Absalom Essay, Research Paper
Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner is the story of a man who outraged the land that then turned and destroyed the man?s family (Serafin 356). Growing up as a poor mountain white, Thomas Sutpen yearns for more than what he has ever had. He marries a young woman and fathers a son, but soon after it is revealed to him that his wife has Negro blood. Abandoning his new wife and child, Sutpen leaves to create a life for himself of wealth, family, and social acceptance. Thomas Sutpen marries a gentlewoman, Ellen Coldfield, with whom he begets two children, Henry and Judith. Although he is a man of accomplished dreams and affluence, everything that he has achieved and established crumbles around him (Magill, Magill?s Survey of American Literature 675). The events transcend into a twisted plot of revelation, revenge, and murder. When Henry goes off to college, he becomes good friends with Charles Bon, the first son of Thomas. Charles meets and then falls in love with his half-sister Judith, which causes Henry to kill him because he is committing incest. As a result of this incestuous relationship and murder, the fabulous life that Sutpen has worked to maintain is torn apart by the revengeful attitudes of the family members. William Faulkner?s novel Absalom, Absalom! contains an allusion to the Biblical account of King David and his family and to William Shakespeare?s play Hamlet in order to develop the characters in the conflicts that revolve around four thematic ideas.
Faulkner?s allusion to the Bible and Hamlet allows for the development and shaping of the characters in Absalom, Absalom! (Brooks 51). In the novel, there is a similarity between the lives and the characters of Thomas Sutpen and Charles Bon and King David and his son Amnon. A comparison is made between Thomas and King David as well as between Charles and Amnon (Vogel 69). With the description of and the reference to King David, Thomas Sutpen?s character qualities are clearly seen and understood. Both of these men have had one of their sons killed by another son because of an incestuous relationship that have been partaken in. The first son of Thomas Sutpen is Charles Bon and he is likened unto Amnon the son of King David (Lind 888). Through feelings, actions, and even death, the two men are closely related. The story of Hamlet is used as an allusion to the character of Henry Sutpen as well as Thomas Sutpen. Because of the instability of Henry and psychological forces that drive Thomas, they are likened unto the character of Hamlet. The novel Absalom, Absalom! alludes to a particular story in the Bible and the play Hamlet in order to descriptively develop the characters.
There are detailed parallels between the character of King David in the Bible and Thomas Sutpen in the novel, which allows for the development of Thomas Sutpen?s character. Like David, Sutpen is overwhelmed by his preoccupation with the crime of incest (Gray 255). Because of his desire to be with his half-sister in an incestuous relationship, Charles Bon, a son of Thomas Sutpen, is killed by his half-brother Henry Sutpen. The comparison between King David and Thomas Sutpen is that they both mourned over the murder of their one son by another son and over the idea of an incestuous relationship among their children. Although he has committed his own unethical deeds, he is still grieved at the thought of incest. Sutpen is also characterized as a worthy soldier just as David is noted as being a great and mighty soldier (Magill, Magill?s Survey of American Literature 676). During the Civil War, Sutpen is an elected commander of a specific group of men. The two men are likened unto one another because of their ability to kill many foes and enemies. Another way in which Thomas and David are compared is that they are both alienated from their particular society because of their previous actions, although their actions are different from each other (Scholes 197). King David has an affair with Bathsheba, a married woman, and Sutpen mocks Southern society by achieving his quick development of a plantation and his aristocratic social ranking that tradition says should be passed down from generation to generation (Serafin 353). These events that have taken place in the lives of David and Sutpen have caused them to be the ?outcastes? of society. By alluding to the Biblical story of King David, Faulkner is better able to characterize Thomas Sutpen.
Another way that Faulkner uses the Biblical allusion is to portray the life of Charles Bon by comparing him to Amnon. Charles Bon?s life is likened to that of Amnon in the Bible in their relationships with their brother and sister. The relationships that they hold with their brother and sister are not pure nor are they loving. In comparison to Amnon, Charles is a man who is possessed by his incestuous feelings towards his half-sister Judith. Amnon also felt romantic feelings or lust towards his half-sister Tamar and he eventually acted on these feelings. After falling in love with his half-sister, Charles is killed by his half-brother Henry in order to prevent their incestuous union through marriage (Martine 294). Amnon is killed also by Absalom, his half-brother, because of the dishonor that he has brought upon Tamar and his father?s house. Through the death of Charles Bon, the Biblical admonition so relevant to the novel, ?A house divided against itself cannot stand,? is dramatized (Magill, Magill?s Survey of American Literature 675). This Biblical warning is proved true in the house of Thomas Sutpen as his family becomes divided against one another. Just as Amnon is killed by his brother in the Bible, Bon is killed by Henry because of his feelings towards his sister. Faulkner alludes to the Bible?s Amnon in depicting the life of Charles Bon.
