Children of the Dark House: Text and Context in Faulkner

By Noel Polk | Go to book overview

The Artist as Cuckold

In order to believe that Thomas Sutpen rejects Charles Bon because he has black blood, readers have blithely been willing to do a good deal of fancy footwork around some significant obstacles. First, you have to believe that Sutpen is far more race-conscious than he proves himself to be in any other place in the novel. Second, you have to believe that Bon at birth had physical characteristics -- skin pigmentation, hair texture, lip thickness: something -- that identified him as black, but which disappeared as he got older so that he could enroll at the University of Mississippi and pass as white all of his life. Third, if you believe that Sutpen was worried about dynasty, traditional problems of primogeniture, you have to overlook the Mississippi law that forbade a black son to inherit a father's estate.

Nevertheless, Bon's "blackness" overwhelms discussions of Absalom, Absalom!, because it provides the novel's character-narrators, after many trials and errors, with a motive that allows them to explain why Henry Sutpen kills Charles Bon at the gates of Sutpen's Hundred. But Quentin and Shreve posit Bon's blackness very late, toward the end of chapter 8, in the scene they create together in which Sutpen summons Henry to his tent on the eve of battle and informs him about Bon's racial heritage ( AA283). Sutpen's revelation provides a focus, a release, a renewed energy, for the narrative quagmire they have been in. From this moment, the narrative becomes a sort of end- game. The preforeordestinated scene at the gate of Sutpen's Hundred toward which the narrative has been moving becomes, finally, inevitable: the novel relaxes from its hems and haws, its stops and starts, its proffered and then rejected explanations. In three pages Charles Bon is dead: Henry has kilt him dead as a beef.

But Sutpen's revelation asks a major question that the boys, in their

-137-

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Children of the Dark House: Text and Context in Faulkner
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction: Pleasure of the Texts vii
  • Where the Comma Goes - Editing William Faulkner 3
  • Children of the Dark House 22
  • Trying Not to Say - A Primer on the Language Of The Sound and the Fury 99
  • The Artist as Cuckold 137
  • Ratliff's Buggies 166
  • Woman and the Feminine In a Fable 196
  • Man in the Middle - Faulkner and the Southern White Moderate 219
  • Faulkner at Midcentury 242
  • Works Cited 273
  • Index 283
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