Absalom, Absalom!: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. Out of quiet thunderclap he would abrupt (man-horse-demon) upon a scene peaceful and decorous as a schoolprize water color, faint sulphur-reek still in hair clothes and beard, with grouped behind him his band of wild niggers like beasts half tamed to walk upright like men, in attitudes wild and reposed, and manacled among them the French architect with his air grim, haggard, and tatter-ran. Immobile, bearded, and hand palm-uplifted the horseman sat; behind him the wild blacks and the captive architect huddled quietly, carrying in bloodless paradox the shovels and picks and axes of peaceful conquest. Then in the long unamaze Quentin seemed to watch them overrun suddenly the hundred square miles of tranquil and astonished earth and drag house and formal gardens violently out of the soundless Nothing and clap them down like cards upon a table beneath the up-palm immobile and pontific, creating Sutpen's Hundred, the Be Sutpen's Hundred like the oldentime Be Light. (p. 4)

    Quentin recalling the legend of Thomas Sutpen's arrival in Yoknapatawpha County.

  2. Then hearing would reconcile and he would seem to listen to two separate Quentin's now - the Quentin Compson preparing for Harvard in the South, the deep South dead since 1865 and peopled with garrulous outraged baffled ghosts, listening, having to listen, to one of the ghosts which had refused to lie still even longer than most had, telling him about old ghost-times; and the Quentin Compson who was still too young to deserve yet to be a ghost but nevertheless having to be one for all that, since he was born and bred in the deep South the same as she was. . . (pp. 4-5)

    Quentin thinking about the effects of the Civil War on early 20th century Southern culture.

  3. Oh he was brave. I have never gainsaid that. But that our cause, our very life and future hopes and past pride, should have been thrown into the balance with men like that to buttress it - men with valor and strength but without pity or honor. Is it any wonder that Heaven saw fit to let us lose? (p. 13)

    Rosa talking about Sutpen's character and why his flaws might be related to larger Southern cultural flaws.

  4. He lived out there, eight miles from any neighbor, in masculine solitude in what might be called the halfacre gunroom of a baronial splendor. He lived in the spartan shell of the largest edifice in the county, not excepting the courthouse itself, whose threshold no woman had so much as seen, without any feminised softness of window pane or door or mattress. . .(p. 30)

    Mr. Compson talking about Sutpen's arrival in Yoknapatawpha and the facts that spawned the legend that Quentin mentioned early in the book.

  5. Tell about the South. What's it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all. . .(p. 142)

    Quentin generalizing about frequent questions he gets about the South at Harvard.

  6. and how on the eighth night the water gave out and something had to be done so he put the musket down and went out and subdued them. That was how he told it: he went out and subdued them, and when he returned he and the girl became engaged to marry and Grandfather saying 'Wait wait' sure enough now, saying, 'But you didn't even know her; you told me that when the siege began you didn't even know her name' and he looked at Grandfather and said, 'Yes. But you see, it took me some time to recover.' Not how he did it. He didn't tell that either, that of no moment to the story either; he just put the musket down and had someone unbar the door and then bar it behind him, and walked out into the darkness and subdued them. . .(p. 204)

    General Compson listening to Thomas Sutpen talk about his experience in Haiti, and the way that he single-handedly halted a slave rebellion.

  7. You see, I had a design in my mind. Whether it was a good or a bad design is beside the point; the question is, Where did I make the mistake in it, what did I do or misdo in it, whom or what injure by it to the extent which this would indicate. I had a design. To accomplish it I should require money, a house, a plantation, slaves, a family - incidentally of course, a wife. I set out to acquire these, asking no favor of any man. (p. 212)

    Sutpen explaining his simple, innocent design to General Compson.

  8. "What is it? something you live and breathe in like air? a kind of vacuum filled with wraithlike and indomitable anger and pride and glory at and in happenings that occurred and ceased fifty years ago? a kind of entailed birthright father and son and father and son of never forgiving General Sherman, so that forever more as long as your children produce children you wont be anything but a descendant of a long line of colonels killed in Pickett's charge at Manassas?"
    "Gettysburg," Quentin said. "You cant understand it. You would have to be born there."
    "Would I then?" Quentin did not answer. "Do you understand it?"
    "I dont know," Quentin said. "Yes, of course I understand it." They breathed in the darkness. After a moment Quentin said: "I dont know." (p. 289)

    Late in the book, Shreve and Quentin talking about the strange cultural differences in the South that partly result from the burden of history and losing the Civil War.

  9. "The South," Shreve said. "The South. Jesus. No wonder you folks all outlive yourselves by years and years and years." It was becoming quite distinct; he would be able to decipher the words soon, in a moment; even almost now, now, now.
    "I am older at twenty than a lot of people who have died," Quentin said.
    "And more people have died than have been twenty-one," Shreve said.(p. 301)

    Quentin and Shreve talking about the South again, and Shreve acknowledging some of the burdens of history that Southerners seem to carry, while reminding Quentin of other historical burdens.

  10. "Now I want you to tell me just one thing more. Why do you hate the South?"
    "I dont hate it," Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; "I dont hate it," he said. I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it! (p. 303)

    Quentin and Shreve talking at the end of the book about Quentin's complex relationship with the South, and Quentin's inability to come to terms with his ambivalence about it.

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