Study Guide

Absalom, Absalom! What's Up With the Title?

By William Faulkner

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What's Up With the Title?

Absalom, Absalom! We've got the same word twice and an exclamation point. Got your attention, right?

But there's more to it than that – at least Shmoop thinks so. In fact, the title of this book runs back a long way, from a story in the Bible. (Don't get too excited: despite what the sassy exclamation point might suggest, Absalom, Absalom! is not the Broadway version of a biblical story.)

So where in the Bible are we, exactly? Well, we're in 2 Samuel13-20. These chapters recount the story of Absalom, son of King David, who killed his brother Amnon when he raped their sister Tamar. (Sounds racy, but this is just regular Bible stuff for you.) After arranging the execution, Absalom fled Jerusalem, only to return and win the hearts and minds of the people of Israel. And to top it all off, eventually his father fled and Absalom himself became king. Things went south from there, though: he went to war with his father and was ultimately killed by David's general, Joab, who – oops – was supposed to handle things more diplomatically.

Now let's cut to the chase: why did Faulkner choose this title? Well first, he is really into using dramatic literary allusions as titles (example: The Sound and the Fury comes from Shakespeare). And even though the biblical narrative isn't exactly replicated in the novel, the incestuous love triangle, fratricide (brother-murder), and rebellion against the patriarch are all there. Faulkner takes many of the dramatic elements from the biblical story and applies them to a southern, Civil War setting.

Let's take a closer look. The characters from the Bible and from the novel roughly match up: Charles Bon as Amnon, Henry as Absalom, Judith as Tamar, and Sutpen as King David. (Go Sutpen!) Oh, and there's a war in both works. Not a perfect fit, but we'll take it.

You know what else happens when you use a biblical allusion for a title? You open up the meaning of the novel, suggesting that the themes are universal and, of course, timeless. In other words, dysfunctional families are not going away – they've been around since biblical times and they're still around.

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