The story of Thomas Sutpen alludes to the classical play Hamlet by William Shakespeare in order to develop the character of Henry Sutpen. One of the narrators, Quentin Compson, portrays Henry Sutpen as Hamlet-like because he is unstable. There are many aspects in the novel that show the fact that Henry is not a man of stability. It seems as if Henry is not only concerned about his sister?s incestuous relationship but also that it is a bit of an abnormal obsession for him (Steinberg 62). Doing all that he can, he makes sure that there is no contact between the two lovers and even goes to the point of stopping any messages that have been sent to Judith from Bon (Faulkner 96). Not only are his attempts to keep the two of these people together considered unstable but the fact that Henry Sutpen is a murderer. He has committed the ultimate taboo against a human being by killing Charles Bon. Instead of just talking it out and making sure that nothing comes between the two, he decides to take care of the situation once and for all and kill Charles Bon. This type of behavior is considered to be quite unstable. Through the allusion to the play Hamlet, the character of Henry Sutpen is developed in a more descriptive and elaborate way.
Like Hamlet, Sutpen is driven by blind psychological forces, in Sutpen?s case it is ambition that controls who he is and who he becomes (Lind 890). This is another example of Faulkner?s use of the allusion to the play Hamlet. In a swift manner driven by ambition, Sutpen establishes a plantation and aristocratic stature that should by rights have been preserved for those in line of succession and birth. One of the minor themes of this story is centered on the ambition that drives Thomas Sutpen to do the things that he is doing. Sutpen is a bitter and demonic figure of fleeing ambition (Marowski and Matuz 111). Having lived his entire life being driven by this fleeing ambition, he is left with nothing but a broken family and the pieces for him to pick up. Thomas Sutpen is seen as a ?demon,? a man so driven by ambition to build a plantation that he destroys everyone close to him (Unger 66). So quickly Sutpen establishes a life that is pleasing to him but as quickly as it is founded it falls and brings down the whole family with it. Having this ambitious drive results in Sutpen?s conforming to society to achieve status rather than being an expression of his own personal beliefs and ideas (Hagopian 211). He sacrifices all that he has for so long longed for just to take a higher rank on the social ladder. The blind psychological force of ambition in Sutpen is his tragic flaw and it eventually leads to the destruction of him. By alluding to Shakespeare?s play Hamlet, Faulkner gives an in depth description of the character of Thomas Sutpen.
Not only does Faulkner use a Biblical allusion and an allusion to Hamlet to develop the characters, but he also uses the Biblical allusion to amplify the conflicts in the novel. As in the Biblical story of King David, Absalom, Absalom! contains conflicts between a majority of the family members in the households. The three main conflicts revolving around the family are with father against son, brother against brother, and brother versus sister (Hagan 216). These same three conflicts can also be found in the Biblical family of King David. Having raped his half-sister, Amnon has provoked anger from his father and is killed by his half-brother Absalom. This chain of events from the Biblical story contains three conflicts just as Faulkner?s story does. By falling in love with his half-sister, Charles causes utter disgust and distaste in his father and is also killed by his half-brother. The father versus son conflict is seen through Thomas?s disapproval of the relationship between Charles and Judith. As a result of Charles? incestuous love for his half-sister, Henry, the half-brother of Bon, kills him; this is the brother versus brother conflict in the story (Martine 294). The last conflict with Biblical allusion is the conflict between brother and sister. With this conflict, the reader sees the incestuous love between Bon and Judith. These are the three conflicts in this novel that are elaborated on through the allusion to the Biblical story of King David and his family.
