Building From the Ground

“Supten had built a brick kiln and he had set up the saw and planner which he had brought in the wagon- a capstan with a long sapling walking-beam, with the wagon team and negroes in shifts and himself too when necessary, when the machinery slowed, hitched to it-as if the negroes were wild men; as General Compson told his son, Quentin’s father, while the negroes were working Supten never raised his voice at them, instead he led them, caught them at the psychological instant by example, by some ascendancy of forbearance rather than by brute fear” (pg. 27).

This quote has to do with the construction of everything. The story of everyone’s life Quentin is receiving from Miss Coldfield is building Quentin from nothing just as Supten’s Hundred was built just from the ground. He is a clean slate. He knows nothing about Miss Coldfield’s life or about Supten, Henry, Bon, or Judith, but now that Miss Coldfield has told him everything about her life and the stories of everyone else’s lives he is scarred forever. Or maybe he is not scarred but being transformed into something beautiful that has the past and how everyone’s past intersects of everyone in him. Maybe he can use these new stories to help him in his life as he goes on to live at Harvard. Supten’s Hundred is the setting for almost every main event in this book. The quote and the rest of the passage are really important because it gives the reader a very descriptive view of the mansion. This can be related to every event that occurs there. Every detail going into it has a relation to the crazy lives the Supten’s live.

From the general overview of this quote, this is relating to how Supten built his home by slaves and the hard work given by him when necessary. This shows how he did not feel that he was better than the slaves at all times. The use of the objects such as “brick kiln” and “saw and planner” are interesting because Faulkner didn’t just put objects into the text just to add words. They have to have a meaning. They suggest that their meaning is the tools to make the house and foundation like Miss Coldfield and General Compson are the tools to make Quentin. They both have their stories that they share and create Quentin very meticulously. The kiln, which is used to burn clay to make it hard, could be Miss Coldfield’s past burning into Quentin when she brings him to Wisteria. This settles into him and changes him forever just how the clay is changed forever. The saw and planner could be used to represent how this is cutting into Quentin’s conscience and making him more and more developed as a person and character. These tools are used not just for the surface memory but to cut even deeper into him and leave him with scars of the past to carry with him forever.

Later in the book, there is a problem between Bon and Henry. One big controversy is if Henry shot Bon because he was black or because he was going to marry Judith. In this quote, it shows that Supten rose above the mistreatment of the slaves because they were black. If Henry hot Bon because he was an eighth black, it is very ironic because his father treated blacks with more respect than most others at that time. Bon wasn’t noticeably black; he was only one-eighth which suggests that the reason for Henry killing was because of Judith because Henry would have been accepting like his father was.

At the end of this quote, Faulkner uses a very interesting choice of words. He says “ascendancy of forbearance…” When the word ascendancy is used, it has to do with an over powering position. The man in charge is the most powerful one out there and if you mess with him or don’t do your job correctly, you’re going to get in trouble. However, this is proven to be false because in the statement it is made clear that he was never harsh to his slaves and at times he actually worked with them and wanted to see his dream house be made exactly the way he wanted it without harsh punishment of his slaves. After ascendancy, comes another strong word that is used to balance this word out. Forbearance is meant to be what holds Mr. Supten back from punishing or yelling at the slaves. The combination of the two words has a perfectly balanced meaning and connection with the text just previously written, Supten who asserts his power but never yells at them. Ascendancy meaning power and forbearance meaning to hold back is exactly what Supten was doing.

Quentin’s character was made from the stories and past events of the people he never knew. This type of construction really shows through from this quote because it is a consistent style throughout the novel. The characters aren’t “pre-made” and just lied out on a platter in front of you at the beginning. They are made throughout the entire novel and are always changing. The quote is important because it emphasizes the change and also the foundation of the book.


He’s the What That’s Going to Sleep with My Sister?!

Jackson Davis

Mrs. Kilbourne



He’s the What That’s Going to Sleep with My Sister?!

“No I’m not. I’m the nigger that’s going to sleep with your sister. Unless you stop me, Henry.”

