Study Guide

Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 3

By William Faulkner

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Chapter 3

  • Quentin cannot understand why, if Sutpen jilted Miss Rosa, she would want to spread that information.
  • Mr. Compson explains: When Mr. Coldfield died in 1864, Miss Rosa, who was twenty-years old, moved out to Sutpen's Hundred to be with her niece, Judith.
  • Miss Rosa had a strange upbringing, living with a spinster aunt (her mother died in childbirth) and a father she hated. She grew up in a suffocating environment of "puritan righteousness and outraged female vindictiveness" (3.2). Yikes.
  • So she moved out to Sutpen's Hundred and lived with her niece, Judith, and Sutpen's half-black daughter, whom he named Clytie, short for Clytemnestra. Motley crew, indeed.
  • When Sutpen returned home from the war in 1866, he found Miss Rosa living with Clytie and Judith.
  • As a child, Mr. Compson explains, Miss Rosa had visited Sutpen's Hundred with her aunt, just to spend the day, have lunch, and play with her niece and nephew (who were older than her, remember!).
  • She thought of Sutpen as an "ogre-face" (3.5) – very kind, Rosa! – and there had always been a looming feeling of hostility at the noon meals, which Sutpen did not attend.
  • When Miss Rosa was ten, her aunt climbed out the window and eloped with a cavalryman. Mr. Coldfield then started taking Miss Rosa out to the plantation.
  • Miss Rosa continued to have unpleasant mealtimes with Sutpen, a stony man who barely acknowledged her presence.
  • Finally, Miss Rosa and Mr. Coldfield stopped going out to Sutpen's Hundred altogether. Judith and Henry were pretty much grown up by now anyway – there wasn't much playing to do.
  • After Charles Bon was killed and after she had spent four years feeding her father – who was hiding from Confederate Provost Marshalls in the attic – Miss Rosa moved out to Sutpen's Hundred.
  • Wait, who the heck is Charles Bon? Don't worry about it – we don't know yet. Faulkner is just making things difficult for us here!
  • Now, going back in time a bit. After her wedding, Ellen became a real prima donna: full of herself about her marriage, going into town to visit with other ladies, and generally embracing a shallow existence dominated by shopping. Still, Ellen and Judith visited Miss Rosa several times a week.
  • The mother and daughter seemed unreal to Rosa: Ellen with her "peacock amusement" (3.11) and Judith's "impenetrable dreaming" (3.11).
  • At one point, their shopping needs took them to Memphis to buy Judith a trousseau (a wedding dress, pretty much). At that time, Henry had already been at the university for a year and had brought Charles Bon home for Christmas before Bon took the steamboat to New Orleans.
  • Mysteriously, Sutpen also went off to New Orleans, but only General Compson and Clytie ever knew why.
  • According to Mr. Compson, whose information comes largely from his father, Sutpen corrupted Ellen. His renegade ways and arrogance alienated Ellen from Rosa and made her more of a town spectacle than a respected lady.
  • Things are just going from bad to worse.
  • And soon enough, Ellen stopped visiting Rosa in town. Despite this, Rosa decided to make a trousseau for Judith, out of fabric she had stolen from her father's shop.
  • While she was secretly sewing the trousseau, Rosa hears that Henry and Bon had mysteriously vanished from the plantation. Dun dun dun!
  • At that point, all of Ellen's talk about Judith marrying Bon was dropped and Judith stopped going out. Eventually, news came through the plantation "n****es" that there was a fight on Christmas Eve. Henry had disowned Sutpen and left with Bon in the night.
  • Rosa continued to sew the trousseau in spite of the broken engagement and the start of the Civil War. (Yep, the Civil War. Reminds you what time period we're in, right?)
  • Goodhue Coldfield, Rosa's father, started to get a little nutty in response to the war. He nailed up his store, refused to sell any goods to anyone in the army, and prohibited Rosa from looking out the window at the soldiers.
  • When his store was looted (probably by soldiers), Mr. Coldfield sealed himself away in the attic by nailing the door shut. Rosa secretly brought him food for three years, but he eventually starved himself to death. That's depressing.
  • So Rosa was now a "pauper and an orphan" (3.19). Her only living relatives were Judith and the aunt who ran away with the cavalryman.
  • Meanwhile, with Sutpen off at war, Ellen dead, and Henry gone, Judith was living out at Sutpen's Hundred with Clytie and Wash Jones. Even though Rosa had promised Ellen that she would look after Judith, she didn't move out there right away. She believed Judith's love for Bon was sustaining her.
  • One day, Wash Jones showed up in the street outside Rosa's house and called her name.

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