Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on March 27, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 737

Shreve and Quentin examine the story from Charles Bon’s point of view. Shreve wonders how Bon learned who his father was, first thinking that his mother would not want to have told him how she was discarded, then speculating that she might have been raising him to eventually take revenge on Sutpen. He imagines a lawyer providing Charles with money and keeping a note of all Sutpen’s nefarious dealings, through which he was rapidly becoming richer and ripe for blackmail. At the same time, Charles would have been embarking on a dissolute and expensive lifestyle, spending his money freely on courtesans, fine clothes, and champagne. Shreve invents all these details, but he and Quentin have exactly the same thoughts. 

At the age of twenty-eight, Charles Bon went away to college. By this time, he already had his octoroon mistress and child. Shreve and Quentin wonder whether the small college in Mississippi was chosen (perhaps by the hypothetical lawyer) so that Charles could make the acquaintance of Henry Sutpen. Shreve imagines a letter the lawyer might have written to Thomas Sutpen, once Charles and Henry were both at the University of Mississippi, a day’s ride from Sutpen’s Hundred. He goes on to consider the first meeting between Charles and Henry, as well as how Charles must have felt about his newfound family. When he spent Christmas at Sutpen’s Hundred in 1859, Shreve thinks Charles would not have received any sign from Sutpen that he was aware of their relationship and wonders how the younger man would have felt.  Also, Shreve wonders whether he thought his mother was using him to exact on the man who abandoned her.

Shreve then considers the complex love triangle between Charles, Judith, and Henry. Charles must have seen something of Judith in Henry before he met her. Henry admired Charles and wanted to be like him, hence his encouragement of the match between Charles and his sister. When he discovered that Charles was his half-brother, and any relationship between him and Judith would be incestuous, Henry was still not altogether opposed to their marriage. He told himself that kings and dukes throughout history had married their sisters, though the one example that occurred to him, Duke John of Lorraine, was excommunicated by the Pope. He also considered the possibility that the war might settle matters: if Charles were to be killed in battle, at least nothing would have to be done. 

However, it was Henry who was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh. When Charles came to save him, Henry fought back and asked Charles to let him die so that he would not have to know what was going to happen between Charles and Judith. In the winter of 1864, their regiment drew close to the Jefferson regiment of which Thomas Sutpen had become Colonel. Charles thought that he might meet his father and finally gain his acceptance. He told Henry that he would marry Judith, even though their union would be incestuous. Henry agreed and allowed him to write to Judith and propose marriage. 

When Henry finally met his father after a four-year separation, Thomas Sutpen told him about Charles’s racial background. Shreve imagines the dialogue between them, then another between Henry and Charles, in which Charles charged Henry with caring more about miscegenation than incest. Charles also said that he would have abandoned his plan to marry Judith if his father had asked him but added that he still planned to marry her unless Henry stopped him. Charles returned to Sutpen’s Hundred with Henry, even though he could easily have slipped away, and Henry shot him outside the gates. Judith and Clytie must have heard the shot and carried Charles’s body into the house. 

Shreve finishes his narrative with an explanation of how Judith found out about Charles’s wife and son in New Orleans. When Miss Rosa arrived at Sutpen’s Hundred, she found Judith holding a metal case with a picture of the octoroon woman and her child. Shreve thinks that Charles swapped the picture of Judith he usually kept in the case for this one so that if Henry killed him, Judith would understand that he betrayed her and would not grieve. If he survived, he could always restore the picture of Judith to its usual place. Quentin agrees with this conjecture, and Shreve says they should both go to bed. 

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