Suggested Essay Topics
Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1178
1. Explain how the biblical allusion in the title of the novel Absalom, Absalom! relates to the story.
2. Explore the viewpoint of Miss Rosa’s narration. Is she an objective, disinterested narrator, or is she emotionally involved in the story? How would this effect her narration?
3. Write about a story you know, or an incident from your own life using the many-layered, stream-of-consciousness style that Faulkner uses, breaking the standard rules of grammar.
4. Using the information you have learned so far about the Sutpen clan, describe the family’s strengths and weaknesses, its failures and accomplishments, and how it triumphs and tragedies were shaped by American history.
1. Explain how Faulkner’s technique of telling and then re-telling the Sutpen story in Absalom, Absalom! makes it more realistic as a family myth.
2. Describe the differences and similarities explaining why the slaves that Sutpen owned and the architect he hired were bound to his land. If the slaves fled, what fate would have awaited them? If the architect escaped, what would his fate have been?
3. Sutpen is laying the foundation for the dynasty he dreams of establishing, but we see that its framework is morally rotten. Describe how the brutality underlying Sutpen’s dream parallels the slavery economics upon which Southern agriculture depended before the Civil War.
4. Why would an accomplished author such as William Faulkner purposefully leave out an important detail, such as the reason for Sutpen’s arrest?
1. Describe what happened to Mr. Coldfield and why, if he was a good man before he became wrapped up in Sutpen’s world, why was the good man changed and destroyed by his deal¬ings with the evil man? How would it have been if things had worked out the other way around—if the evil man had been changed by the good man?
2. Follow the transformation of Ellen Sutpen as outlined in this chapter. Why is it tragic?
3. Much of the happiness that people experience in this section will turn out to be ephemeral. Write an essay describing the time shifts and foreshadowings that illuminate what you know so far about the past, the present, and the future of one of Faulkner’s people.
4. Describe Faulkner’s various narrative techniques that he uses in Absalom, Absalom! and their effect on the reader.
1. Racism effects the people who perpetuate it as well as the people against whom it is perpetuated. Describe the various ways in which the book shows racism destroying the lives of the major and minor characters.
2. Having more that one family on more than one side of the so-called color line was not unheard of in the days before the Civil War. Write an essay using the novel and at least one other historical source to describe the social conditions that made such double, secret lives possible.
3. Create your own hypothesis as to why Faulkner would use an unreliable narrator and an incomplete story. What does he achieve by writing in this manner? What does he lose?
4. Describe the emotional and familial relationships between Henry, Judith, and Charles. How are they close? How are they distant? How does this effect the action of Absalom, Absalom!?
1. Discuss the changing relationship of Miss Rosa with Thomas Sutpen. What did she do after he made his second proposal, and why? Is she a reliable narrator or not?
2. Describe the sudden change, at the end of the chapter, from Miss Rosa’s first-person italicized stream-of-consciousness to Faulkner’s omniscient voice. How does it heighten the suspense?
3. Strength and weakness are two great themes of this novel, from characters who starve themselves to death, to men who march off to war to escape trouble at home. Using this section of the book, describe examples of strength and weakness displayed by two of the characters.
4. In this novel, where soldiers go off to war while women stay home and make do with almost nothing, sex roles shape people’s lives very strongly. Write an essay describing the ways in which the novel’s men and women transcend and are limited by their sex-defined roles.
1. Describe the relationship between Charles Etienne, Judith, and Clytie. How are they alike? How are they dissimilar?
2. Why would Faulkner anchor his story in the “most recent present” of a room at Harvard in which two students are having a discussion?
3. Using examples from this section of the book, describe and discuss how Faulkner portrays women. How does he say they are similar or different from men?
4. This book is very much a story about the bonds of kinship and friendship. Using examples from the book, compare and contrast the obligations and responsibilities of kinship and friendship. Which relationships are more important? Which relationships are honored or violated most often in this book?
1. Describe the motivations for Thomas Sutpen’s “grand design” and discuss the reasons for its subsequent failure.
2. During the slavery era in the American South, and after President Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation, poor and dispossessed white people could have made common cause with the black workers who were also in economic peril. Instead, the poor whites identified with the wealthy whites, elevating skin color over economic circumstances. Why? How would history have turned out if poor whites and blacks recognized that they shared common economic interests?
3. When he discovers that his wife has some African ancestry, Sutpen repudiates her. By what logic is some African ancestry enough to make someone black, but some European ancestry is not enough to make someone white? Explain.
4. Describe how the history of the Sutpen clan parallels the history of slavery in the American South.
1. Do you agree with Faulkner’s equation of racism and perversity? Use examples from the novel to illustrate your position.
2. As the story reaches its conclusions, the identities of some of the characters blur and blend. At the same time that Faulkner is making one thing clearer, he is making other aspects of the story less clear. What does the author bring to his work by doing this?
3. Offer an interpretation as to why, as the novel gets clearer and clearer, Quentin is confusing his identity more and more with the other characters.
4. In this section of the book, language is again bent beyond its usual shape. Discuss how Faulkner’s use of the stream-of-consciousness technique carries the story the last few steps toward its conclusion.
1. Absalom, Absalom! ends with the main narrator, Quentin, shouting to himself that he does not hate the South. Do you believe that he hates the South, or do you disagree? Why?
2. Why does Shreve McCannon say that the “Jim Bonds” will inherit the earth?
3. One of the major themes of the book can be described as, what comes around goes around. Discuss whether real life does or does not punish people for their sins the way a rough form of justice is meted out in this book.
4. Using the novel and a biography of the author, write an essay charting the parallels between the lives of the characters and Faulkner’s family.