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Absalom, Absalom! | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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Absalom, Absalom! | Character Analysis


Thomas Sutpen

Sutpen is a ruthless and cold man with a mysterious background. He's fixated on carrying out his calculated "design" to establish a rich and powerful family dynasty on Sutpen's Hundred. He gets rich growing cotton with slave labor. His past actions and his later plans to correct these mistakes inevitably destroy him. The devastation of the Civil War in the South and his own desperation for an heir seal his tragic fate.

Ellen Sutpen

Ellen Sutpen is a pure and respectable daughter of a Mississippi Methodist minister. Thomas Sutpen marries her not for love, but because she gives him the respectability he craves. Her marriage to the cold and distant Thomas Sutpen leaves her withdrawn. When she learns about Sutpen's past and realizes how it will affect her family, it kills her spirit and eventually takes her life.

Judith Sutpen

Judith grows up as a pure and protected daughter on the rich Sutpen plantation, where she leads a sheltered life. Her brother Henry and the black slave (later servant) Clytie are her main friends. She seems weak and pliable at first, but surviving with Clytie during the Civil War hardens her. Her ambiguous relationship with Charles Bon leaves her an emotionally withdrawn woman, but one with an iron will to survive.

Henry Sutpen

Henry is an indecisive, nonviolent character who easily falls under the influence of others. His earliest and closest relationship is with his sister, Judith. Later, Henry forms a strong attachment to the sophisticated Charles Bon, who becomes Henry's closest friend. However, the more Henry learns about Charles Bon, the stranger and more conflicted their relationship becomes. Henry is above all loyal to his friend Charles Bon and at first refuses to believe anything negative about him. Later, Henry shoots and kills Charles Bon to prevent him from marrying his half sister, Judith.

Miss Rosa Coldfield

Miss Rosa grew up in a loveless household, which left her with life-long emotional scars. She cares about her sister, Ellen, but despises Thomas Sutpen. Miss Rosa is consumed by rage at Sutpen's treatment of her sister (his wife) and later of herself. She is racist but comes to accept living with a black woman (Clytie) on the plantation. She also shows a caring loyalty to the Sutpen children until a gross insult from Thomas Sutpen forces her to flee the plantation.

Charles Bon

Charles Bon is part black but can "pass" for white. His last name Bon means "good" in French. He lived in New Orleans and got his elegance, sophistication, and taste for dissipation and pleasure from that city. He is self-assured and can mingle easily in Southern white culture—as long as his racial make-up is not known. He is adored by Henry Sutpen and forms a tragic relationship with Judith.

Quentin Compson

Quentin Compson listens to others tell the story of the Sutpen family; he also receives an old letter from the Sutpen family. He relates the story of Thomas Sutpen to his roommate at Harvard College, Shreve, and joins with Shreve in imagining events to explain parts of the tale. He is a sensitive young man who can hardly stand the burden of telling the story of the Sutpens and is acutely aware of the fact he can't escape his Southern roots.

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