Study Guide

Absalom, Absalom! Haunting, Curses, and Ghosts (Oh My!)

By William Faulkner

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Haunting, Curses, and Ghosts (Oh My!)

The past weighs heavily on all the characters in Absalom, Absalom! and acts as a prominent image throughout the novel. Characters have unresolved issues, unanswered questions, and deep resentment and regret. As we mention in our discussion of "Tone," the curse of the South influences all the characters – even Quentin, who wasn't even alive during the Civil War. Part of what makes this novel a "Southern gothic" is the feeling that the dead are still present.

Even living people, like Miss Rosa, are pretty ghostlike. In meeting Quentin, Miss Rosa is described by Faulkner as "the ghost [who] mused with shadowy docility as if it were the voice which he haunted where a more fortunate one would have had a house" (1.3). Sutpen actually haunts Rosa's speech (as opposed to her house, like in most scary stories). Creepy, right?

And while she's haunted specifically by Sutpen, Miss Rosa is haunted by the past in general: "Yes, fatality and curse on the South and on our family as though because some ancestor of ours had elected to establish his descent in a land primed for fatality and already cursed with it…" (1.15). In fact, most of the characters in the story feel this presence of the ghosts of slavery, of having gained wealth through the oppression of others.

So this may not be a ghost story, but we sure wouldn't want to hear it around a campfire.

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