Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 813
Thomas Sutpen, the owner of Sutpen’s Hundred in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. Born of a poor white family in the mountains of Western Virginia, he grows up to become an ambitious man of implacable will. After his arrival in Mississippi, he thinks he can win his neighbors’ respect by building a huge mansion and marrying the daughter of a respectable merchant. When he is not driving his wild African slaves and a kidnapped French architect to finish construction of his magnificent house, he seeks relaxation by fighting his most powerful slaves. Wishing to found a family dynasty, he wants, more than anything else, to have a male heir. When one son is killed and the other disappears, Sutpen, now aging, fathers a child by Milly, the granddaughter of Wash Jones, one of his tenants. After learning that the child is a girl, he rejects and insults Milly. Because of his callous rejection, old Wash Jones kills him.
Ellen Coldfield, the wife chosen by Thomas Sutpen because he believes she is “adjunctive” to his design of founding a plantation family. A meek, helpless woman, she is completely dominated by her husband.
Henry Sutpen, the son born to Thomas and Ellen Sutpen. Unlike his sister Judith, he faints when he sees his father fighting with slaves. At first, not knowing that Charles Bon is also Sutpen’s son, impressionable Henry idolizes and imitates that suave young man. Later, after their return from the Civil War, he learns Bon’s true identity and kills him to keep Judith from marrying her half brother, who is part black.
Charles Bon, Thomas Sutpen’s unacknowledged son by his earlier marriage in Haiti. A polished man of the world, he forms a close friendship with the more provincial Henry, whom he meets at college, and he becomes engaged to Judith Sutpen. When the two return from the Civil War, Bon’s charming manner does not prevent him from being killed by Henry, who has learned that his friend and sister’s suitor is part black.
Judith Sutpen, Thomas Sutpen’s daughter. After Charles Bon has been killed and Henry flees, she vows never to marry. She dies of smallpox contracted while nursing Charles Bon’s wife.
Goodhue Coldfield, a middle-class storekeeper in the town of Jefferson, the father of Ellen and Rosa Coldfield. When the Civil War begins, he locks himself in his attic and disdainfully refuses to have any part in the conflict. Fed by Rosa, who sends him food that he pulls up in a basket, he dies alone in the attic.
Wash Jones, a squatter on Thomas Sutpen’s land and, after the Civil War, his drinking companion. While his employer is away during the Civil War, Wash looks after the plantation. Ignorant, unwashed, but more vigorous than others of his type, he serves Sutpen well until the latter rejects Milly and her child. Picking up a scythe, a symbol of time and change, Wash beheads Sutpen.
Rosa Coldfield, Goodhue Coldfield’s younger daughter. She is an old woman when she tells Quentin Compson that Sutpen, whom she calls a ruthless demon, brought terror and tragedy to all who had dealings with him. A strait-laced person, she recalls the abrupt, insulting fashion in which Sutpen had proposed to her in the hope that she would be able to bear him a son after his wife’s death. Never married, she is obsessed by memories of her brother-in-law.
Clytemnestra Sutpen, called Clytie, Thomas Sutpen’s former slave, who hides Henry Sutpen in the mansion when he returns, old and sick, years after the murder he committed. Fearing that he will be arrested, she sets fire to the house and burns herself and Henry in the conflagration, which destroys the dilapidated monument to Thomas Sutpen’s pride and folly.
Milly Jones, the granddaughter of Wash Jones. She and her child are killed by Wash after Sutpen’s murder.
Charles Etienne de Saint Velery Bon
Charles Etienne de Saint Velery Bon, the son of Charles Bon and his octoroon mistress. He dies of smallpox at Sutpen’s Hundred.
Jim Bond, the half-witted son of Charles Etienne de Saint Velery Bon and a full-blooded black woman. He is the only survivor of Sutpen’s family.
Quentin Compson, the anguished son of a decaying Southern family. Moody and morose, he tells the story of the Sutpens to his uncomprehending roommate at Harvard. Driven by personal guilt, he later commits suicide. Before leaving for Harvard, he learns about Thomas Sutpen from Rosa Coldfield.
