Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!: An Innovative Narrative Technique
Guilt should be viewed through the eyes of more than one person, southern or otherwise. William Faulkner filters the story, Absalom, Absalom!, through several minds providing the reader with a dilution of its representation. Miss Rosa, frustrated, lonely, mad, is unable to answer her own questions concerning Sutpen's motivation. Mr. Compson sees much of the evil and the illusion of romanticism of the evil that turned Southern ladies into ghosts. Charles Bon and Henry Sutpen are evaluated for their motives through Quentin Compson and Shreve McCannon. Quentin attempt to evade his awareness, Shreve the outsider (with Quentin's help) reconstructs the story and understands the meaning of Thomas Sutpen's life. In the novel Absalom, Absalom!, a multiple consciousness technique is used to reassess the process of historical reconstruction by the narrators.
Chapter one is the scene in which Miss Rosa tells Quentin about the early days in Sutpen's life. It's here that Rosa explains to Quentin why she wanted to visit old mansion on this day. She is the one narrator that is unable to view Sutpen objectively. The first chapter serves as merely an introduction to the history of Sutpen based on what Miss Rosa heard as a child and her brief personal experiences.
The narration of Absalom, Absalom!, can be considered a coded activity. Faulkner creates the complex narration beginning at chapter 2. It ironic that one of Faulkner's greatest novels is one in which the author only appears as the teller of the story in one brief section; The details of the hero's arrival, Thomas Sutpen, into Jefferson in chapter 2. Although Faulkner sets the scene up in each section (The omniscient narrator), most of the novel is delivered through a continual flow of talk via the narrators.
Quentin appears to think the material for the first half of the chapter 2. The narrator, throughout the novel, works as a historian. The narrators seem to act like a model for readers. The narrator actually teaches the reader how to participate in the historical recollection of Absalom Absalom! The narrator also introduces the reader to things to come. The complexity of the novel involves more than just reading the novel. The reader must become an objective learner as to the history of Mr. Sutpen.
Mr. Compson's section of chapter two (43-58) contains words like " perhaps" and "doubtless." For example: Compson speculates that Mr. Coldfield's motivation for a small wedding was "perhaps" parsimony or "perhaps" due to the community's attitude toward his prospective son-in-law (50). The aunt's " doubtless": did not forgive Sutpen for not having a past and looked at the public wedding "probably" as a way of securing her niece's future as a wife (52). Faulkner uses these qualifiers to heighten the speculative nature of the narrative, so that Compson's engagement in the metahistorical process, rather that Sutpen's history, becomes the primary focus (Connelly 3).
As Mr. Compson continues his presentation of the Sutpen history, Compson begins to explain Sutpen on two very different planes of significance. Sutpen, through the narration of Mr. Compson, becomes the tragic hero and a pragmatist (Duncan 96). After this, Compson switches his approach to one of more personal involvement. The beginning of chapter 4, Faulkner displays this with the use of phrases like "I believe" or "I imagine" Mr. Compson begins to use a more humane approach to the telling of the story. Mr. Compson demands Henry "must have know what his father said was true and could not deny it" (91). Compson make assumptions based on his own conclusions at this time. The words "believe" and "imagine" again reveal for the reader that he/she must make some of their own speculations in order to ascertain some of Sutpen's historical facts.
Mr. Compson is creating his own reconstruction of Sutpen's history....
Cited: York: Chelsea. 1987.
Connelly, Don. "The History and Truth in Absalom, Absalom!" Northwestern
Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! New York: Vintage, 1972
of Texas, 1971.
Rollyson, Carl. "The Re-creation of the Past in Absalom, Absalom!" Mississippi
Quarterly 29 (1976): 361-74
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