The structure of William Faulkner's first masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury (1929), is very stable. The three character-narrators develop the story around the absent center, Caddy Compson, and the semi-omniscient narrator in the last section concludes the novel, witnessing the decline of the old family in the South with the black servant Dilsey Gibson?and with the reader. We might even go so far as to call the novel, which ends with the impressive phrase, "each in its ordered place"(321), the most perfect Modernist novel in America.
Even so, the attainment of "perfection" demands sacrifices. "The Sound and the Fury," Donald M. Kartiganer argues, "pursues its extreme originality not without loss. One loss is history. . . . Another loss is the figure of Caddy" ("Now" 94). Kartiganer himself does not associate the two "losses," but the loss of history is inextricably interwoven with the absence of the heroine, given that Caddy symbolizes the Old South. When she disappears without her own section to narrate, history also disappears. Repressing Caddy's voice, the text becomes a de-historicized Modernist masterpiece in which everything is "in its ordered place."
Viewed in this light, Faulkner's works of the thirties draw our attention in that they are not so "perfect" or stable as The Sound and the Fury is. After the completion of his first great novel, Faulkner deepened his social, historical, and ideological concerns with the South. As a mature writer, Faulkner might acquire a point of view from which he relativized and even criticized the Modernist poetics he had employed in the twenties. With this hypothesis in mind, in this essay I would like to argue Absalom, Absalom! (hereafter Absalom) (1936) as a radical critique of The Sound and the Fury.
The intertextual relationship between The Sound and the Fury and Absalom is apparently obvious. Faulkner himself explicitly writes in a manuscript version of Absalom: "That was the summer before Quentin died" (qtd. as Schoenberg's epigraph). Critics, however, have sometimes problematized whether to discuss the two texts in the same argument (for a helpful overview of this controversy, see Samway, "Searching" 191-95). John T. Irwin, in his influential book, deals with the two novels as a single text, while Peter Brooks expresses the opposite idea: "Absalom, Absalom! doesn't even mention Quentin's having a sister, and in any case using the intertext to explain, rather than enrich and extend the novel, seems reductive and impoverishing" (307).
My stance to the two novels is not so extreme as Irwin's, but I believe that there must be a reason for Faulkner's choice of Quentin as the main character in Absalom, and that we can use the intertext to "enrich and extend the novel." I believe this, furthermore, precisely because Quentin, as Peter Brooks points out, does not even think about Caddy in Absalom. Therefore I do not even concur with B. G. Till Betz, who says: "No one doubts that the two Quentins of the two separate novels are at least different sides of a single personality. Otherwise, one could never argue that the Quentin who is so obsessed with his relationship with Caddy that he must commit suicide could be the same character who never once mentions his sister in Absalom, Absalom!"(439). I also cannot completely agree with Melvin Backman, who asserts: "The Quentin Compson of Absalom is not quite the same as the earlier Quentin: his concern is social rather than personal and his role is identified for the most part with a central quest in the novel--the quest to discover the truth about the rise and fall of his South"(88). It is not Quentin but Faulkner who changed between the two novels. Why Faulkner reuses Quentin but does not let him think about his sister is one of the central issues to be clarified in what follows, for this absence of Caddy's name in Absalom, I think, testifies to Faulkner's development in the thirties.
Critics have often compared Absalom to a piece of detective fiction. In order to read the novel as a text that goes beyond the Modernist achievement of The Sound and the Fury, I would like to assert that Absalom, if it is a kind of detective novel, belongs to the genre of hardboiled detective fiction that proliferated in the thirties as reaction or criticism to the traditional or "modern" detective novel born in the middle of the previous century. Peter Brooks' observation that "The novel becomes a kind of detective story where the object of investigation--the mystery--is the narrative design, or plot, itself" (294) is intriguing, but this structuralist understanding of Absalom as detective fiction might repress the rich connotations of the mystery itself, as well as of Faulkner's intricate narrative strategy.