This is every teenaged boy who’s ever read the book Abslom, Abslom! Favorite quote. This is such a confrontational and powerful quote that just cannot go unnoticed by anyone. That is mainly due to the fact of the word in the heart of the sentence, the word that gives the quote its h, the word nigger. The word makes people almost stop dead in their tracks like “did I read that right?” the word appears to come off as insensitive or racist in today’s times, but according to an article by John J. Sullivan published in The New York Times, that was just how the people talked back then. It was a part of everyday speech. What is so interesting about the matter is that it hasn’t disappeared from everyday speech. The only thing that has changed, however, is that instead of being used as a derogatory word said to a black person, it’s now used by black people to refer to other black people.  It’s now used as slang to mean “homie” or “brotha”. Stylistically, that was never the intention of the use of the word, and is viewed by many older black people, ones who had to endure the pain of being called a nigger by white people, find the slang term to be insensitive, ignorant, and offensive. Now, having said all that, consider this. Here’s a guy who is 1/8th black at best and looks completely white, and here he is calling himself a nigger. Makes one wonder at the notion of, what in the world was he thinking when he said that?

First of all, let’s get a little overview of the situation. Bon is barely black. He has a dash of black in him, but not even enough to tint his skin. He looks like a normal white boy. Anyways, in this scene, he is telling Henry, his half brother, that he is going to sleep with his sister, who is by default his part sister. While that bit of info has no resemblance to the piece, I find it amusing and intriguing. Back on topic, the way Bon says the word, is very different then how it is usually used in this time and in this situation. Actually, the word was never used to refer to oneself. But then again, you have to also consider the fact that he is white on the outside which makes the whole situation just that more awkward and ironic. The manner in which Bon presents the word is almost boastful, like he’s bragging to him about being a “black guy” about to sleep with his white sister. This boastful tone is very different from how the word is used everywhere else in the book. In most cases, it’s used in a more demeaning way and comes after words like wild or monkey. It goes to show the range of the word and how it’s all about how you perceive it. As a black man, when I see or hear the word, my reaction is different from that of a white man. So how on Earth does Bon have the right to call himself that?

The word isn’t used too much like in the book Huck Finn, and it isn’t used very much at all in this book to directly refer to one person. When you think about the word, it brings up a mental image of some white land owner or some white trash person on the street calling a black person (usually a man) this. So when it’s said in everyday speech, people who sling this word around and use it freely, don’t fully understand the weight the word carries from the past. Even as time and the word has changed, the original meaning still holds tight to it, and still makes it a sensitive subject, why else do you not hear white people saying it?

Nikki James

Mrs. Kilbourne

AP Language/Composition A1


Faulkner Essay – Absalom, Absalom!

When Racial Segregation is Inspiring

“He had been told to go around to the back door even before he could state his errand.”  (Faulkner pg. 188)

In the novel “Absalom, Absalom”, William Faulkner demonstrates the issues and concern of race and class within the time period that the novel was written around.  This quote within Faulkner’s novel displays a man, Sutpen, being treated differently and of lesser value due to his background throughout a time where an individual’s race was considered to determine their social standpoint.  “He”, at the beginning of the sentence, is the individual in which the quote singles out, Sutpen.  The phrase “had been told”, however relates the individual to an event in which he had come in contact with and had a conversation with another person that occurred in the past.  It is a reflection of the event being retold through the novel.  “Told”, meaning when one tells another instructions, directs each word that was said to Sutpen at Sutpen’s identity in context with the rest of the quote.  This is strong in that it connects each word being said straight to Sutpen and who he is as a person; with every word as if they are labels condemning him.

“To go around” is an order given in which an action is demanded, making that phrase very powerful within the quote.  However, the word “around” restricts the action to now being even more so specific.  It’s as if the character demanding the action was saying “because of the situation at this moment, you must do this instead of that, but only in this specific way.”  This provides clarity to what is being demanded of Sutpen, but also leads in to the next few words of the quote which display emotion, providing evidence of how Sutpen was actually being thought of at that exact moment in time.   “To the back door” is, on its own, a mere representation of inequality.  Due to the fact that this quote deals around race, the mention of the back door puts Sutpen on that just level of inequality, where he is viewed to amount to less than who is speaking to him.  Sutpen was not good enough in the eyes of the character instructing him; therefore he was told to carry out his business given less respect and less attention because whatever he had to say was assumed to be of lesser importance solely based on his identity as an individual; his race and his class.

