Study Guide

Absalom, Absalom! Time

By William Faulkner


It would be three hours yet before he would learn why she had sent for him because this part of it, this first part of it, Quentin already knew. It was part of his twenty years' heritage of breathing the same air and hearing his father talk about the man […]. (1.6)

Three hours, eh? That's nothing compared to the wait we had while reading. In any case, Quentin waits patiently to make his visit to Miss Rosa. He has grown up with the mystery of Sutpen and hopes Rosa will be able to fill in some missing pieces.

"Because I was born too late. I was born twenty-two years too late – a child to whom out of the overheard talk of adults of my own sister's and my sister's children's face come to be like an ogre-tale between supper and bed long before I was old enough." (1.17)

Even though Miss Rosa barely knows Quentin, she doesn't hold back. She spent her childhood witnessing the spectacle of her older sister Ellen's life and makes no effort to hide her bitterness. How would things have been different for Rosa if she'd been born earlier? If she'd been closer in age to Ellen?

"[…] so that instead of accomplishing the processional and measured milestones of the normal childhood's time I lurked, unapprehended as though, shod with the very damp and velvet silence of the womb […]." (3.9)

Most of Miss Rosa's life was spent in the house in which she grew up. Nothing was ever normal for her: she had no mother, her father eventually locked himself in the attic, and she watched in envy and disgust as her sister married Sutpen. How do you think this lack of milestones in life can affect the way someone matures? Is Rosa the victim of arrested development?

[…] as though in the restoration of that ring to a living finger he had turned all time back twenty years and stopped it, froze it. (5.20)

Sutpen must have been listening to Cher? When he becomes engaged to Miss Rosa, he believes he can continue with his design as though no time has been lost. He is so determined to prevail that he loses all sense of time.

He didn't remember if it was weeks or months or a year they traveled […] whether it was that winter and then spring and then summer overtook and passed them on the road or whether they overtook and passed in slow succession the seasons as they descended or whether it was the descent itself that did it and they not progressing parallel in time but descending perpendicularly through temperature and climate […]. (7.4)

Sutpen loses track of time as he travels with his family from what would later be West Virginia into the Tidewater region of Virginia. Having lived a life of isolation, Sutpen is fascinated by all the new people and things he sees as his family leaves the hills of his home.

[…] and this, Grandfather said, more incredible to him than the getting there from Virginia because that did infer time a space the getting across which did indicate something of leisureliness since time is longer than any distance […]. (7.12)

"Time is longer than any distance." Now <em>that's</em> deep. Help us out here: how do you interpret that?

[…] not two of them there and then either but four of them riding the two horses through the iron darkness and that not mattering either […]. (8.2)

As Shreve and Quentin sit in their dorm room hashing out the details of Sutpen's story, the two friends begin to blend with the figures of Charles Bon and Henry. Shreve and Quentin are so fascinated that, in a sense, they become the other two men. We dare you to write about this book and not call Quentin "Henry" once in a while.

They [Bon and Henry] stared at one another – glared rather […] a sort of hushed and naked searching, each look burdened with youth's immemorial obsession not with time's dragging weight which the old live with but with its fluidity […]. (8.4)

Bon and Henry display a very odd attraction to one another. Each young man is trying to figure the other one out but doing so without any adult sense of urgency.

They [Shreve and Quentin] did not retreat from the cold. They both bore it as though in deliberate flagellant exaltation of physical misery transmogrified into the spirit's travail of the two young men during that time fifty years ago, or forty-eight rather, then forty-seven and then forty-six […]. (8.22)

Once again, Shreve and Quentin blend into Charles Bon and Henry. Their obsession with the story sustains them in spite of the profound chill in their room. They are transported into the past through their act of mutual storytelling.

[Y]et in a second tent candle gray and all are gone and it is the holly-decked Christmas library at Sutpen's Hundred four years ago and the table not a camp table suitable for the spreading of maps but the heavy carved rosewood one at home with the group photograph of his mother and sister and himself sitting on it […]. (8.45)

As Henry faces his father in the tent, he flashes back to their confrontation years before, when Sutpen told him that Charles Bon was his half-brother. Henry is haunted by how far he has come from life at Sutpen's Hundred and all of the changes he has undergone in just four years. Hey, that's what war will do to you, right?