by William Faulkner
Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Curious, Bitter, Sad, Guilt-Ridden
Like everything else about Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner's attitude toward his subject matter is very complex. Like his characters, the author is clearly fascinated by the South, both for its beauty and its moral failure in supporting slavery. Through his four main narrators, Faulkner expresses deep bitterness, sorrow, and guilt about the events leading up to and following the Civil War.
In an interview, Faulkner was asked about the curse of the South, to which he responded, "The curse is slavery, which is an intolerable condition – no man shall be enslaved – and the South has got to work that curse out […]" (source). These feelings permeate the novel. There are no moments of joy or celebration here; characters are too preoccupied with working out the past or working toward the future.
In addition to a feeling of deep reflection, a mythic tone surrounds all discussion of Sutpen, who has been a larger-than-life figure since his arrival in Yoknapatawpha County. He is a legend and a mystery, and the narrators' shared fascination with him infects the tone of the stories they tell. Sutpen has become a myth, central to the oral tradition of Jefferson. The biblical references in the title and throughout the novel contribute to this tone of mythic greatness – and mythic failure.