Student Question

What is the significance of the following quote from "Absalom, Absalom!"?

"Because there is something in the touch of flesh with flesh which abrogates, cuts sharp and straight across the devious intricate channels of decorous ordering, which enemies as well as lovers know because it makes them both;--touch and touch of that which is the citadel of the central I-Ams private own: not spirit, soul; the liquorish and ungirdled mind is anyone’s to take in any darkened hallway of this earthly tenement. But let flesh touch flesh, and watch the fall of all the eggshell shibboleth of caste and color too. Yes, I stopped dead—no woman’s hand, no negro’s hand, but bridle-curb to check and guide the furious and unbending will—I crying not to her, to it; speaking to it through the negro, the woman, only because it would be terror soon, expecting and receiving no answer because we both knew it was not to her I spoke: “Take your hand off me, nigger!”"

Expert Answers

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This quote is said when Miss Rosa thinks back to her visit to Sutpen's Hundred that occurs in the narrative after Henry shot Charles Bon. Even though Clytie does her best to prevent Miss Rosa from heading upstairs, Miss Rosa persists in going up to the top, saying to Quentin that she would never let any "nigger" act as a "bridle-curb" to check the "unbending will" that possessed her at this moment.

Clearly this quote therefore ties in with one of the predominant themes of this complex and challenging work, which is racism and the way in which, even after slavery is officially abolished, racism still is very much a ever-present reality that determines so much of our relations with those around us. Miss Rosa reveals herself to be in this quote nothing more than a product of her society in the way that she thinks of herself and of black people such as Clytie, who obviously receives the full force of her scorn and superiority in this remembered incident.

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