Throughout the novel of Absalom, Absalom!, there is a conflict between Thomas Sutpen and his son Charles Bon, which is described through Faulkner?s use of a Biblical allusion. Charles Bon is Thomas Sutpen?s first son who is abandoned with his mother by his father at an early age. When Sutpen first learns that his heir to the family name and goods has Negro-blood in him from his mother, he quickly disengages himself from his family and leaves them to live their lives on their own. The fact that his son is part Negro causes the first conflict between father and son in the story. Eventually, Charles returns to the Sutpen family when he is a roommate of Henry Sutpen’s in college. Henry?s and his friendship results in his meeting his half-sister and wanting to be with her. Because Charles wants to marry his own sister, he begins to have another conflict with the father that he has just gotten back in contact with (Lind 892). It would be neither proper nor appropriate for Bon to be married to his sister; therefore, the two men of relations are in mortal conflict over the girl. Through the words of Judith, the girl who the conflict is over, this idea can be seen. She says, ?..something has happened between him [Bon] and my father? (Faulkner 92). In the same way, King David and son Amnon of the Bible conflicted over the idea of an incestuous relationship. One use of the Biblical allusion by Faulkner is to convey the conflict between father and son in this story.
Another significant conflict that is conveyed through the allusion to the Bible is the brother versus brother conflict. Henry Sutpen admires Charles Bon greatly when he rooms with him in college and would be more than delighted to have his good friend and sister in love; however, this feeling vanishes when Henry?s father reveals to him that Charles is his half-brother. From this point and on out Henry does everything that he can to keep Charles and Judith apart without having to mention the kinship between the two. They continue to want to be together and Charles even gets to the point where he proposes to Judith. As a result of this incestuous love for his half-sister, Henry, the half-brother, kills him (Martine 294). This brother killing brother conflict occurs in the Bible also when Absalom kills Amnon, which is why Faulkner alludes to this particular Biblical story. Since Henry is Judith?s brother it is his job to make sure that no dishonor or shame is brought upon her unknowingly. He does all that he can to keep the two of them apart but when all else has failed he ends up killing Charles. With the allusion to the conflict in the Bible story of King David, Faulkner shows the importance of the brotherly conflict in his novel.
In addition to the conflict among the brothers, there is also a conflict between a brother and a sister that is more clearly revealed through the allusion to the Bible (Hagan 216). Judith Sutpen is involved in a conflict that she herself has no idea she is in. Having unknowingly met her half-brother for the first time, she falls in love with him. This is the beginning of an incestuous relationship that will prevail for a time until their father reveals to their brother Henry that Charles is related to them. With the revealing of this knowledge, the two lovers are in a conflict with one another because they love yet they are related. It is not possible for them to continue in their relationship because of the strict monitoring of the two of them by Henry. When Charles puts Judith in this position where she loves her own brother, he begins a conflict between them. He has placed her in an uncomfortable situation that she does not know how to truly deal with. From the time that Charles first begins to like Judith he has caused a conflict to build up between them. Without a doubt, the use of the Biblical allusion by Faulkner conveys the importance of the brother and sister conflict.
Just as Faulkner uses the two allusions to develop his characters and portray the conflicts, he also uses them to embellish the themes that are brought about in the novel. Four of the main themes in this novel are the themes of love, incest, truth, and revenge (Rosenzweig 136). All of these themes are intricately interwoven into the novel and play a significant part in the purpose of the story. Comparing the themes to a particular Bible story and the play Hamlet is easily done and serves to make them stand out even more. The Biblical account of King David and his family centers on a great deal of love and incest just as this novel has love and incest as two of its forbearing themes. With the allusion to Hamlet, the theme of truth is greatly referred to. It is not only the truth that is the theme but more specifically the search for truth. In both stories the main characters are in dire need to know the truth and to act in accordance to the truth. Both of the allusions have the theme of revenge at the center of their stories as a couple of the characters are seeking revenge. Faulkner uses allusions not only for the sake of the development of the characters and conflicts but also for the defining of themes.
The theme of love that is used in the novel is the same type of theme that is found in the Biblical story of King David. The central theme of the story of Sutpen deals with love and the novel defines love as the ?ability to see and to care for another in his own right (Rosenzweig 135). Using love as a theme is a well-developed idea that is central to the whole of the story. More importantly to realize is that the characters in Faulkner?s novel often fail to truly love but instead to lust after what they desire and more often than not this lust leads to the downfall of each character because it is the ultimate cause of evil. In the allusion to King David, the theme of the failure to love can be seen in his beginning relationship with Bathsheba. Instead of first forming a relationship with this woman thus leading to a love relationship, he lusted after her and sought what he wanted. This action is one of the ultimate causes of evil and results in a temporary downfall of his character. Many of the characters in Absalom, Absalom! lust after things, which is a result of their failure to love. For Thomas Sutpen it leads him to the destruction of the family that he sought after and put much time into keeping. He fails to love what he already has which results in his lusting over things that he does not have. Instead of loving the things and people that would in the end give him the fabulous life that he desires, he loves the little things that will turn against him. The significance of the theme of the failure to love is seen through the allusion to the Biblical story of King David.
