Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1064
Sample Analytical Paper Topics
These are topics on which you can write a substantial analytical paper. They are designed to test your understanding of major themes and details from the play as a whole. Following the topics are outlines you can use as a starting point for writing an analytical paper.
Discuss the significance of racism to the plot structure of Absalom, Absalom!. How did it contribute to the downfall of the Sutpen clan? How was the downfall of the clan foreordained?
I. Thesis Statement: Racism is a central issue to the plot of Absalom, Absalom! and contributes to the downfall of Thomas Sutpen’s empire.
II. Outline of Thomas Sutpen’s rise:
A. Sutpen’s humiliation at the Pettibone plantation.
B. Sutpen’s trip to seek his fortune in Haiti; his role in the Haitian uprising, and his marriage to Eulalia Bon.
C. Sutpen’s renunciation of Eulalia Bon and their son, Charles Bon.
D. Sutpen’s building of “Sutpen’s Hundred” using slave labor.
III. Ways in which the past returned to haunt Thomas Sutpen:
A. His son, Charles Bon, returns and engages himself to Sutpen’s daughter, Judith.
B. Henry Sutpen chooses friendship with Charles Bon over his relationship with his father.
C. Henry kills his friend and his sister’s betrothed, Charles Bon.
D. Charles Etienne St. Velery Bon appears at Sutpen’s Hundred, and acts out the family guilt by marrying a fully-African woman.
E. The final child of the clan is not only African, but is also developmentally disabled.
IV. Conclusion: In Faulkner’s view, the Sutpen empire is doomed, due to its basic reliance on an unsustainable economic structure of inequality—likewise the slave economy of the American South was doomed.
People become what they behold, and the ugliness of the American South helped to turn Thomas Sutpen into a brutal man. His deeds are repaid severalfold.
I. Thesis Statement: People raised in a climate of brutality and inhumanity will grow up to emulate what they see, and their actions will be repaid severalfold.
II. Examples of humiliation and brutality suffered and inflicted by Sutpen:
A. Turned away from the front door of a house by a liveried slave, the young Sutpen learns a lesson about class and status.
B. Sutpen resolves that he will be the one dishing out humiliation, not the one who suffers it, even though he is from a poor and alcoholic family.
C. Sutpen goes to the West Indies, where fortunes are being made on the backs of slave, he is untroubled by the moral climate, seeing only the possibility of riches.
D. Sutpen buys land and slaves of his own.
III. Examples of the consequences of Sutpen’s actions:
A. Sutpen marries for money and status, but is later driven by racism to abandon his wife.
B.His son from his marriage resolves to get even.
C. Sutpen builds an empire, but loses everything.
IV. Conclusion: Raised in a climate of brutality and inhumanity, Sutpen grew up to emulate what he saw, and his actions were repaid.
Discuss how Faulkner uses different modes of narration in order to create a believable yet mythic past.
I. Thesis Statement: In Absalom, Absalom! Faulkner uses a variety of voices to tell one story. This is specifically a modernist technique, and it works quite well to give shape to a many-faceted story.
II. Discuss the major narrative voices:
B. Miss Rosa Coldfield
C. Shreve McCannon
III. Discuss the minor narrative voices:
A. Mr. Compson
C. General Compson
D. Thomas Sutpen
IV. Establish a theory as to how all these voices work together to tell a story:
A. How do the voices work in harmony?
B. How do the voices work against each other?
V. Conclusion: The modernist technique of using many different voices to tell a story makes the story harder to understand, but it also makes the story have potential for more (and deeper) meaning.
Miss Rosa’s narration of the Sutpen story casts Thomas Sutpen as an evil demon. Write a paper that disagrees with this assumption, and illustrate it using concrete examples from the text.
I. Thesis Statement: Despite Miss Rosa’s narration (and the narrative of those who know the Sutpen story mainly through Miss Rosa), Thomas Sutpen is not a demon. He was merely a man trying his best to exist in a difficult world.
II. Miss Rosa is a biased narrator:
A. Miss Rosa’s first personal interaction with Thomas Sutpen was one in which she was humiliated by him.
B. Thomas Sutpen was not good to Ellen Sutpen, Miss Rosa’s sister, or Goodhue Coldfield, Miss Rosa’s father, and thus Miss Rosa would not be inclined to speak well of him.
C. Miss Rosa is a crabby old Southern spinster.
III. Describe the positive things that Thomas Sutpen did in his life:
A. He succeeded in making his fortune, fulfilling a version of the American Dream.
B. He may have owned slaves, but he was intimate with them, too—in fighting and copulation.
C. He built a plantation where there had been only land, thus contributing to the civilization of the world.
D. He provides interesting material for a story.
V. Conclusion: Absalom, Absalom! is a story largely presented from a hostile viewpoint. Since most of the narrators are speaking though the sieve of Miss Rosa’s memory, the picture that emerges of Thomas Sutpen is unnecessarily negative.
Women are portrayed as being very different in his novel. Sometimes they are weak and sometimes they are strong, but they are close to the center of the story.
I. Thesis Statement: In this novel, women are close to the emotional center of the story.
II. Examples of women’s emotional power:
A. Miss Rosa’s role
1. Clearly and strongly biased narrator who shapes the story according to memories of events and her feelings.
B. Sutpen’s first wife
1. Although she is abandoned, her son helps destroy the empire.
III. Examples of women’s actions:
A. The strength of the love felt by the women for their friends and suitors.
B. Clytie is scared, but she acts—and burns down the house.
IV. Conclusion: Even when they are not directly making things happen, women are never far from the emotional center of the story.
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