Phillip Novak, for instance, writes: "As a form of mystery . . . Absalom requires this meeting [between Quentin and Henry in chapter nine], for it is the only moment in the narrative when the mysteries the text has generated can actually be solved, the only moment when the past can finally be laid to rest" (206). For Novak, the conservative nature of detective fiction (a mystery, after all, must be solved for the sake of the peace of the "otherless" community) functions to make "the past . . . be laid to rest," but this assertion seems far from the impression the reader receives from the book when Quentin ends up thinking, "Nevermore of peace. Nevermore of peace. Nevermore. Nevermore. Nevermore" (AA 298-99). Novak also argues:
For all its seeming interest in history . . . Absalom is essentially ahistorical: for although the meaning the novel memorizes is consistently associated with the past, and although the loss of the former therefore seems to be related to our inability to recover or to connect with the latter, this inability itself is persistently universalized--a kind of ongoing proof that the meaning so ardently desired is not actually in the past, was never there in fact, has always already been lost. (213)I conclude from this passage that Novak fails to perceive the structure as well as the theme of the novel. History in Absalom, first of all, reveals itself in the subject's failure to find the "real" past that has (as Novak writes) always already been lost. Second, if all he wanted to do was to "universalize" "our inability to recover or to connect with" the past, Faulkner would not have used Quentin as a detective in a story that deals with the incest issue. And third, the process of Quentin's detection severely undermines Novak's assertion that Absalom is ahistorical and therefore universal, given that the incest taboo is probably more "ahistorical" and "universal" than is the miscegenation taboo. "To claim that Faulkner has replaced history with poetic truth," by stressing the obvious fact that it is impossible to know the "real" past or Thomas Sutpen, is "to slight the attention Faulkner has paid to playing out the quest for history in the text" (Donnelly 119).
I have criticized Novak in detail because his argument is a typical attack both on Modernist fiction and on detective fiction as a genre that belongs to Modernist fiction in a wide sense. Asserting that Novak's criticism is not applicable to Absalom, I suggest that this (hardboiled) novel subverts the poetics of Modernist (traditional detective) fiction. Absalom's "subversion" of Modernist poetics indicates the novel's "richness," for Absalom seems to contain the narrative strategy of The Sound and the Fury. In the first half of Absalom, Sutpen, as Caddy is in The Sound and the Fury, is mystified and mythologized. Reminding us how the author of The Sound and the Fury deals with the novel's heroine, Mr. Compson readily accepts the "universal" idea that he cannot know the past/object, and narrates his fantastic Sutpen story, as if to verify Roland Barthes' famous statement that the "pleasure of the text" is an "Oedipal pleasure (to denude, to know, to learn the origin and the end), if it is true that every narrative (every unveiling the truth) is a staging of the (absent, hidden, or hypostatized) father" (10). Mr. Compson is a Modernist who enjoys this Oedipal/detective pleasure from a detached, ironic viewpoint. As a hardboiled detective, however, Quentin finds this "Oedipal pleasure" unbearably torturous
The mystery itself is not important in hardboiled detective fiction. Its main artistic concern is to lay bare the ideology of the mystery through the hero's emotional/personal commitment to the case. The Oedipal motif is strong in hardboiled detective fiction, but the solution to the case (which is a symbolic patricide in that the detective becomes the "father" by beating his enemy) often leaves a bitter aftertaste because it cannot but be a contribution to the order of a community that the hero hates. In the world of hardboiled fiction, it is not desirable (though inevitable) to be the "father." The echo of the nameless Op's self-doubt in Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest can be heard when Quentin says: "Yes, we are both Father" (AA 210). In the climax of Quentin's story of detection, Sutpen gives Henry what Charles Bon had long desired, namely, his father's recognition: "[Sutpen] holds [Henry's] face between both hands, looking at it. / --Henry, Sutpen says.--My son" (282). "This father's blessing is also a curse," not only on Henry (Duvall 91-92), but also on Quentin, who envisions this scene.