“Even”, is a word that Faulkner has placed in between the two sections of the sentence that makes up the quote.  The first part displays the part in the conversation where instructions are given and actions are demanded, whereas with the second part, it’s explaining how in spite of that, this occurred.  “Even” is the word connecting the two parts, the two sections which could easily be made into individual sentences on their own, adding additional information.  This allows for the sentence to be more complex on its own, as just one single sentence within mixtures of sentences that make up the paragraphs to the story within the novel.  “Before”, when it goes along with “even” provides an attitude to the quote.  It intensifies the fact that the event in and of itself is conditional, and takes all power and ability from Sutpen’s hands, placing it in the person speaking to him.  It is saying that even before, in spite of, or disregarding this, that occurred, and will have occurred anyway.  “He could state” is yet another powerful phrase within the quote.  This demonstrates the dignity being stripped from Sutpen.  “Could” allows for the author to show the reader that yes, he could to this, but couldn’t in the end because that ability of his was taken away along with his credibility as a person once his race and his class was viewed as what is the lesser in life and what isn’t good enough to be granted.  Sutpen was not even given a chance to state what it was he had to say.  “State” being the word used to describe the act of explanation and being straight forward in response.  The character speaking to him completely disregarded it and didn’t’ care one bit on what it was he wanted or had to say.  They just immediately moved on and demanded other ways for Sutpen to go about his business, his purpose (“his errand”) for being there in the first place.  No consideration or thought was even provided for such actions.

When looking solely at the language used, that one simple sentence within the novel that William Faulkner wrote is very strong.  But once applied to the context around that one quote, the rest of the novel, it becomes even more so powerful.  It provides great dynamics within the story and marks a turning point in Sutpen’s life as depicted in chapter seven of “Absalom, Absalom!”  Just those simple words and actions change is life in an instant.  Sutpen was just a teenager when all of that happened.  He had been given orders from his father to deliver a note from his father to the plantation owner that lived in the house.  But once he got there, he was greeted by a black slave who rudely and abruptly sent him around to the back of the door.  The black man considered Sutpen to be white trash.  This was because with his appearance, he wore raggedy clothing and looked like he had never before combed his hair.  His appearance was such that it seemed like he didn’t care at all what it was and didn’t understand the impact it could have on him as well as others.  The black man knew him to be white trash because at the time he didn’t have much and his appearance spelled it out in his eyes.  In the time period the book was written, even white trash could be below some black people in the community.  After receiving such foul behavior from the black man who greeted him at the white door to the house, Sutpen ran.  He ran to the forest, not upset, not sad, not mad, but just lost in thought.  The horrific event scarred him and is what drove him to be all that he was later on within his life as depicted in the novel.  That one single even that could be described in such a simple sentence is where Sutpen got his attitudes towards strength, power, fear, slaves/slavery, and also the realization that there were in fact differences between men.  Because of all of this he set out to establish a dynasty. He wanted to create a family legacy of his own.  He made it his goal from then on to never have that occur to him or anyone else in his future family again.  He was going to prove to everyone that he was not in fact white trash; that he could be and was much more.

It is claimed in a New York Times article (“How Faulkner Tackled Race – and Freed the South From Itself”) that “one of the strangest things a person could say about the book, that it is “a novel about the American dream”.  The American dream is one to be interpreted positively towards growing as a human being to be all that you can be.  Sutpen’s goal to create a dynasty and prove that he could be superior actually relates to what the American dream is all about.  Sutpen, ever since being discriminated against, made it his goal to go out and be all that he could be and prove his worth.  That’s exactly what the American dream incorporates.  The American dream is to basically have the life that one’s always dreamed of.  A life with wealth, property, good family, etc. is the American dream, but it is also Sutpen’s dream.  He set out to create a dynasty and acquired his own property called Sutpen’s Hundred.  The New York Times article also explains how the shock of a black slave telling him to use the back door because he wasn’t good enough for the front, is what propelled him to flee and marry a girl who he later fathers a son with.  “After Sutpen ran off to Haiti as a young man – it emerges that a humiliating boyhood experience, of hearing a black slave tell him to use the back door of a big house (he wasn’t good enough for the front), had produced a shock that propelled him to flee – he married a girl there and fathered a son with her.”  Sutpen’s moralities were intensely affected by that event that he became the kind of person he was and set out to be what he saw in his mind was his destiny; what he wanted.  Such a powerful sentence within such detailed literacy making up the novel “Absalom, Absalom” proves to emphasize what had occurred and prove to be what was a major turning point in the novel as well as Sutpen’s life.

