Absalom, Absalom!: Novel Summary: Chapter 3
In this chapter, the dialogue between Quentin and his father continues. Quentin listens to his father talk about Rosa Coldfield's role in the Sutpen family story.
The chapter begins with the circumstances of the long separation between Rosa and her older sister Ellen. When Rosa is born in 1845, her sister Ellen is already 28 years old, married to Sutpen, and has two children. Rosa's niece, Judith, and nephew, Henry, are older than she. Rosa's mother dies in childbirth, and she is raised by her aunt, who lives with Mr. Coldfield.
Mr. Compson reveals to Quentin that Clytemnestra (or Clytie) was also Sutpen's child, and living at Sutpen's house since before his marriage to Ellen. Mr. Compson also describes the strange family visits between Ellen and her children and the Coldfield house, with the young Rosa and her aunt and father.
In this chapter, Mr. Compson also reveals that Rosa's aunt climbed out a window one night to elope with a man that Coldfield did not approve of, and that Rosa began taking care of herself at that point. Mr. Compson also mentions that Coldfield despised the war and anyone associated with it, and that he withdrew into his attic to hide from it and from the draft, choosing to starve himself by eventually refusing to eat the food that Rosa brought him.
Mr. Compson eventually turns his focus away from the Coldfield family and back to Sutpen. He mentions that Sutpen was away on business for six months after his first meeting with Charles Bon, and Mr. Compson says that Sutpen went to New Orleans, the city where Bon was from. He describes how Sutpen must have looked at about this time, a wealthy and successful planter who was not popular among the people of his county but who was respected.
Mr. Compson also talks at length about Ellen's behavior in the period before the war, when Sutpen was at his height of success, and when her daughter was engaged to marry Charles Bon. He mentions that Rosa tried to sew garments for her niece's wedding, but that she lacked skill and material, though she was apparently able to steal from her father's store. He talks about Rosa's inability to watch Sutpen and Colonel Sartoris lead a regiment off to the war in 1861 because her father forbade it, and he mentions what Sutpen looked like at that point in his life. He mentions that Rosa was a prolific poet, and that she often wrote about Confederate war heroes.
Mr. Compson finishes this chapter with a brief mention of Sutpen's return to a plantation where the slaves had all run away, and his wife had died. He speculates about Rosa's eventual reasons for moving to Sutpen's house, and he ends the chapter with the image of Wash Jones, the poor man who had squatted on Sutpen's property for a decade and helped feed Judith and Clytie during the war, riding up to Rosa's now-empty house and asking for her.
This chapter is a more general overview of the bulk of the plot than the first chapter, and Compson covers a lot of ground in a kind of scattered, casual way. He reveals, for example, that Rosa's father starves to death in his attic, and then moves into another topic. He later returns to explain the reasons behind Coldfield's choice.
More than in the previous chapter, this chapter shows Mr. Compson's biases. While he seems willing and able to appreciate some of the struggles of the women that he talks about, Compson quickly judges and patronizes women with several remarks about women in general, such as his remark about "brigandage." It is clear, too, that he doesn't know all of the answers, or that he isn't completely sure about some of his explanations for events. He's not sure, for example, exactly what finally convinces Rosa to move out to Sutpen's Hundred.
In this chapter, Faulkner encourages his reader to notice (again, but now more deeply) how the narrator (Mr. Compson) is making educated guesses about what happened, not stating plain facts. While his speculations are convincing, the rest of the book will begin to argue with the way that Mr. Compson interprets this family history, and Faulkner sows the seeds of doubt in this chapter that will bear fruit later in the book. In other words, Quentin and Shreve will disagree with Mr. Compson about the reasons that Henry kills Bon, and Rosa will disagree with Mr. Compson about her reasons for moving to Sutpen's Hundred.