As is often the case in hardboiled detective fiction, the detective Quentin gets involved with a case regardless of his own intention or even notwithstanding his unwillingness. The request of Rosa Coldfield, his unreliable client (this role is usually assumed by a femme fatale in hardboiled detective fiction), tests Quentin's manhood (as a member of the Southern community). As Jadwiga Maszewska points out, the old woman's invitation to Quentin looks like an initiation rite the young man has to receive before he leaves the community (317). Quentin, in other words, is not yet a "man" in the community until he passes the test, accepting the "father's" heritage/history. Rosa's remark that "Northern people have already seen to it that there is little left in the South for a young man" (AA 5), however, makes us expect how difficult the initiation rite will be for Quentin. The initiation rite, in fact, is nothing but damnation for him. Rosa the femme fatale tells him to pass the test to be a "father." But Quentin does not want to be the "father" burdened with the dark heritage of the Old South, and, in the first place, such a strong "father" is not supposed to exist in the New South.
Bayard Sartoris II takes essentially the same test in The Unvanquished, but the romantic world of "An Odor of Verbena" provides him with the "mother" Aunt Jenny. The hardboiled world of Absalom, in contrast, is a "motherless" world, and the initiation rite hopelessly tortures Quentin. In this context, his suicide that "precludes the possibility that his story might beget his son's story" (Redekop 20) testifies to the fact that Quentin cannot perform as a community member. Quentin, it is true, kills himself mainly to protect his "love" for his sister (though in fact to avoid facing the impotence of his desire) in The Sound and the Fury. To be noticed, however, is that Faulkner places Quentin's adversity in the initiation rite in the intertextual context. Olga Scherer observes in detail that the "crucial link between The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! rests upon a single word: door" (307; see 307-14). And this "door" is the metaphor of the stumbling block that prevents Quentin from performing the initiation rite in Absalom: "Quentin was not listening [to Rosa], because there was also something which he too could not pass--that door" (AA 139). For Quentin in Absalom, the "social" initiation as a Southerner means that he has to face his "personal" (impotence of) incestuous desire.
Quentin in The Sound and the Fury commits suicide to protect his fantasy, and closes his "personal" world. Quentin in Absalom, however, is forced by Rosa to pass the door, and sees Henry, falling into the "social" stage. If he did not see Henry, perhaps Quentin could be safe in his romantic world and talk easily about the South to his schoolmates. The miserable figure of the man who Quentin thinks protected his sister's purity in accordance to the Southern honorable code, however, upsets the image of the South that Quentin has consciously interiorized, in which sense Henry is the "other" to him. Faulkner makes Quentin's "personal" quest for the truth (why is Henry miserable?) inextricably interwoven with his "social" quest for the truth (what happened to the Sutpens?). Because of his own personal obsession with his sister, the reluctant detective Quentin, after seeing Henry, has to solve the first mystery. He, however, has to solve the second mystery in order to solve the first. In fact, before reaching the eighth chapter, the main subject of which is love, Quentin and Shreve McCannon have to talk about Charles Etienne in chapter six and about the entire life of Sutpen in chapter seven.
Why, then, does Faulkner make Quentin and Shreve talk about Sutpen before they speak of his children? It is probably in part because "the meaning of the Judith-Bon-Henry story is inherent in Sutpen" (Justus 158). In the present context, however, it is more important that the "conclusion" of the Judith-Bon-Henry story is the climax of the detective novel. We learn that Bon is Sutpen's son in chapter seven, and that Bon is part "black" in chapter eight. Whether Bon is really Sutpen's son and/or "black" does not matter to my argument. The recognition of the inaccessibility to the truth does not lead anywhere but to one's self-conscious confirmation of his/her superiority as the transcendental subject, and it is this kind of detachment which Absalom does not let the protagonists (Quentin, as well as Sutpen and Rosa) have when they face the other. The structure of the novel eloquently indicates that Quentin would not feel any better even if someone like Mr. Compson told him that the miscegenation theory (as well as the bigamy and incest theories) was just a conjecture.
