Charles Bon is the bane of Sutpen's existence. Oh, and he's also his son. As Sutpen tells it, he was tricked into his first marriage, believing that his wife was Spanish rather than part black. Once discovers the truth – that his son is, gasp!, 1/16th black – Sutpen basically buys his way out of their lives and hopes to begin anew in Jefferson.
But Charles Bon won't go away that easily. In fact, he seems to be otherwise-fearless Sutpen's Achilles heel. He presents a dramatic threat when he appears at Sutpen's door, now a friend to Sutpen's son Henry. Sutpen is totally unwilling to recognize Charles Bon as his son; and what's more, he absolutely doesn't want him marrying Judith. Ignoring the fact that it would be incest (they're half siblings), this also would have un-whited the family line.
Charles is a pretty sophisticated character, perhaps because of his upbringing in New Orleans, which exposed him to some racy stuff. Rosa – who never actually lays eyes on him – imagines him to be a handsome, dashing hero. And as a somewhat older student at the University of Mississippi, we know he is admired by his peers – chief among them, Henry Sutpen. Compared to Charles Bon, Henry is a country boy, naïve and overly admiring. This only makes each of them seem more extreme in their city slicker/country boy personas.
Speaking of Henry, what's up with the Charles-Henry relationship? Henry goes from totally supporting Charles (and even disowning his father to protect him) to, well, killing him in cold blood. Is there some kind of homoerotic undercurrent here? Why won't Charles give in to Henry's requests to divorce his octoroon wife? And why does he pursue Judith so forcefully? The trouble with this multi-viewpoint story is that we never get a solid answer. And are you ready for more questions? Read on.
For all his coolness, we're never quite sure how in-the-loop Charles is. Does he know that he is part black and that Sutpen is his father? If so, his return to Sutpen's Hundred could be seen as a manipulative move, trying to get back at his father for abandoning him and his mother. (This seems to be how Quentin and Shreve picture things). This would also mean, though, that he was totally shunned by his dad – for the second time – which makes us feel pity for him. He's just another one of Sutpen's conquests.