Study Guide

Absalom, Absalom! Chapter 8

By William Faulkner

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Chapter 8

  • Back in their dorm room, Quentin and Shreve imagine how Charles Bon must have experienced their whole situation. These two young friends speculate on the experiences of two other young friends (Charles Bon and Henry) in Mississippi sixty years earlier.
  • Shreve and Quentin speculate about what Charles Bon's mother knew about the situation. Did she manage to find Sutpen, who had left her thirty years earlier in Haiti? What had she told Charles Bon, if anything? What was Charles Bon's childhood in New Orleans like? Was his mother grooming him to confront his father? Did she deliberately send him to Sutpen to foul up his design? So many questions! Don't worry, Shreve and Quentin, we're asking all the same thing.
  • Shreve and Quentin imagine the possibility that Charles Bon's mother was a vengeful woman determined to get even with Sutpen. They imagine a lawyer "with Bon's mother already plotting and planning him since before he could remember […]" (8.4), helping her (her name was Eulalia) deal with Sutpen.
  • They picture the lawyer tracking all of Sutpen's moves, his spending, and the value of his property and assets: what the "value" of his violations would be in terms of blackmail.
  • Quentin and Shreve figure that Bon must have spent his money on whores, fancy clothing, linen cuffs, watches, and champagne.
  • Together, "the two of them creating between them, out of the rag-tag and bob-ends of old tales and talking, people who perhaps never existed anywhere, who, shadows, were shadows, not of flesh and blood […]" (8.5). Whoa, what? How much are they stretching the truth here, then?
  • Eulalia, in their version of the story, was "grooming" Bon for revenge – "like the dynamite which destroys the house and the family" (8.5). Then, at age twenty-eight, Bon went away to school.
  • By then, he had entered into a relationship with the octoroon and had a child.
  • Quentin and Shreve wonder what Charles Bon must have been thinking as he left New Orleans for the University of Mississippi in Oxford to study law. They also wonder how much scheming the lawyer had done, how much he knew about Sutpen, and whether he had sent Charles Bon to that university as part of a plan for the young man to meet Henry Sutpen. (That is some Gossip Girl style scheming right there).
  • What was the first meeting like between Henry and Charles Bon? What was Charles Bon's influence on Henry? Did Henry see his resemblance to his half-brother? Again with all the questions.
  • Shreve and Quentin think about what Charles Bon must have wanted from Henry, and even more so from Sutpen. Did he want a father's acknowledgement? Did he want to be treated like a son?
  • That Christmas, when they went to Sutpen's Hundred, Sutpen did not acknowledge Charles Bon as his son – he didn't communicate recognition in any way. They stayed ten days, and yet Charles Bon received "no sign" (8.10) from Sutpen.
  • It was then that Ellen began to execute her own master plan: to get her daughter engaged to Charles Bon. P.S. This would be incest.
  • Shreve and Quentin imagine what Charles Bon thought of the engagement. Did he feel like an instrument of his mother's revenge? Did he feel doomed? What did he make of Henry's keen desire for him to marry Judith? Did he feel disappointment at his father's failure to acknowledge him? What did he really want from Sutpen? Whew. This is heavy stuff, all of which the young men consider in their dorm room.
  • Meanwhile, with Henry's help, letters were being sent from Charles Bon to Judith. Then one day, Henry and Bon came back to Sutpen's Hundred and Henry found out that Charles Bon was his brother. (No gasp this time – we knew that already.)
  • Henry repudiated (rejected) his birthright, disowning his family – basically, he was pissed at his dad.
  • When they went back to school, they joined the University Grays, a company organizing to fight in the war.
  • Now that Henry knew that Charles Bon was his brother, he was torn between wanting him to marry his sister and realizing that their marriage would be incestuous. He rationalized the situation by recalling that kings have married their sisters. Um yeah, that doesn't make it okay.
  • Henry wanted Charles Bon to divorce the mulatto, but Charles refused to act, insisting that the marriage was not binding anyway or that maybe "the war would settle it" (8.21).
  • We know where this is headed.
  • Shreve and Quentin excitedly picture Henry and Charles Bon fighting in the Battle of Shiloh. In their heads, Henry was wounded on the battlefield and Charles Bon saved him; Henry tried to refuse help, saying, "Let be! Let me die! I won't have to know it then" (8.21) – probably referring to Charles Bon's ultimate decision about Judith. (These guys sure have a flair for the dramatic.)
  • In the winter of 1864, the Southern army retreated, and Charles Bon and Henry's regiment got close to Sutpen's. Perhaps Charles Bon thought it was fate, that now his father would have the chance to acknowledge him as his son. And maybe then Charles Bon told Henry that he planned to marry Judith, in spite of the incest, and they would "all be together in torment" (8.22), having accepted the sin against the family line. Perhaps, maybe, who knows. In any case, in this version, Henry "authorizes" Charles Bon to write to Judith and propose that they finally get married.
  • Still fighting the Civil War, Henry – who had not seen his father in four years – was called to see Sutpen in his tent one day.
  • They were both changed men. That day, Sutpen told Henry that Charles Bon couldn't marry Judith, even though Henry wanted him to.
  • Henry: "Yes, I have decided. Brother or not, I have decided. I will. I will." (8.49)
  • Sutpen: "He must not marry her, Henry" (8.50).
  • And that is when Sutpen told Henry that Charles Bon was part N****.
  • Our two twentieth-century boys, Quentin and Shreve, continue to imagine what happened after Henry found out about Charles Bon.
  • They picture a coldness between the two men after Henry returned from his meeting with Sutpen. They imagine Charles Bon saying to Henry, "So it's the miscegenation [mixing races], not the incest, which you can't bear" (8.62).
  • In their story, Charles Bon was hurt that Sutpen didn't summon him. All he wanted was recognition from his father – then he would leave Judith alone.
  • And of course, Henry was outraged when he discovered that Charles Bon intended to continue with the marriage out of revenge against Sutpen.
  • Continuing their speculation, Quentin and Shreve imagine him saying, "I'm the n***** that's going to sleep with your sister. Unless you stop me, Henry" (8.79).
  • The boys (Quentin and Shreve) then return to thinking about the night Henry shot Charles Bon outside the gates of Sutpen's Hundred. They think of the pistol and of Judith and Clytie hearing the shot.
  • They imagine how Judith found out about the octoroon and child in New Orleans: Charles Bon had replaced the picture of her in the locket with a picture of his wife and child. That way, if he was, in fact, killed by Henry (he totally saw it coming), Judith would see the picture and realize that he was no good anyway.

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