The repressed other always returns in Faulkner's mature novels, and Absalom foregrounds this return of the repressed other in a dramatic fashion. "Quentin has learned something at Sutpen's Hundred which the novel does not record," David Paul Ragan writes, "and . . . it is quite likely not recorded for a thematic reason?Quentin's own reluctance to remember it" (152). When we learn in the final chapter that Quentin met Henry at the Sutpen house, we realize that Quentin's effort to repress the other has failed. In other words, Henry can appear in the text exactly because of Quentin's failure to repress the other. How and why Quentin has failed to repress the other (to maintain his peace of mind as a young Southerner who "loves" his sister) is what Faulkner dramatizes in chapters six through eight, where Quentin (with the help of the armchair detective Shreve) behaves as an emotionally committed hardboiled detective who is destined to solve the mystery (and pass the initiation rite) only to realize that he can never go back to a world before his "fall."
Now we have to trace the process of Quentin's detection: I would like to clarify my stance toward the apparently never-ending controversy as to how he has learned or conjectured Bon's identity as Sutpen's "black" son, which is essential to Quentin's "solution" to the main mystery in the Sutpen story--why did Henry kill Bon? Unlike some critics represented by Cleanth Brooks (Toward 322), I do not think that Quentin learned about Bon's identity from Henry's mouth. There is no textual evidence to support this reading; apparently Quentin did not have much time for his interview with Henry (Hagopian 33; H. Parker 323); and Henry was unlikely "to have told all, asked or not, to a young stranger who burst into his death chamber" (Schoenberg 85). I cannot believe either that Quentin's encounter with Clytie gives him an "intuition of Bon's Negro blood before he goes up to see Henry" (Rollyson 370). Quentin was not really interested in the Sutpen story (except for the incest issue) before meeting Henry. Hershel Parker writes: "Presumably Quentin's revelation the day after going to the Sutpen house prompts Mr. Compson to tell him (perhaps not for the first time) the full story of Sutpen as General Compson had known it; together they make the final discovery of Bon's Negro blood" (324n3). This assumption seems reasonable although I suspect that Quentin's detection with his father might be only about Bon's identity as Sutpen's son. Whereas "In only the last ten pages or so of Chapter VII [in which we "learn" that Bon is Sutpen's son] . . . Quentin says 'Father said' twenty-three times" (Krause 275), Mr. Compson's voice disappears in chapter eight, in which we "learn" that Bon is "black."
After seeing Henry, Quentin comes home and lies "on the bed, naked, swabbing his body steadily with the discarded shirt, sweating still, panting" (AA 298). Quentin recalls this scene in the bed (in which "he began to jerk all over, violently and uncontrollably" ) in Cambridge, as if to imitate the posture of Henry in the bed. My point is not just that this repetition suggests Quentin's identification with the living corpse Henry (Montauzon 218), but also that Quentin in January 1910 is pulled back to the state in which he found himself in September 1909, after his dialogue with Shreve which takes three long chapters, six through eight (Bockting 247). With this framing repetition/pattern in view, I suggest that these three chapters represent the basic process of Quentin's initial conjecture (with Mr. Compson or alone) about the Sutpen story before his conversation with Shreve. Kartiganer contends that if Quentin learns or knows the truth from his meeting with Henry, it is "rather disastrous for the novel, for it means that Quentin knows the full truth about Charles Bon all the time he and Shreve are having their passionate and absorbing conversation" (Fragile 99). By thinking that Quentin does not want to recall the "truth," however, we can save Faulkner from this "disaster" even if Quentin reaches the "truth" before he engages himself in the talk with Shreve. Contrary to Kartiganer's view, Shreve's participation in the conjecture is crucial to the poetics/dynamics of Absalom precisely because of its posteriority. Thanks to its "lateness," Shreve's reinterpretation of his friend's story dramatically foregrounds the return of the repressed other, which Quentin is unwilling to remember so as to be safe in his "personal," romantic world.
