually sought recognition from his father. He befriended Henry Sutpen and gained entry to the Sutpen clan. How¬ever, like Thomas Sutpen at Pettibone’s gate, he was ultimately denied.

This has implications for Henry as well. Charles must have known who Henry was when he first met him, and plotted to gain admittance to Sutpen’s Hundred. Over time, Henry must have also realized this. However, tied to a perverse tradition of honor, he condoned the marriage of siblings, but condemned Charles—and killed him—when he discovered he was one-sixteenth African.

The narrative voices in this chapter are still Shreve and Quentin in dialogue, but Quentin is experiencing further difficulty in separating himself from his stories and his surroundings. Faulkner describes it thus:

“They stared—glared—at one another, their voices (it was Shreve speaking, though save for the slight difference which the intervening degrees of latitude had inculcated in them (differences not in tone or pitch but of turns of phrase and usage of words), it might have been either of them and was in a sense both: both thinking as one, the voice which happened to be speaking the thought only the thinking becoming audible, vocal;…”

Note Faulkner’s creative use of punctuation. Here he uses parentheses within parentheses (which are resolved later), dashes, colons, and semi-colons. By the use of this complex system of punctuation, Faulkner is able to recreate the feeling of a mind thinking—when we think, it is in a series of stops and starts, full-and half-thoughts, hopefully returning to the original thought, and making a conclusion.

In this case, Faulkner’s conclusion returns us to the basic theme of Absalom, Absalom!, which is that of an attempted reconciliation with the ghosts of the past. The sentence continues:

“the two of them creating between them, out of the rag-tag and bob-ends of old tales and talking, people who perhaps had never existed at all anywhere, who, shadows, were shadows not of flesh and blood which had lived and died but shadows in turn of what were (to one of them at least, to Shreve) shades too) quiet as the visible murmur of their vaporising breath.”

Faulkner gives us no easy answers. He does not say the ghosts are real—they are either shadows or shades or vaporizing breath. In light of the fact that he never allows us consolation or resolution in Absalom, Absalom!, it is necessary to know that in The Sound and the Fury, published in 1929 (seven years before Absalom, Absalom!), Quentin commits suicide in 1910. The questions (and ghosts) are so disturbing to Faulkner’s main narrator that he kills himself.

Quentin further confuses his identity (and, by association, Faulkner’s identity) with the characters in the story by feeling that Charles and Henry were with them as well: “it was not two but four of them riding the two horses…Charles-Shreve and Quentin-Henry.”

The lines between Quentin and Shreve (and, in the previous chapter, between Shreve and Mr. Compson) are blurred. So too are the lines between the various members of the Sutpen clan—Charles, Judith, Henry, Clytie, Charles Etienne, Thomas Sutpen, Jim Bond—all are more related and related in more complex ways to each other than they care to admit. Overall, it is economic classes or racism that causes this confusing division; the background information about Charles Bon serves to underscore the theme of race in Absalom, Absalom! Faulkner’s view is that racism is a perversion that leads both to the downfall of the Sutpen empire and to the defeat and collapse of the American South.

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