Absalom, Absalom!

Phoebe Crutchfield


AP Language and Composition A2

March 25, 2013

“You get born and you try this and you dont know why you keep on trying it and you are born at the same time with a lot of other people all mixed up with them, like trying to, having to, move your arms and legs with strings only the same strings are hitched to all the other arms and legs and the others all trying and they dont know why either except that the strings are all in another’s way like five or six people all trying to make a rug on the same loom only each one wants to weave his own pattern into the rug; and it cant matter, you know that, or the Ones that set up the loom would have arranged things a little better, and yet it must matter because you keep on trying and then all of a sudden it’s all over and all you have left is a block of stone with scratches on it provided there was someone to remember and to have the marble scratched and set up or had time to, and it rains on it and the sun shines on it and after a while they dont even remember the name and what the scratches were trying to tell, and it doesn’t matter.”

(Absalom, Absalom!, page 101)

Usually people believe that your life choices and the actions you take in life stick with you for as long as you live, if not longer. But, in William Faulkner’s novel, Absalom, Absalom!, he proposes a different idea. He says that you start fresh and clean, like a block of stone, and as time goes by, the block of stone gets scratched and rained on and has the sun shone on it; and in the end, the scratches can barely be seen and no one knows what story they tell. No one remembers a thing, not even the person who possesses the block with those scratches. His idea suggests that the things you do in life won’t matter, because they will be worn away with time.

Faulkner uses the word “matter” quite often in the above passage from the novel. He says, “…it cant matter, you know that, or the Ones that set up the loom would have arranged things a little better, and yet it must matter…” (Faulkner 101). What exactly does he mean by matter? Matter can have many different meanings, as seen here. He is using the term “matter” to describe something of importance. He is trying to explain that the things you do in life, your decisions and actions, will not have any importance later in life. He says, “…all you have left us a block of stone with scratches on it….after a while they dont even remember…what the scratches were trying to tell, and it doesn’t matter.” (Faulkner 101)

Also in this same quote from the passage above, you may notice that the word “Ones” is a proper noun. It is no longer merely a number. The definition here is incorrect. Faulkner was using the word “Ones” as a symbolization of people. “…or the Ones that set up the loom…” (Faulkner 101), Faulkner used the term “Ones” instead of another word, such as people, because he was uniting them. He was uniting the people that set up the loom. They are the same people that are, as Faulkner says, “…hitched to all other arms and legs…” (Faulkner 101).

As you notice in the passage from the novel, Faulkner does not use a period once. Rather, he uses commas and semicolons. Asyndetons and polysyndetons are used throughout the passage, and the entire novel. Faulkner uses a certain style of writing known as stream of consciousness. Stream of consciousness is like an internal monologue, and can be further explained here. Because Faulkner uses stream of consciousness, he does not use periods. His ideas flow and they are written and unedited. He also does not use apostrophes on every contraction in the novel either. In the passage above, the words “can’t” and “don’t” do not have apostrophes; but, the words “won’t” and “doesn’t” do have apostrophes. That, also, can be explained by stream of consciousness. Since his ideas are unedited, there are not apostrophes for every contraction that Faulkner uses in the novel.

The word “you” is used in this passage quite often as well. But who is this “you” that Faulkner is speaking of? It could be a range of many, many things. But in this specific passage, “you” is referring to the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, the family; anyone is who this “you” is. Judith is the one speaking this entire passage. In the passage, the narrator of the novel, Quentin Compson, is recalling what he had heard Judith said. Now, the question is why would Faulkner use the word “you” instead of a specific name of who Judith was speaking to the first time she said it? Faulkner used the word “you” to generalize the statement; to make it so it can apply to anyone, not just one person from the family. It could apply to someone who wasn’t in the family, for example, Quentin’s roommate, Shreve. It can all apply to someone else because Faulkner did not have Judith say a specific name; he rather had her say “you”, generalizing the passage.

