Miss Rosa Coldfield – Ellen Coldfield's younger sister by 27 years – is a character full of desire, envy, and longing (Faulkner more eloquently calls it "impotent and static rage" [1.1]). She is one of the novel's major narrators, but, like all of the others, she is thoroughly unreliable. Unreliable narrators may not give us the facts, but they sure do make for an exciting read.
Like the other main narrators, Rosa seeks to piece together the past through bits and pieces, all filtered through a lens of, well, major bitterness. We find out through others that she was spurned by the crusty old Sutpen, who said he would marry her only if she gave birth to a son. She rejected that offer, giving up her one chance at marriage. And so, just like the aunt who raised her, she ends up a quintessential spinster.
When we meet her, Rosa has been wearing black for forty-three years. She is barren in every sense of the word, dwelling in a hot, stuffy house and simmering over "the long-dead object of her impotent yet indomitable frustration" (1.1). (P.S. How intense is Faulkner's prose?) In other words, she's still really ticked off at Sutpen, even though he died a long time ago.
As a narrator, Rosa provides our first look at Sutpen, and she makes him sound like the devil incarnate: ogre-like, villainous, and tyrannical. The image she provides of him arriving in town – reeking of sulfur, with a band of wild, beast-like slaves in tow – is so extreme, it's almost comical. In fact, her narrative features some of the novel's most brutal images, such as Sutpen's savage gladiator fights with the slaves, which he allows his children to watch (Henry aghast, Judith fascinated). Rosa is also obsessed with Sutpen's Hundred, which she pictures as a hellish, prisonlike place guarded by Sutpen's half-black daughter, Clytie.
After reading Rosa's dark, Gothic description of Sutpen, we have to wonder: how much of this attitude comes from the thwarted engagement? Is he really this bad? And how much are we influenced by her descriptions of him? (Our thoughts: a lot.)
We have to give her some credit. In spite of her venom, Rosa does have a romantic side. She writes poetry for the Southern cause and has a giant crush on Charles Bon (whom she's only seen in pictures – hey we know the drill). And we have to feel a little bad for her. After all, she had a rough childhood: her mother died while giving birth to her and her father starved himself in the attic, leaving her with no way to survive. If we were in her position, we might a pretty bitter storyteller, too.Timeline