Study Guide

Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 2

By William Faulkner

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Chapter 2

  • Quentin sits on the porch with his father, Mr. Compson, who tells him about Sutpen's arrival in Jefferson. In case you've already forgotten, this is an event that Miss Rosa has already referred to several times.
  • Now that it's clear that Sutpen's whole story takes place in the past, we're going to start recounting it in the present tense, since it's a pretty extended story. But don't get confused: this is 1833 we're talking about.
  • Okay, so it's a beautiful Sunday morning in 1833. Sutpen arrives on horseback and soon the entire town is buzzing about him: he's a seriously trashed-looking guy. No one can figure out what his story is; they only know his name and that he came from the South.
  • In fact, it's years before anyone finds out how humble his origins actually were.
  • Sutpen stays at the Holsten House in town. He doesn't drink, but General Compson realizes it's just because he can't afford alcohol. He leaves first thing in the morning and keeps to himself, refusing to indulge people's curiosity. Mystery man, he is.
  • One night he wakes up the County Recorder and presents him with a deed and a patent to land and one gold Spanish coin. And just like that, he now owns a hundred square miles of land.
  • Two months later, he leaves and returns with wagons full of fancy furniture, a pack of slaves, and a French architect from Martinique.
  • My how things have changed.
  • Tales of Sutpen's "wild n****es" (2.4) start to circulate around town. These people are covered in mud and wear very few clothes, if any at all. Strangely, Sutpen doesn't shout at them; he works with them, setting an example.
  • This goes on as Sutpen works with his pack of twenty slaves and the architect for two years. The house is enormous, surrounded by gardens, slave quarters, promenades, and other plantation amenities.
  • No one really knows much about what goes on there… except for the parties. Men (no women allowed!) go to the plantation to smoke, drink, gamble, and watch fights.
  • For three years, the house sits unfurnished. General Compson offers Sutpen money to paint the house, add windows, and buy furniture.
  • Finally, Sutpen returns to town five years later. He's wearing the same clothes he first arrived in and he heads straight for the church. Several people suspect he's seeking a wife with a dowry. (Used to be that a woman's family would pay a man to take her as his bride... yeah, we know.)
  • Since Sutpen's return with the "chandeliers and mahogany and rugs" (2.11) and the wagon full of slaves, the townspeople had come to greatly mistrust him, suspecting he had acquired everything through criminal activities involving a pistol and a handkerchief over his face. This sounds like pretty sketchy to us.
  • A vigilante committee rides out to confront Sutpen, but he meets them on his way into town.
  • After changing into new clothes, Sutpen goes to Mr. Coldfield's house with a bouquet. A large crowd waits for him outside – everyone is super suspicious.
  • He emerges from Mr. Coldfield's house engaged to his daughter. (That was quick!) But not so fast: he is arrested immediately.
  • General Compson and Mr. Coldfield go to the courthouse together and pay to have him released on a bond.
  • Two months later, in June 1838, Sutpen marries Ellen Coldfield. Hey, things happened quickly back then, what can we say?
  • Sutpen wants a large wedding (although he doesn't openly admit it) and Ellen's aunt supports the idea: she sends out a hundred invitations. But because the town still thinks Sutpen is a scandal, only ten people attend the wedding – wah wah.
  • Things don't go well at the wedding: Ellen weeps the whole time, and many townspeople sit in their buggies outside and pelt the bride and groom with "clods of dirt and vegetable refuse" (2.23) as they emerge from the church.
  • Still, the Coldfield association helps improve Sutpen's moral standing in the eyes of the town. Fancy that.

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