Luke Dobson

Mrs. Kilbourne              

AP English Language

March 18, 2013

Title:     Syntax and Mental Stability: The effects of sentence structure on the Characteristics of the person described in Absalom! Absalom!

‘”The South,” Shreve said. “The South. Jesus. No wonder you folks 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. (Pg. 301)

“I am older at twenty than a lot of people who have died,” “And more people have died than have been twenty one,” Shreve said. (Pg. 301)

                Faulkner uses different sentence styles and techniques in his writing to show what is going on in the story and what is happening inside the characters themselves. From the way the characters think, to their mental state, the syntax of Faulkner’s writing helps us to understand the characters and their problems better.  In the Quote above, Faulkner tries to show, through Shreve, the point of view of the story from someone who is unaffected by it, or at least less affected than the direct members of the story such as Quentin or Miss Rosa. This quote from Absalom! Absalom! encompasses the insanity of the entire book and gives us a much needed point of view from a mentally stable character such as Shreve.  After Shreve and Quentin have found out more about Miss Rosa and the tale she has told, Shreve, not having the connection and therefore the attachment to the story like Quentin, realizes the insanity behind the story and the South. The short sentences at the beginning of the quote (The South. Jesus.) and the repetition of “The South” in Shreve’s statement gives us the picture of a man awestruck at the insanity of the story and it’s cruel events. We can also infer from the passage above that Shreve is more mentally stable than Quentin. This is because of the style of syntax Faulkner uses in the quote above. The repetition of the words and the choppy sentence at the end of the first paragraph are actually the thoughts inside of Quentin’s head as Shreve is speaking. These are nonsensical strands of thought and seemingly unrelated to what he and Shreve are talking about. The syntactical construction of this passage is exemplary at describing the emotional trauma Quentin experiences because of these choppy, jumbled sentences. The last sentence in the passage is an exchange between Quentin and Shreve over the trauma that the war has caused the country, Miss Rosa and Quentin(although Quentin may not realize its affect on him until later).

The South is also stressed in the quote above and this is because the South is the setting of the story that Miss Rosa recounts to Quentin. The destruction of her family came because of the social values and instability at that time. Sutpen’s slaves and his immoral life led those she loved to be killed by each other and her family memories ruined. Because of this, Shreve, the friend of Quentin, the one with a head on his shoulders, comments on the mental instability of the south, particularly the family of Quentin and Miss Rosa. Shreve further elaborates on his statement later in the text when he says:

                “So it took Charles Bon and his mother to get rid of old Tom, and Charles Bon and the octoroon to get rid of Judith, and Charles Bon and Clytie to get rid of Henry; and Charles Bon’s mother and Charles Bon’s grandmother to get rid of Charles Bon.” (Pg 302)

                This series of statements is used as qualification or proof for the fact that the South and the family of Miss Rosa is in a state of insanity following the civil war. Again, this is a great example of the way Faulkner uses his syntax to characterize or show motives of the people in his story. This statement is phrased like a question but there is no answer from Quentin or question mark to indicate that. Therefore the reader is made to think, by Faulkner, that Shreve is setting the story straight in his head and is about to move on mentally or psychologically on with his life. His mental detachment from the story and his stability allows him to do this while Quentin cannot. This can be further observed in the following quote which adds some finality to Shreve’s part in the story. Following this statement he asks Quentin one last question and that is why he hates the south. Quentin replies:

                “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! (Pg 303)

                This is Shreve’s last question to Quentin and because of this word choice used by Faulkner it is assumed that Shrieve will soon move on with his life and will forget about the exchanges between Quentin and Himself. Quentin however will not be so quick to forget the story he has been told. As if to further show the insanity in Quentin’s story and the mental state he is in, Faulkner uses the structure above to demonstrate the affect the story has had on the mind of Quentin. His repetition of the words makes him seem to be trying to convince himself, trying to ingrain the idea into his mind (Which is not an easy thing to do in his condition after hearing and experiencing Miss Rosa’s story) that his opinion of the south has not changed and that the story of the Sutpens has not made him hate the south. This is Quentin’s feeble attempt to repair himself mentally after the story. Here is where, by answering this question, Quentin himself begins to realize the state of mental trauma that he is in, and this scares him. His ‘panting in the cold air’ gives the reader the picture of Quentin having an anxiety attack following Shreve’s question about the South, and his repeated words give the readers the idea that perhaps the story has made Quentin hate the south and this is the root of his mental trauma.

