Absalom, Absalom!: Chapter 8

Setting: the same Harvard dorm room, as it gets later and colder. The narration here is mostly Shreve's voice, though it seems possible that Quentin narrates pp. 269-75, and in any case several times the third person narrator says it does not matter who is speaking, that both young men are "thinking as one" (cf. pp. 243, 267, etc.).

The main focus of the narrative these two young men create is the two young men of Sutpen's story, Henry and especially Bon. Unlike earlier chapters, this adds very little in the way of "historical events" to the story; instead, it is mainly concerned with interpreting the past, and especially with trying to understand Bon's state of mind and motivations as he goes to college, meets Henry, visits Sutpen's, becomes betrothed somehow to Judith, rides off with Henry after Sutpen forbids the marriage, fights the war, writes the letter to Judith, and so on. Shreve and Quentin are self-consciously working with and in many ways revising the story Mr. Compson provided earlier. To interpret Bon's actions, they essentially add the character of his mother to the story (at one point the narrator acknowledges this invention, but adds their reading was "probably true" [p. 268]), and without any previous authority they entirely invent the character of "the lawyer" who then comes to play a large role in shaping Bon's fate.

The following chronology includes the few "events" Quentin and Shreve's reconstruction provides and depends on, but as throughout these timelines, we seldom know whether these "facts" have any historical reality.

c1840
Bon's mother brings him up to seek vengeance against his father
238
c1850
Bon's mother hires a lawyer to handle her financial interests --
  he begins scheming to use Bon to gain Sutpen's wealth
240
BEFORE
1859
"maybe" the lawyer fixes Bon up with an octoroon mistress as a hold on him
242
1859
at either his mother's or the lawyer's bidding, Bon begins school at Mississippi
  at lawyer's arranging, he meets Henry Sutpen
246
1859
XMAS
Bon goes to Sutpen's looking for some sign of recogniton from his father
  Supten recognizes him, but refuses to acknowledge him
255
1860
XMAS
still without acknowledging Bon to his face,
  Sutpen tells Henry about the relationship and forbids the marriage
266
1859-
1861
Bon takes Henry to New Orleans, introduces him to his mother and the octoroon
Bon and Henry enlist in the University regiment
Judith sends Bon a picture of herself "in the metal case"
268, 273
1862
at the battle of Pittsburg Landing (Shiloh), either Henry saves the wounded Bon
  or Bon saves the wounded Henry
the octoroon sends Bon a picture of herself and their child
271, 275, 282
c1862
"without doubt that lawyer murdered" Bon's mother and fled with her money
271
1865
Lee sends Sutpen's regiment to reinforce the retreating Army of the West
Bon "puts himself in Sutpen's way" but receives no recognition
Bon writes the letter to Judith
Sutpen visits Henry and tells him Bon's mother "was part negro"
Henry shoots Bon at the gate to Sutpen's Hundred
Judith finds the picture of the octoroon and child in the metal case
271, 278, 279, 283

HOMEPAGE     |     NEXT CHAPTER