Student Question

In Absalom, Absalom!, how does Mr. Compson's perception of Thomas Sutpen change?

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What is so interesting about this complex classic from Faulkner is the way in which the life of Thomas Sutpen is told from the perspective of a number of different characters. Their retelling of Sutpen's story thus reveals more of the life of this tragic individual whilst at the same time allowing us as a reader to explore more thoroughly the character of the narrators.

This is particularly true with Mr. Compson, Quentin's father, who tells us part of this story. We see the way in which he takes his own views of the world and imposes them on the narrative of Thomas Sutpen. The way in which he narrates the story shows his cynicism and determinism. He is a character who greatly admires Sutpen and sees a lot in him to be respected. However, he also finds a kind of grim satisfaction in the way that Sutpen meets his tragic end. For, Compson argues, if such an individual as Sutpen who is so valiant and industrious can meet with such failure, then his pessimistic view of life is completely justified. Sutpen's story is therefore used as proof of the fact that our lives are ruled by forces beyond our control. Compson's admiration for Sutpen is therefore replaced by pity and sadness, as Sutpen becomes an example of the impersonal forces that control our lives, leaving little or no room for us to control them.

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