Another theme that is defined through the Biblical allusion is the theme of incest. So clearly, is this theme portrayed throughout the entire story as a majority of the plot is centered on it (Martine 294). The house of King David in the Bible is corrupted by the act of incest by Amnon?s violation of his half-sister Tamar. From this comes the theme of incest that is so focused upon in Faulkner?s story. Charles Bon enters into a relationship with his half-sister Judith and desires to marry her. However, this is not rendered possible because of the opposition that is bombarding them from their father and brother. Henry Sutpen seems to be obsessed with the possibility of an incestuous union and takes it to the extreme of killing Charles. Overwhelmed by his preoccupation with incest, Thomas Sutpen does not know how to properly deal with this relationship (Gray 255). The theme of incest is revealed through the allusion to the family of King David in the Bible.
Like the play Hamlet, Absalom, Absalom! has at its roots the search for truth, which is one of the themes in the book. The theme of love and truth are actually interspersed because love comes from the heart and the heart is the holder of truth (Magill, Critical Survey of Long Fiction 1104). In the Shakespearean play, Hamlet is searching for the truth of who has murdered his father. His search for this knowledge is what the entire story is about. Just as Hamlet searches for the truth of his father?s death, Henry searches for the truth of whether or not Charles Bon really is his half-brother. Thomas Sutpen tells Henry that Charles is his half-brother but at first he does not believe him. Often times in the novel though, the theme of the search for truth is intertwined with the failure to know the truth. It appears that the failure to know the truth is a result of the overbearing ego that imposes and projects upon everything outside itself (Rosenzweig 136). Not wanting to believe that he has not realized that Charles is his brother, Henry does not believe his father. Instead he goes to search for what the truth is and in the end he finds it. As a result of the use of an allusion to Shakespeare?s Hamlet, the theme of the search for truth is evident throughout the novel.
In addition to the other themes, the theme of revenge is enhanced by the allusion made to both the Bible and Hamlet. Both Absalom and Hamlet seek revenge for the wrongdoings that have been committed against their family members. This novel is also about revenge that asserts the necessity for responsibility in human affairs (Marowski and Matuz 104). For part of Charles Bon?s life and his mother?s life also, they have been waiting to seek revenge on Thomas Sutpen because he has abandoned them. The time finally comes for Charles to seek revenge when he takes part in an incestuous relationship with Sutpen?s daughter Judith. Not only can he disgrace the family, but also he can and does take part in the downfall of Sutpen. Henry Sutpen also seeks revenge for the relationship that has developed between Charles and Judith. Realizing that the two lovers are related, he immediately puts the relationship to an end and kills Charles for knowingly doing it. Revenge is very evident in this novel as a majority of the characters are seeking it for one reason or the other. Through the allusion to the Biblical story of Absalom and the play Hamlet, Faulkner allows the theme of revenge to be dominant in the story and easy to comprehend.
In the novel Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner?s characters are developed by his allusions to the Bible and the classical play Hamlet by William Shakespeare, which aids in portraying the conflicts and defining the central themes. By alluding to both the Biblical story of King David and the play Hamlet, Faulkner enhances the quality of his character?s personality and the events that take place in their lives. Thomas Sutpen?s character is greatly expanded as a result of the detailed parallels to King David. Along with Sutpen, the character of Charles Bon is expounded upon because of his likeness to Amnon, King David?s son. Henry Sutpen and Thomas Sutpen are given an in depth description through the comparison between themselves and Hamlet. Their characters represent instability and blind psychological forces. Directly related to the conflicts found in the Biblical account of King David and his family are those conflicts in Faulkner?s novel. Family members are no longer treated as family as they turn against each other in a series of events. Moreover, the two allusions are also used to make the thematic ideas stand out throughout the novel. These ideas are the failure of love, the search for truth, and the need to seek revenge on those who have done wrong in the eyes of the characters. Through the allusions of the Bible and Shakespeare?s Hamlet, Faulkner?s novel Absalom, Absalom! is much better portrayed and easier to comprehend.