Student Question

What is the theme of "Absalom, Absalom!"?

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Absalom, Absalom! is a novel about the burden of history. Stating the purpose of the novel this way certainly simplifies the complex work somewhat, yet this theme is clearly the anchor of the text.

All of the central characters, including Quentin Compson, are burdened by history in this text.

  • Sutpen seeks to create himself anew and to sever himself from all history. It is his personal history that catches up with him to ruin his grandiose plans for establishing a family name and a legacy.
  • Charles Bon is set upon the goal of either discovering his identity or punishing his father, Sutpen, after Sutpen abandoned he and his mother.
  • Quentin, like all the story tellers, cannot extricate himself from the story being told. They are all implicated by the story of the rise and fall of Sutpen. The story claims Quentin to the point where he has to go to the mansion.

In all of these story-lines, we have one connecting theme which can be called the “burden of history”.

If you are looking for a more plot oriented answer as to what this book is about, Absalom, Absalom! is about a man, Sutpen, who emerges onto the southern scene hell-bent on carving a legacy out of a 100 acre plantation. He has two children, one a boy who meets his half brother in the Civil War (surprise), and one a girl, who becomes engaged to that same half-brother.

In order to stop the marriage, Sutpen’s son Henry kills the half-brother Charles. The murder is committed either to stop incest or to stop miscegeny, both of would be the outcome of the marriage.

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