Study Guide

Absalom, Absalom! Race

By William Faulkner

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Most of Absalom, Absalom! is set in and around the American Civil War, so it's no wonder there's a lot of talk about race. Mostly, it seems to be an issue for Sutpen: it's the wrench in his otherwise flawless plan. As a child, Sutpen is unaware of racial hierarchies, but he quickly learns about inferiority and adopts a radical interpretation for himself. Brace yourself for a whole lot of racism in this one.

The novel presents many combinations of race, from black to white and everything between. But there's one thing that's glaringly missing: no one with black blood gets to tell their own version of events. What's this all about? How would it change the story if we got to hear from Charles Bon or Clytie, for example?

Questions About Race

  1. How does race play into Sutpen's undoing?
  2. What exactly is Sutpen's problem with black people? Why does he shift from someone unaware of race to someone obsessed with it?
  3. Why do only white people get to narrate the story?
  4. When does Charles Bon discover that he is part black? And how do you think this affects him?
  5. Would Henry have accepted an incestuous marriage between Charles and Judith if Charles didn't have mixed blood?

Chew on This

Charles Bon never reflects on his race, which is strange because everyone else is obsessed with it.

William Faulkner is a racist, no questions asked.

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