Absalom, Absalom!: Novel Summary: Chapter 9
This is the last chapter in the book, and Quentin and Shreve still seem to be talking about the Sutpen family, though they really have only one thing left to talk about-what Quentin saw in the Sutpen house in September 1909, and what happened in December of 1909.
In this chapter, Shreve asks a few direct questions about the South, and Quentin really starts to squirm, because of his mixed feelings about it. Shreve asks Quentin if he understands the general attitude in the South toward the "lost cause," and he eventually admits that he doesn't.
Quentin begins to remember his visit, in the middle of the night, to the Sutpen house, with Rosa. Quentin easily opens the shutters over a window and finds that there is no glass in the window, so he steps into the house and goes to the door to let Rosa in. Before he opens the door, Clytie strikes a match behind him. He lets Rosa in, and she goes for the stairs. Clytie tells Quentin not to let her go up there, and then tells Rosa not to go up there. Clytie tries to stop Rosa, and Rosa punches her and knocks her down. Quentin helps Clytie up, and she asks who he is. She says she remembers his grandfather. Clytie asks Quentin to get Rosa to come down. He sees Jim Bond in the hallway, and Rosa returns quickly and passes Quentin on her way out. Jim Bond helps her out to her buggy, and Quentin goes upstairs to find out for himself what is hiding in the house. He finds Henry Sutpen, asks him his name, why he has come back, and how long he has been there. Quentin takes Rosa home.
Then the chapter skips ahead to the second visit in December, when Rosa has decided to bring Henry to her house where she and the town doctors can take care of him. She brings an ambulance with her this time, and Clytie seems to be watching for her. Clytie sets fire to the house when she sees the ambulance approaching, assuming that Rosa had brought the police to arrest Henry for murdering Bon. The fire spreads quickly while the ambulance approaches, unable to get there fast enough to stop the fire or get Henry out. They open the door and find the entire staircase on fire. Rosa has to be restrained by the police to keep her from running into the fire.
Clytie and Henry die in the fire, and Jim Bond, screaming at the sight of the death of Clytie and the burning of the house, evades capture. Rosa is brought back to town in the ambulance, and eventually dies.
Quentin reads the rest of his father's letter about Rosa's death, and Mr. Compson expresses hope that Rosa will have a chance to express her hatred for Sutpen in the afterlife, and her commiseration for Bon. Shreve ends the book with a remark about how the Jim Bonds are going to take over the world, and a famous question to Quentin: "Why do you hate the South?" To which Quentin can only respond with a denial.
The final chapter explains the visit that Rosa wanted to make to the old house, and resolves the ultimate fate of Henry and the Sutpen family, with only the "idiot" Jim Bond left. The burning of the house symbolizes the destruction of the dynasty that Sutpen hoped to establish.
This chapter suggests a problem with the realization that Charles Bon is Sutpen's son. Quentin seems to be the source of this information, and in previous chapters he suggests that he learns this fact on the night of his first visit to the Sutpen house in September of 1909. But it's not clear how or from whom he learns this. Before going upstairs to talk to Henry, one possible source of this information, Quentin calls Jim Bond the heir of the Sutpen house, a comment that would only make sense if he knew that Jim Bond's grandfather, Charles Bon, was Sutpen's son. It is possible that Rosa knew and told Quentin on the ride over, but it would be strange for Rosa to know this and not mention it in her two chapters of discussion about the issue.
Quentin's discomfort under Shreve's scrutiny prefigures his decision to take his own life in Faulkner's earlier book, The Sound and the Fury (in which Quentin drowns himself in June of 1910). Quentin seems to hold Southern women as a precious commodity worth defending, yet he's not sure how to defend them without destroying the South's need to reproduce itself. He sympathizes with Henry very strongly throughout, and he struggles with Charles Bon's decision to try to marry her.