Absalom, Absalom!: Novel Summary: Chapter 5

SummaryThis chapter is almost wholly a monologue from Rosa Coldfield, seemingly told to Quentin, in the middle of 1909, before the visit to the Sutpen house and the discovery of Henry Sutpen, and before his long conversation with his father about Sutpen that becomes the substance of Chapters 2, 3, and 4.Rosa covers much of the same plot events in this chapter that Mr. Compson has already discussed, but Rosa disagrees with Mr. Compson on several important things. She also covers or hints at much of the remaining plot, after this murder in 1865 and up to the present of the novel in 1909.The chapter begins with the event that ends the last chapter, Wash Joness announcement that Henry has killed Bon. Rosa does not like Wash, and spends some time explaining how the Sutpen family always treated Wash with disdain, as a low-class squatter who was only permitted to stay because he was useful sometimes. Wash takes Rosa to the Sutpen house, where she runs into the house to find out what happened (since Wash has not revealed all of the details). Clytie tries to stop her until Judith intervenes. Rosa stands outside the closed bedroom, and finds that Judith calmly tells her that her fianc?s corpse is lying in the bedroom and that her brother Henry is gone. Judith holds the metal case that she had given Bon, and that had had her picture in it.Rosa confesses that she thought she was in love with Bon, though she had never seen him, except for a picture in Judiths room. She mentions some of the coincidences that kept her from seeing him during his visits to Sutpens Hundred, and her absence when Henry brought Bon to the Coldfield house to introduce him.Judith seems to assume that Rosa will stay that night and from then on, and Rosa takes up residence at Sutpens Hundred. She talks about helping to carry Bons coffin down the stairs, and Bons brief funeral in the Sutpen family cemetery. She says that she waited at Sutpens house because he was all that the three women (Rosa, Judith, Clytie) had.Sutpen returns a few months later. Judith briefly tells him what happened, and cries for the first time (that Rosa has seen). Sutpen then sets about trying to rebuild. Rosa talks about how Sutpen refused to join the Ku Klux Klan, and about his frequent visits to the fishing camp to drink with Wash. Then, as Rosa explains, one day Sutpen actually looked at her, and later came over to her and put his hand on her head and told (not asked) her that he would marry her. Then he seemed to forget about her for a few months, until two months later he calls her down to him and makes an indecent proposal that Rosa does not repeat, only saying that it was something he might say to another man about a cow or a dog. (The reader is told later that Sutpen asked Rosa to try breeding with him, and that they would marry if it was a boy.)Rosa leaves Sutpens Hundred because of this, and goes back to her dead fathers empty house. She says that she eventually forgave Sutpen.At the end of the chapter, the long monologue is interrupted by Quentin thinking about the image that Rosa has given him of Henry entering Judiths bedroom, having killed Bon. He describes the image again to himself, and then realizes he is lost and asks Rosa to repeat herself. She says that there is something living in the old Sutpen house.Analysis
Some critics have remarked that the language of the chapter seems ridiculously bombastic and ornate, and that not even Rosa Coldfield would have said these things out loud. The fact that the entire chapter is italicized (except at the end, when Quentin says that he is “not listening”) suggests Faulkners method of presenting thought, and supports the claim that these are Rosas unspoken thoughts. Quentins interruption at the end implies that he is listening, but Rosas speech after the interruption appears differently, as non-italicized text. In other words, Faulkner undercuts this narrator by presenting her speech in an improbable, almost parodic, way. He seems to want the reader to wonder if she is speaking or thinking, and to wonder what Quentin really hears from her.Mr. Compson spends some time at the end of Chapter 3 talking about Rosas reasons for moving to Sutpens Hundred after Henrys disappearance and Bons death. In this chapter, Rosa explains and answers that question, and the reader begins to see some of the problems with Mr. Compsons account of things in Chapters 2, 3, and 4. In the next few chapters, Quentin and Shreve will continue this trend and argue against several of Mr. Compsons explanations.