Shrevlin McCannon, called Shreve, a Canadian student at Harvard and Quentin Compson’s roommate. With great curiosity but without much understanding, he listens to Quentin’s strange tale of Southern passions and tragedy.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1593
Charles is Thomas Sutpen’s son by his Haitian wife. Although Sutpen abandons Charles and his mother, Charles’ path later crosses Sutpen’s when he attends law school with Sutpen’s son Henry, and the two become great friends. Charles falls in love with Henry’s sister, Judith, and they plan to marry, but their plans are interrupted by the Civil War. As Henry and Charles fight together, they learn more about each other. When Henry realizes that he and Charles are half-brothers, Charles refuses to tell his friend what he plans to do about his engagement to Judith. After the war, Charles tells Henry, quite nastily, that he is going to marry Judith, and Henry kills him immediately.
Charles wants only the slightest acknowledgement from Sutpen that he is his son but never gets it. Charles knows that his plan to marry Judith means that Sutpen will either have to accept him as a son-in-law or admit that he is his son to stop him from marrying his daughter. Although in life, Charles never receives the acknowledgement he wants from Sutpen, he is buried in the family plot. Charles Etienne Saint Valery Bon This character is Charles Bon’s son by a oneeighth black woman.
Jim is the mentally-handicapped son of Charles Etienne Saint Valery Bon (who is Charles Bon’s son) and his black wife. Jim is, in the end, the only survivor of Thomas Sutpen’s family.
Clytie (Clytemnestra) is the illegitimate daughter of Thomas Sutpen and a slave woman. She stays in the Sutpen house during and after the Civil War. When Henry returns, she thinks the law is chasing him for killing Charles, so she sets the house on fire, killing herself and Henry.
Ellen is Sutpen’s wife in Jefferson, Mississippi. She is proper and innocent with a disposition in stark contrast to her husband’s wild nature. She has two children with Sutpen, Henry and Judith. During the Civil War, she dies, and in her last moments, she asks her sister Rosa to protect Judith.
Goodhue is Ellen’s father. Thomas Sutpen chooses him as a father-in-law (perhaps more than he chooses Ellen as a wife) because of his righteousness and respectable standing in the community. There is some arrangement between Mr. Coldfield and Sutpen, the details of which are never revealed, but Mr. Coldfield apparently comes to regret it.
One of the novel’s narrators, Rosa is Ellen Coldfield’s sister. Rosa is twenty-seven years younger than Ellen, so she is closer in age to her niece Judith than to Ellen. When Mr. Coldfield dies, Rosa goes to live at Sutpen’s Hundred. After Ellen’s death, Sutpen asks Rosa to marry him. She agrees but is abandoned by Sutpen before they can marry. She lives the rest of her life bitter and alone and, in the end, she calls for Quentin so she can tell him Sutpen’s story.
Rosa starts out a typical, optimistic young woman, but the Civil War and the ruin of her family turn her into a resentful and lonely woman. In her youth, she was the town’s poetess laureate. Her mother, because of her age at the time of Rosa’s birth, died in childbirth, and Rosa resents her father for her mother’s death. Throughout her life, her focus is on her family, and as each member is taken away, she is forced further into solitude.
Quentin’s grandfather, General Compson was one of the first men in Jefferson to accept Thomas Sutpen into the community. Because he personally knew Sutpen, he tells his son Jason and his grandson Quentin much about him.
Mr. Jason Compson III
One of the novel’s narrators, Mr. Compson is Quentin’s father. His telling of the story reveals his deterministic and cynical views of the world. He admires Sutpen greatly and is struck by his failure. Compson imagines that if a courageous and hardworking man like Sutpen could fail so thoroughly, his pessimistic view of the world must be correct. Compson believes that fate and destiny rule the course of people’s lives and that there is little they can do to change the course set for them.
