Absalom, Absalom Essay, Research Paper
The South in the nineteenth century gave an image of wealth, prosperity, and class. This however was an image, not a way of life. The road to this kind of life was one of betrayal, determination, hatred, etc. The South wanted ownership, it wanted something that it could touch and feel, not something that it could experience. This way of life is best portrayed by William Faulkner in Absalom, Absalom. This kind of life is desired by many people at some level, to show that a person has achieved. People need to have something to demonstrate to the public that they have accomplished their ‘dream.’ In , Thomas Sutpen is just like any other human being with a dream. He wishes to achieve the greatest goal, wealth. His way of getting to his dream is filled with innocence, yet he kills the dreams of others along the way. Thomas Sutpen did not realize what he was doing to his own future by trying to construct his dynasty. Thomas Sutpen’s determination, betrayal , and innocence causes his final downfall. William Faulkner proves to the reader that our future is ultimately doomed as a society if we do not realize the mistakes we make; and in an attempt to fix them, mend the wounds we have created. These mistakes, both large and small, are what will ultimately foretell our future.
Where did Thomas Sutpen’s desire for wealth originate from? From the moment after he was forced to feel unwanted by those of his ‘kind.’ After that single moment in Sutpen’s entire life he decided that he could no longer be what other people looked down upon. From now on he would be the one to protect and save those who were less fortunate. “…he would take that boy in where he would never again need to stand on the outside of a white door and knock at it; and not at all for mere shelter but so that boy…could shut himself forever behind him on all that he had…(210Faulkner)” Thomas Sutpen did not want another person to be put through the same pain and humiliation that he was on that day. By protecting others he would be recreating the day when he was just a boy. The others that he saved would be replicas of himself at that age. Thomas Sutpen was rejected on the day that he arrived at the house by not only by the owners, but by society. He realized that he was not on a level with the others, as many of us do at a young age, he was lower than the slaves. Young Sutpen couldn’t stand this humiliation, and in order to remain sane, he created this dream. This was what kept Sutpen going, in good times and in bad. Sutpen has a long journey to his material successes and along the way had to only remember his childhood traumas to keep going. However, his determination to reach this hierarchy caused the loves and lives of the many others that surrounded him, to fail.
The first person that we are introduced to in this book, is Rosa. We can immediately conclude that with her appearance and tone, she did not have a very happy life. Her point in telling this story is to incriminate the already deceased Sutpen. Her ability to live on hatred alone is surprising, however, nothing is impossible. Rosa’s sister and love were taken away by Sutpen’s hopes and dreams. Rosa slowly begins to see and understand Sutpen’s plans, and when she realizes what it is he has done, Rosa has no one. Ellen, after marrying Sutpen, realizes that the marriage was never out of true love, or need for her love. This marriage was to based on offspring. Ellen could have run away, but she would have been penniless away from her family, so she stayed with Sutpen and lived the life of a rich Southern woman. When Ellen’s father asks Ellen if she loved Sutpen, she could only say her father’s name and look at him. Ellen truly believed that she loved Sutpen, and Mr. Coldfield could not protect his daughter from the doom she was about to encounter. Her innocence of Thomas Sutpen and his initiatives was pure. It wasn’t until after the birth of Judith that she realized how unhappy she really was, and how unhappy he could make her. But the South created such an establishment of marriage that she could do nothing but accept her tainted marriage. Henry and Charles are two very significant characters, although different, little do they realize that they have a very much in common, Sutpen. All Henry ever wanted was Charles’ love and Charles wanted the recognition from his father that he was, in fact, his son. However, Sutpen could not recognize Charles as a son, because this would bring him levels down on his own scale. This left Charles fatherless and confused. He wanted a life with this man, when he could not realize that Sutpen wanted to be as far from Charles and Eulalia, as he could be. This brings us to Henry. Henry wanted acceptance and love from Charles because he was wealthy, well educated, and was going to marry Judith. Henry wanted nothing more than to live through this man. Charles would have all the things that Henry wanted, but he could not live to do all these things. After Sutpen relays the information of Charles being part Negro and his son, Henry realizes that he must destroy Charles. He kills him, partially in his loyalty to his father, and partly for his love for Judith. Through this, Sutpen destroys his own dynasty. He has driven one son to madness, the other son to his death, and his only daughter now is a widower. Thomas Sutpen will have no dynasty. Through these years of betrayal, lives are lost, and a family is torn apart. Yet through it all, Thomas Sutpen never realizes the mistakes that he made.
Innocence. This is not a word that many would connect with Thomas Sutpen or his actions. No, not immediately, however if we look at the core of the failure of his family, it is easier to understand how a man like Thomas Sutpen could, in fact, be innocent. From the start, Thomas Sutpen’s goals were not far off from many others at that period in time. He did not want to hurt any person that loved him, he only wanted to achieve his goal. “His trouble was innocence. All of a sudden he discovered, not what he wanted to do but what he just had to do, had to do it whether he wanted to or not, because if he did not do it he knew that he could never live with himself for the rest of his life…(178Faulkner)” However, being so set on his goal, he ignored any problems that had to do with his personal life. In fact, Thomas Sutpen never did have a personal life, he only did things for show. Marrying. Having children, slaves etc. Every act that he ever committed was for the future of his plantation and for his dynasty. It was never for those who cared for him. Sutpen did not realize that a child’s love is natural and cannot be removed. He never realized that someone could love him so much. So, he did not know how to deal with these problems and pushed them aside with money or his power. In order to fix a problem and make the situation better, the mistake must first be recognized and then fixed. If it is not realized them there is no true solution and the problem will still exist.
Some of the mistakes we create along the course of our lives are innocent and some are not. Thomas Sutpen did not see the downfall of his dynasty coming, because he never realized that he made any mistakes. Sutpen longed for the life that he could never truly have. In order to enjoy the finer things that he had always wanted, he needed to enjoy them with someone. When he finally achieved a goal, he only wanted more. Sutpen never truly appreciated what it was he had. He was never a happy man. He dug deeper and deeper to find what we wanted on and in this earth, until one day he had dug a hole so deep that it began to cave in. The mistakes that he made stayed unrecognized until the end, and then even he did not notice them. Faulkner tried through telling Sutpen’s life, to demonstrate to us that by not taking responsibility in the mistakes we make, and not recognizing that they’re there, we will be doomed as a society. We are in fact digging our own graves. Until we can be responsible and caring, as a society, one by one we will destroy ourselves.