Quentin saw Jim Bond and Henry in the Sutpen mansion, and was compelled to think about why Henry was miserable. As numerous critics have pointed out, "Quentin is terrified of what Henry represents" because "Quentin needs to believe that Henry Sutpen is a hero, the epitome of the southern gentleman who defeated his sister's honor" (Butery 220). Quentin in the first half of the novel detaches himself from the story of the Sutpens, but it becomes his own story after his meeting with Henry. He must have thought that Henry could not possibly be as miserable as he was if Henry, as Mr. Compson suggests in his twilight talk with him, had killed Bon to protect his sister from the would-be bigamist even if he may have deeply loved the older man: the relationship between Henry and Bon must have been much closer than Mr. Compson's bigamy theory implies. This is how Quentin's detection begins.
It is hard and probably impossible to tell accurately the order in which Quentin develops his story of the Sutpens. Even so, chapter six seems to answer the likely first question: who is Jim Bond? In this chapter, Quentin reminds himself of his visit to the Sutpen graveyard with his father. Cleanth Brooks is, to my knowledge, the only critic who tries to figure out when the quail hunt happened. He suggests that it occurred in the autumn of 1907 or 1908 (Toward 304-05), but it is possible that Mr. Compson brought his son to the place after hearing what Quentin saw at the Sutpen house. At any rate, even if they did visit the Sutpen cemetery one or two years before the present time in the novel, the structure of the book testifies to the fact that Mr. Compson's talk to his son about Bon's descendants "lacks meaning [to Quentin] until it is retroactively completed by what Quentin himself learns from his visit to Sutpen's Hundred with Rosa in 1909" (P. Brooks 298). It is understandable that the listener Shreve at this point (at the end of chapter six) says, "Wait then. . . . For God's sake wait" (AA 175). While "by Chapter Six, Shreve knows all about the content of the preceding Chapters" (Montauzon 7; see also 247), he probably does not know at the end of chapter six who is the person Quentin saw at the Sutpen house (C. Brooks, Toward 313). Probably it is at this point (between chapters six and seven) that Shreve guesses that the person is Henry even though he does not reveal his speculation. It seems to me that Shreve enjoys not revealing the "answer" while listening to Quentin, so as to confirm by himself that his conjecture has been right. "As long as he is not ready to hear the revelation, because he does not know yet all the factors in the story," Francois L. Pitavy observes, "Shreve enjoys postponing until the end of the moment of comprehension" (193). Perhaps Shreve has even asked his roommate not to identify the person he saw there.
The miserable figure of Henry and the existence of Bon's grandson at the Sutpen mansion are probably suggestive enough to make Mr. Compson (and Quentin) "realize" that Bon was Sutpen's first son, and rectify, change, or develop the bigamy theory into an incest theory, which we learn about in chapter seven. This correction must burden Quentin, for it means that Henry and Bon are both Judith's brothers. Some critics have noticed this revision in Quentin's relationship to the Sutpen story: R. Scott Kellner argues that Quentin is more similar to Bon than to Henry (41-42), and Irwin asserts that "Quentin projects onto the characters of Bon and Henry opposing elements in his own personality--Bon represents Quentin's unconsciously motivated desire for his sister Candace, while Henry represents the conscious repression or punishment of that desire" (28). Things, however, are not so clear-cut, for Quentin's incestuous desire for Caddy is consciously motivated on the presupposition that it cannot be fulfilled. It cannot be coincidental that Judith is the person in Henry and Bon's view (in Shreve and Quentin's story) who would commit incest even if she knew that Bon was her brother (AA 272), just like Caddy, who upsets her brother by saying: "Ill do anything you want me to anything yes" (SF 156). The Henry-Judith-Bon triangle is a heavy burden to the impotent Quentin because incest is almost inevitable in their relationship.
Of course, however, Henry's murder of Bon and his abscondence did prevent incest. So Quentin could stop here and satisfy his curiosity as far as his personal interest in the triangular relationship is concerned. Quentin, however, has heard too much?"Yes. I have heard too much, I have been told too much; I have had to listen to too much, too long" (AA 168)--about the Sutpens in the process of developing this incest theory, to the extent that he cannot but see that this conjecture does not explain why Sutpen abandoned his first wife and son, as well as why the passive Bon suddenly decided to carry out the marriage plan with Judith or why Sutpen avoided seeing Bon when he prohibited the marriage. Quentin, we might say, has learned so much information that he cannot "unlearn" it. He, for instance, cannot unlearn that Sutpen said to General Compson: "I found that she [Eulalia] was not and could never be, though no fault of her own, adjunctive or incremental to the design which I had in mind, so I provided for her and put her aside" (194).