                Because of the syntax and the rhetorical techniques Faulkner uses in the story, the reader can come to a better understanding of the characters and their mental states. Faulkner intentionally characterizes the people in his story through rhetorical implications in the text. Repetition, sentence composition, etc. all help the reader understand the characters in Absalom! Absalom!


A, A Digital Essay- Brandon Schweder

Brandon Schweder

Mrs. Kilbourne

AP Language A2


The Obscurity of our Past, Redefined in Absalom, Absalom!

“‘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.”

Pg. 301 Absalom, Absalom!

            William Faulkner displays his unrivaled syntactical abilities throughout the course of Absalom, Absalom! The first several pages of the book summarize the plot as a whole; however, the forthcoming chapters are randomly structured and confusing to follow… at first. Faulkner created the vehicle Absalom, Absalom! in order to illustrate the hazy construct of our past. The Southern frontier is generalized as a phase absent to the point of amnesia from our national memory, but which reemerges here, in the novel, like a “wriggling worm.” Faulkner’s style of writing is very much characteristic of the South’s ambiguous history. In his novel, the story is fabricated through the recollections of numerous people and the interpretation of these events given to us by Quentin Compson and later by his roommate Shreve. What William Faulkner gains from this bundle of references is a suggestion of cycles, of something ongoing. Gathering the opinions and viewpoints of numerous people allowed him to depict a more in-depth interpretation of these elapsed times, while, at the same time, deconstructing and analyzing how an individual thinks and processes information.

The quote above is significant in that it reflects how Faulkner’s audience has felt and reacted to the piecing together of this intricate, maddening storyline. Quentin’s Canadian roommate, Shreve, is a true foreigner, for whom the story is understandably curious. Like us, he is trapped in its mystery and needs to have every little detail explained. He is overwhelmed by Thomas Sutpen’s story and how his existence created what seemed to be a ripple effect, influencing the lives of so many others around him. William Faulkner created the character of Thomas Sutpen to illustrate an instance of the Southern principle. The New York Times article, regarding how Faulkner tackled the concept of race, mentions how the South spawned several generations of idealistic “Sutpens,” causing the repetition of themes such as Indian removal, class resentment, land hunger, and racial tension. The recurrent behavioral characteristics such as those found in Sutpen corrupted southern principles and led to the regions defeat in the Civil War.

Quentin’s remark, “I am older at twenty than a lot of people who have died,” reflects how the South was dominated by people like Thomas Sutpen, who would go enormous lengths to satisfy their own self-riotous needs. Every step made by an individual creates a ripple, influencing future events to come. Thomas Sutpen, although he did not intend for this to happen, changed the lives of many others. For instance, when Sutpen asked for Ellen Coldfield’s hand in marriage, a slight ripple was made in time and that event, ultimately, spurred Miss Rosa’s resentment of Thomas and The Sutpen Hundred. If not for that event, Quentin likely would not have ever met Miss Rosa; thus, preventing his obsession with the region’s history. A similar quote, stated in Absalom, Absalom! acknowledges the idea of fate and what motivates one to keep moving in a certain direction.

“You get born and you try this and you don’t know why only you keep on trying it and you are born at the same time with a lot of other people, all mixed up with them, like trying to, having to, move your arms and legs with strings only the same strings are hitched to all the other arms and legs and the others all trying and they don’t know why either except that the strings are all in one another’s way like five or six people all trying to make a rug on the same loom only each one wants to weave his own pattern into the rug; and it can’t matter, you know that, or the Ones that set up the loom would have arranged things a little better, and yet it must matter because you keep on trying or having to keep on trying and then all of a sudden it’s all over.”

This quotation from the novel suggests that every action is dependent on another, or in other words, everything happens for a reason. This implies that time is at a constant rate of change as well, for the slightest movement will provoke millions of subsequent events to occur. In addition, one may also say that without the past there is no present or future; thus indicating that time is infinite and there isn’t a definite beginning or end.

