Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 830
Jim Bond: “idiot” son of Charles Etienne St. Velery Bon and his African-American wife
The narration of the story is concluded. Quentin tells Shreve how Miss Rosa brought him out to Sutpen’s Hundred one September and they found Henry still alive, but in hiding. In December, Miss Rosa sends an ambulance, but Clytie thinks that it is a police car and she sets the house on fire, killing herself and Henry.
Now the entire Sutpen clan is destroyed, except for Jim Bond, the “idiot” (who, like Faulkner, gained an extra letter in his last name). Jim Bond stands outside the burning mansion, howling, and then he soon disappears into the woods, still howling. Jim Bond continues to inhabit the woods, and, from time to time, the townspeople of Jefferson can hear him howling.
This is the end result of Thomas Sutpen’s “grand design”—a developmentally disabled person howling in the woods. Clearly, it was a design built on faulty premises.
The conclusion of the story prompts Shreve to say that “in time the Jim Bonds are going to conquer the Western Hemisphere.” He continues with a philosophical conclusion:
“Of course it wont quite be in our time and of course as they spread toward the poles they will bleach out again like the rabbits and the birds do, so they wont show up so sharp against the snow. But it will still be Jim Bond; and so in a few thousand years, I who regard you now will also have sprung from the loins of the African kings.”
Then Shreve asks Quentin why he hates the South, and Faulkner ends Absalom, Absalom! with Quentin shouting to himself “I dont hate it! I dont hate it!”
In Faulkner’s novels, the endings are often very significant to the novel as a whole. Chapter Nine is the final chapter, and Faulkner provides the reader with a revelation and a perverse resolution.
Absalom, Absalom! is the quintessential, if difficult to understand, story of the American South. In it, Thomas Sutpen sets out to create a dynasty for himself, buying slaves and setting himself up as a patriarch. Events take their natural course, and Sutpen’s dynasty fails—Quentin, like other young Southerners, is left to pick up the pieces.
In his Nobel-prize acceptance address, Faulkner describes his philosophical understanding of the role of humankind. He sees man as singularly possessing the medium of language, and more specifically, the tirade, with which to immortalize his affairs. He said:
“It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny, inexhaustible voice, still talking.”
In Faulkner’s philosophy, language makes man immortal. However, in Absalom, Absalom!, the final heir of the Sutpen clan, Jim Bond, is a man without language. Faulkner’s message goes further than this. He continues:
“I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
In Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner has taken away any easy understandings of life, of morality, or of the soul. In this very difficult novel, he leaves us with an ending that offers no answers.
Perhaps the choice here is similar to that presented in Milton’s Samson Agonistes. Wrestling with the concept of free will, Samson says “Commands are no constraints. If I obey them, I do it freely…” When Faulkner wrote Absalom, Absalom!, he had in mind a tragedy on a grand scale, which meant including the townspeople as a Greek chorus. Since Faulkner viewed Absalom, Absalom! as a Greek tragedy, it is useful to look at Milton’s description of the genre:
“Tragedy, as it was anciently composed, hath been ever held the gravest, moralest, and most profitable of all other poems: therefore said by Aristotle to be of power, by raising pity and fear, or terror, to purge the mind of those and such like passions, that is, to temper and reduce them to just measure with a kind of delight, stirred up by reading or seeing those passions well imitated.”
Here, Milton is paraphrasing a theory begun by Aristotle. Faulkner is continuing in a tradition thousands of years old.
The author’s goal in Absalom, Absalom!, from this viewpoint, is to bear witness to the machinations of racism and classism within society, to watch the downfall of an immoral man, and to help readers avoid those pitfalls. We, the readers, are meant to align ourselves and our viewpoints with Quentin, and to study the tragedy of the Sutpen clan so that we do not repeat the tragedy of slavery ourselves.
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