One of the novel’s narrators, Quentin is a student at Harvard who comes from the small town of Jefferson. Faulkner describes Quentin as a young man torn between two selves: an educated Harvard man full of promise and potential and a native of the South who has much in common with people like Rosa. He struggles to make sense of his southern heritage, and when asked by his roommate to tell about the South, Quentin tells Sutpen’s story. Because the Sutpen story is so integral to the town of Jefferson and, in Quentin’s mind, to the South, he searches the saga for answers to life’s questions.
Faulkner’s chronology at the end of the novel reveals that Quentin commits suicide just after the events of the novel.
Major de Spain
Major de Spain is the sheriff who investigates Sutpen’s murder. When he discovers that Wash Jones is responsible, the sheriff kills him.
Milly is Wash Jones’ fifteen-year-old granddaughter. Sutpen, who desperately wants a son, seduces her. When Milly has a girl, Sutpen insults her, and Wash kills Sutpen, Milly, and the child.
Wash is a poor man who is a squatter on Sutpen’s land during the Civil War. He is a great admirer of Sutpen, yet he kills Sutpen, Milly, and their child when Sutpen abuses Milly.
Quentin’s roommate at Harvard, Shreve (Shrevlin) not only listens to Quentin’s account of Sutpen but also tries to help Quentin fill in the blanks in the story. Because Shreve is Canadian, he has few preconceptions about the South and its history.
Eulalia Bon Sutpen
Eulalia is Thomas Sutpen’s wife in Haiti. She bears him a son, Charles, but when Thomas discovers that a small portion of her heritage is black, he leaves her and Charles in Haiti.
Henry is the son of Thomas Sutpen and Ellen Coldfield. When Henry attends law school, he befriends Charles Bon, who then falls in love with Henry’s sister Judith. Charles and Judith plan to marry, but the men are called to fight in the Civil War. Henry fights alongside Charles and discovers that he is the son Thomas Sutpen left behind in Haiti. This means that Charles is the half-brother of Henry and Judith. Despite Henry’s insistence on knowing how Charles plans to handle his engagement to Judith, Charles will not tell.
After the war, Henry returns to Sutpen’s Hundred with Charles, and as they approach the house, Charles reveals that he intends to marry Judith. Henry responds by immediately killing Charles and then running away. Many years later, Henry reappears at Sutpen’s Hundred, where he is taken in by his sister and Clytie. He later dies there.
Judith is the daughter of Thomas Sutpen and Ellen Coldfield. Judith has her father’s hardy nature and does not flinch at witnessing violence. When she meets her brother’s college friend Charles Bon, the two fall in love and plan to marry. Henry later kills Charles in front of the house, and Judith never marries.
Thomas Sutpen is the main figure in the story that is retold throughout the novel. Many critics note that Sutpen represents the work ethic of the South, along with its decline and failures. Sutpen comes from a poor family and is unconcerned with wealth until one day when he takes a message to a large estate. The uniformed servant informs him that he should go to the back entrance on future visits. After this incident, Sutpen decides that, some day, he will own a large estate and be in a position to tell people to go to the back. Part of his master plan is to have sons, a preoccupation that leads to ruin. (One son kills another, and the killer later dies in Sutpen’s mansion; Sutpen’s anger at not having a son by Milly brings about Sutpen’s own death.)
As a young man, Sutpen travels to Haiti, where he marries a plantation owner’s daughter, and they have a son. When he learns that his wife has remote black ancestry, he disowns her and their son. He returns to the United States, where he chooses Jefferson, Mississippi, as the site for his mansion in the wilderness. With the help of a French architect and a group of “wild” slaves (presumably from Haiti), Sutpen clears land and builds an estate that he names Sutpen’s Hundred. Next, he marries into a respectable family and has two children, Henry and Judith.
Sutpen is a power-hungry man who seeks to create and control his environment. When he leaves to fight in the Civil War, he soon becomes his unit’s leader. Upon returning to Sutpen’s Hundred after the war, he finds his estate in ruins and his slaves gone. Further, his wife has died, and his son has run away after killing Charles Bon. Although he crudely asks his wife’s sister to marry him, he abandons her and seduces the teenaged granddaughter of a poor man living on his land. She bears him a child, but not the son Sutpen wants. His cruelty to the girl provokes her father to kill him.