Henry Sutpen in Absalom, Absalom!
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A Rebellious Romantic
Henry Sutpen might seem like the ultimate renegade son: he repudiates his birthright (i.e. disowns his father) and leaves Sutpen's Hundred with Charles Bon in an act of rebellion. But ultimately, Henry does his father's bidding by killing Charles Bon before he can marry his sister. He can tolerate the incest, but not the interracial marriage. (Apparently it's okay to sleep with your half-sister unless she's white and you're black.)
When he goes off to the University of Mississippi, Henry is seduced by the handsome, elegant, older, and cosmopolitan Charles Bon. As much as he wants Charles to marry his sister, he also kind of has a man crush on him. A perverse love triangle develops among Charles Bon, Judith, and Henry. Not to get all psychoanalytic, but it's pretty clear that Henry is acting on his desire for his friend and his own sister by pairing the two of them up. Weird, we know, but don't shoot the messenger.
The Tragedy of It All
Henry is a rich country boy who's all set to inherit Sutpen's Hundred. (Even just saying this makes us think about how differently things could have turned out.) But when he disowns his father, he loses all of that, joins the Southern cause, and is even wounded at Shiloh. For a brief moment, we see a heroic Henry, who saves Charles in battle. But once he hears the news that Charles is part black, everything goes downhill (goes to show you how big of a deal that was back then in the South). In fact, after saving Charles at war, he goes on to shoot him in cold blood back at home.
After he kills Charles Bon at the gate of Sutpen's Hundred, Henry disappears for a long time, returning home only to hole up and die. And in the end, he is killed in a fire set by his half-sister Clytie who, in her own fiercely loyal way, burns down the house when she thinks the police are coming to get him.
All in all, this is one tragic guy. Not surprising in Absalom, Absalom!
Henry Sutpen in Absalom, Absalom! Study Group
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