The unprecedented confusion associated with time and the origins of existence allows one to fully respect William Faulkner’s style and influence on writing. It’s extraordinary to think that one can create such a widening hole of misconception and complexity through writing and pull it together into a tightly knit whole. Understanding the present is impossible without having first known the past; yet, you can’t fully understand the past without having lived in the present. Only does this idea of uncertainty make an adequate object for Quentin to fixate and go mad contemplating.

Like Ripples on a Pool: a Study in Time, Memory, and Perspective

Maybe nothing ever happens once and is finished. Maybe happen is never once but like ripples maybe on water after the pebble sinks, the ripples moving on, spreading, the pool attached by a narrow umbilical water-cord to the next pool which the first pool feeds, has fed, did feed, let this second pool contain a different temperature of water, a different molecularity of having seen, felt, remembered, reflect in a different tone the infinite unchanging sky, it doesn’t matter…

– p. 210, Absalom, Absalom!

Within the twisting, contorting world of William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!, the past is omnipresent and memory is an entirely individualized construct. There is no definite is; instead, readers are left with differing recollections of what was and a fractured sense of time and continuity. This quotation, drawn from the thoughts of pseudo-narrator Quentin Compson, encompasses these themes of time and memory not only through its content but also through expert use of metaphor and syntax.

Absalom, Absalom! employs a highly unusual structure. As described in this New York Times article, the entire plot is outlined on the third page of the book. However, what follows in subsequent chapters is by no means repetitious. The reader is, throughout the course of the novel, offered different perspectives on the events of the past, viewed through the eyes of protagonist Quentin Compson, who acts as a surrogate for the reader. According to Faulkner, “nothing ever happens once and is finished.” While Quentin is only hearing stories about the events of previous years, he, and by extension the reader, experiences the past anew. Interestingly, the characters on whom the book is truly focused, the Sutpen family, are never actually introduced to the reader in real time. All that is discovered about them is the product of recollection, and differing memories create a complex picture of a family who is at once controversial and highly sympathetic. 

As this insightful essay argues, the language itself serves symbolic purpose within Absalom, Absalom! As in this quote, the rambling, rolling sentences that are sparsely populated by punctuation are representations of time itself, never stopping to think or remember but flowing into themselves in a cyclical pattern. It is interior monologue in its purest sense, allowing the reader to experience the story though Quentin’s eyes and therefore emphasizing the role of subjective experience in shaping memory and perception. 

The metaphor of the ripple on a pool used within the aforementioned quote is also very apt when dealing with the theme of memory. “Maybe happen is never once but like ripples maybe on water after the pebble sinks, the ripples moving on, spreading,” argues Faulkner, at once evoking powerful images and drawing a pertinent comparison. This comparison, in the context of the text itself, creates an image of an infinite, constantly evolving pattern that directly mirrors the passage of time. It is impossible to separate one ripple from another; each depends on another for its existence. In much the same way, one cannot ever view the present without an eye to the past. These two intermingling spheres of reality are connected by “a narrow umbilical water-cord, feeding each other and depending on one another to survive.

Furthermore, the use of multiple voices is used within the novel to create a sense of ambiguity about what is truth and what is fiction. Because the characters (the pools, within the metaphor of the text) “contain a different temperature of water, a different molecularity of having seen, felt, remembered, reflect in a different tone the infinite unchanging sky,” they all bring distinctive perspectives to the text, making the reader question the validity of their claims and at the same time forcing him or her to understand the subjectivity of the past. These “nested” narrators, as Eric Casero calls them in an issue of The Southern Literary Journal, are never in sync in their recollection. Towards the novel’s end, in fact, memories become pure conjecture on the part of Quentin and his roommate (and captive audience) Shreve, who project themselves onto Henry and Bon, imagining that “it was not two but four of them riding the two horses through the dark over the frozen December ruts of Christmas eve: four of them and then just two—Charles-Shreve and Quentin-Henry” (267). 

This narrative evolution is the subject at the heart of the quotation above; history evolves with each new learner or listener. Truly, nothing is ever finished. While it may take a different shape or move in a different direction, memory is always with us. It is an inescapable force that determines how we live our lives and view the world around us every day. It does not matter what is ‘true’ and what is not. It is the truth of the moment that is important.