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Absalom, Absalom! | Quotes

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1.

When you have hated somebody for forty-three years you will know them awful well.


Miss Rosa Coldfield, Chapter 1

Miss Rosa has observed Sutpen for years, during which time she's nurtured a ferocious hatred for him. She hates Sutpen because of his ruthlessness and his coldness, especially to his wife, her sister, Ellen. Sutpen also grossly insults Miss Rosa, as described later in the book. However, her hatred actually biases her understanding of Sutpen; she thinks she "knows [him] awful well" but presents a different picture of him than does Mr. Compson.

2.

He [came] to town to find a wife ... as he would have [gone] to market to buy livestock or slaves.


Mr. Compson, Chapter 2

Compson recognizes Sutpen always acts out of self-interest. Sutpen is described here as treating people in an almost inhuman way, using them for his own benefit without considering their feelings or well-being. He is executing his design, a symbol of the antebellum South's culture.

3.

[Which] was the most unreal ... the adult who had escaped reality ... or the young girl who slept waking.


Mr. Compson, Chapter 3

Her marriage to Sutpen causes Ellen to escape reality, to live in a world of illusion. Her daughter, Judith, adapts to her family's dysfunction by barely living at all; by living in a suspended state where she is scarcely a formed human being.

4.

[Bon seemed] impervious of time ... a man with an ease of manner and a swaggering gallant air.


Mr. Compson, Chapter 3

Charles Bon is shown to be an elegant and sophisticated man of the world, one who has drunk deep of pleasure and is confident in his worldly experience and in himself.

5.

Something happened ... a quarrel between ... the son and the father.


Mr. Compson, Chapter 3

The thing that "happened" is Sutpen told Henry that Charles Bon is his brother. The conversation took place behind closed doors, so it is known only by gossip. The father and son quarreled, and the son repudiated his father, his family, and his inheritance.

6.

There are occurrences which stop us dead ... through which events transpire as ... in a soundless vacuum.


Miss Rosa Coldfield, Chapter 5

The murder of Charles Bon nails the lid in the coffin of the Sutpen family. It is transformative; the family can never be the same again. Life is afterward lived in limbo, or in a "vacuum," awaiting destruction.

7.

I have heard too much, I have been told too much; I have had to listen to too much, too long.


Quentin Compson, Chapter 6

Quentin represents the modern (that is, early 20th-century) Southerner. He has grown up with stories that are his cultural inheritance, and they are taking a toll on him. All the voices—Rosa's, his father's, Shreve's—are beginning to bounce and echo around his head to the point where his own voice can hardly be heard.

8.

Better that he were dead, better that he had never lived.


Shreve McCannon, Chapter 6

This quote refers to Charles Etienne, Charles Bon's son. He is so torn by his mixed blood—and by the way people treat him because of it—that he lives in a perpetual state of identity crisis. Making a judgment about a society that would treat Charles Etienne this way, Shreve imagines he must wish he were dead or had never been born.

9.

He learned the difference ... between white men and black men, but ... [also] between white men and white men.


Quentin Compson, Chapter 7

After young Sutpen's experience of being turned away from a plantation's front door, he begins to distinguish not only the different status of black men in relation to whites, but the reasons that different white men—rich men and poor men—also have different status and are treated either well or with contempt.

10.

His conscience had bothered him ... at first, but he ... argued ... logically with [it] until it was settled.


Quentin Compson, Chapter 7

When Sutpen does something wrong or immoral that begins to trouble his conscience, he reverts to his cold, calculating mind to recast his actions by creating a rationale for them that makes them, in his own mind, right and moral. This is an example of how he controls everything and bends it to further his "design."

11.

It wasn't going to be the old man who would have to pay the check.


Shreve McCannon, Chapter 8

In Shreve's account, Charles Bon understands Sutpen has done terrible things to further his ambition. Charles realizes that whatever Sutpen did, it would not be Sutpen who pays the price, but others in his family who would suffer and pay for his immoral deeds. Sutpen does "pay the check," however, as his life's work falls apart and he dies at the hands of Wash Jones.

12.

We don't live among defeated grandfathers and freed slaves ... always reminding us to never forget.


Shreve McCannon, Chapter 9

Shreve is contrasting the culture and mindset of those not brought up in the southern United States (he's Canadian) with those who must live their lives with the burdensome memory of their history of defeat and slavery.

13.

The house [reeked] in slow and protracted violence with a smell of desolation and decay.


Quentin Compson, Chapter 9

After more than 40 years, this is the condition of the Sutpen mansion Miss Rosa and Quentin encounter on the night they come to find what is "hidden" there. The condition of the mansion reflects the violence and the devastation the Sutpen family members have experienced.

14.

I am older at twenty than a lot of people who have died.


Quentin Compson, Chapter 9

Quentin is nearly crushed by all he has learned and experienced while living in Mississippi. He feels immensely old because he is the recipient of a violent, dreadful history. His point is Southerners carry a history with them that people from other places cannot not experience.

15.

I don't hate it he thought ... I don't. I don't! I don't hate it! I don't hate it!


Quentin Compson, Chapter 9

Quentin is responding to Shreve's question, "Why do you hate the South?" Quentin struggles with his feelings about his birthplace, a mixture of love and hatred.

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