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Absolution Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Absolution” begins with Rudolph Miller’s visit to Father Schwartz’s room to reveal to the priest a terrible sin that Rudolph has committed and that is retold along with the events following it in a flashback. One Saturday afternoon Rudolph’s father, a devout Catholic, orders him to go to confession. In the confessional, Rudolph recites to Father Schwartz a list of minor sins, reflecting his romantic, imaginative nature as when he says that he believed he was too good to be the real son of his parents. He also tells the priest that he never lies, which is itself a lie. Rudolph does not realize this until his confession is nearly over and he is unable to confess this sin before the priest closes the confessional slat. Rather than feeling guilty, Ralph takes refuge, as at other times, in daydreams in which he is the debonair Blatchford Sarnemington.

With such a sin on his conscience, Rudolph must avoid going to communion the next day, so he resolves to drink a glass of water “accidentally” before going to church because, under the Catholic law of the time, this prevents him from going to communion. Thus, early Sunday morning he sneaks into his kitchen to drink a glass of water and lend his story verisimilitude, when he is surprised by his father, Carl, just before he can put the glass to his lips. Seeing Rudolph about to disregard a religious injunction for no apparent reason, Carl verbally abuses his son and then beats him as punishment for defiantly throwing the glass into the sink. This is not an uncommon occurrence between the frustrated Carl and his willful son.

As they enter the church, Carl forces Rudolph to go to confession for his offense that morning, thus providing Rudolph with the opportunity to confess to lying so that he can go to communion with an easy conscience. Instead, Rudolph enters the confessional and lies a second time. This deliberate violation of religious practice marks a turning point in Rudolph’s life: “The pressure of his environment had driven him into the lonely secret road of adolescence.” A greater self-confidence enters him and he begins to recognize his own daydreams and ambitions. Ironically, Carl, seeing his son come back from confession, begins to regret his anger...

(The entire section is 576 words.)