As Shreve suggests (220), General Compson did not know what Sutpen was talking about, for he did not know what would happen to the Sutpens. Likewise, Mr. Compson did not know what his father was talking about, for he did not think that Bon was Sutpen's son. Even though Bon's parentage is a conjecture, this conjecture is the essential factor that establishes Sutpen's mysterious remarks as a mystery to be solved. Without this conjecture, the "detectives" would not (and do not) bother to think about Sutpen's remark (for example, Mr. Compson casually mentions "the one before Clytie" in chapter three ). And once they consider Sutpen's statement in relation to his prohibition of the incestuous marriage, it is not hard for them (the Southerners) to deduce that Bon was "black," for if the incest had been what mattered, Sutpen would not have bothered to mention that he had to "put aside" his first wife.
This is how the Sutpen biography that we learn of in chapter seven has implied the conclusions that we see in chapter eight: Sutpen did not acknowledge Bon as his son because of the "black blood," and Henry killed his half-brother not because of incest but because of miscegenation. However, there is actually a leap between these two conclusions: Sutpen's rejection of his first wife and son does not necessarily confirm the conjecture that Henry killed Bon for the same racist reason. Shreve's primary function as the detective/narrator of chapter eight is to fill in this gap between the two conjectures. Quentin has already "solved" the mystery thanks to his background and ideology as a Southerner at the end of chapter seven, and has no personal reason or desire to develop the unpleasant story any more. In short, the leap between the two conclusions is not really a "leap" for a Southerner, so the Canadian Shreve, now holding all the key materials in his hand, takes on the role of the narrator in chapter eight.
Shreve's romanticization of the Henry-Bon-Judith story gives an ironic turn of the screw that enhances Quentin's agony. In order to fully appreciate the irony, however, we have to understand the reason why the "solution" to the mystery of the Sutpens gives Quentin so much emotional pain that he is speechless in chapter eight and compelled to think at the end of the novel, "Nevermore of peace." As I have suggested above, it is Quentin's (racist) ideology as a Southerner which makes him replace the incest theory with the miscegenation theory. To develop the miscegenation theory, however, requires Quentin first to make Henry accept incest, which I think is the most crucial factor when we think about Quentin's tragedy in Absalom.
"In his compulsion to justify incestuous desire," John T. Matthews writes, "Quentin has Henry accept Bon's proposal to marry Judith" (147). I find it hard to concur with Matthews about Quentin's "self-justifying" motivation because his attitude toward the incest issue is ambivalent, but I agree that Henry's action narrated in chapter eight is deeply reflective of Quentin's romantic agony as a person who has desperately "loved" his sister. This acceptance of incest must be in itself as hard for Quentin as it is for (Quentin and Shreve's) Henry. What is really at stake here, however, is not incest but miscegenation, because Henry's acceptance of incest cannot lead to his murder of Bon. To put it another way, Henry's acceptance of incest is a conjecture that is retrospectively "discovered" on the basis of the miscegenation theory.
One might assume that Quentin makes Henry accept incest first in his imagination and then develops the miscegenation theory because Henry's acceptance of incest does not explain the murder. This assumption, however, ignores the importance of the Sutpen story we learn about in chapter seven. Quentin, developing the incest theory, learns too much about the Sutpens to unlearn it. Shreve apparently "knows" or assumes why Sutpen abandoned his first wife and son when he listens to Quentin's incest theory in chapter seven. By the time Quentin dismisses the incest theory and makes Henry accept incest, the (romantic) Henry-Bon-Judith story has been deeply "Southernized," in which sense Sutpen (reality) overpowers Quentin (romanticism). "In Absalom, