Absalom Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


Absalom, Absalom!: Novel Summary: Chapter 2

Average Overall Rating: 5
Total Votes: 143


This chapter is the first of three that represent Quentin's father's (Jason Compson III, son of General Compson, Sutpen's contemporary and friend) account of Sutpen's family history. At the beginning of the chapter, it appears that Quentin has returned from his visit with Rosa Coldfield and is waiting for the appropriate hour to accompany her to the old Sutpen house.

The chapter begins with a mostly objective and third-person representation of Sutpen's arrival in Yoknapatawpha. About halfway through the chapter, the paragraphs begin with quotation marks and are attributed to Mr. Compson. The style of this chapter slowly changes from a more general, objective style, to something that clearly represents Mr. Compson's way of explaining.

Quentin and Mr. Compson begin with Sutpen's arrival in Jefferson (the largest city in Yoknapatawpha). Sutpen rides into the town a complete stranger, and no one is able to get him to explain his history. Sutpen stays at a local boarding house (Holston House) in Jefferson, and he doesn't spend any time getting to know the people or making friends. After about a month of this, the town finds out that he has registered a large land purchase (100 square miles) with the Chickasaw Indian agent.

Sutpen disappears for two months, then comes back to town in a wagon full of wild-looking slaves, with a French architect. They begin to build his new house on his property. Groups of men from the town assemble and ride out to his property to watch him work with his architect and his slaves. Here, Sutpen's slaves begin to develop a reputation as especially murderous and like "wild men."

As the house takes shape, Sutpen starts inviting the men to camp on his property, offering them hunting and fishing. He also offers them entertainment, having his slaves fight each other, and sometimes entering the ring himself. Here General Compson (Quentin's grandfather, not technically a general yet) begins to make friends with Sutpen, loaning him seed cotton to begin his cotton planting.

When the house is close to being finished, Sutpen enters the Methodist church in Jefferson, and picks out Ellen Coldfield as the woman he would like to be his wife. The hunting parties stop immediately, and Sutpen is seen visiting Mr. Coldfield's store. Shortly after this change, Sutpen disappears again for a few months, and with wagons that Coldfield had paid for, brings back a huge amount of expensive furnishings for his house (furniture, curtains, rugs, chandeliers, etc.).

The town is convinced that Sutpen has stolen these items. A few men, with the sheriff, ride out to his property to arrest him. After a few sheepish failures to confront him, Sutpen is arrested after he has become engaged to Ellen and is walking out of her house. Mr. Coldfield posts Sutpen's bond, and he gets out of jail the same morning. Here, Mr. Compson has taken over the narrative, and he comments how Sutpen is "underbred" because of the false way that he salutes the men who are watching him enter Coldfield's house.

Two months later, Sutpen and Ellen Coldfield are married in the Methodist church in Jefferson. Ellen's aunt had gone house to house in Jefferson, trying to encourage people to come to the wedding. Only ten people come to the wedding itself, but a crowd gathers outside the church. When Sutpen and Ellen emerge after the ceremony, they are pelted with clods of dirt and vegetables. It doesn't last long, and Ellen is not hit. But the chapter ends (or, Mr. Compson ends the chapter) with Ellen crying.

This chapter is a shift in tone and style, and the gradual change into Mr. Compson's voice is almost imperceptible. His judgments of the people of Jefferson start to creep into the story at this point, though, such as his disdain for the townspeople trying to arrest Sutpen, or his comparison of the day laborers and other non-landowning people to rats.

This chapter, like the first chapter, encourages or teaches the reader to watch the teller, or notice the way that the speaker (in this case, either Quentin's memory of his father's story or Quentin's father directly) shows his attitudes in the telling of the tale. It seems like Mr. Compson admires Sutpen. This admiration shows in the way that he describes Sutpen's treatment by the so-called Vigilance Committee, which seems afraid to arrest him until they outnumber him fifty to one.


Quotes: Search by Author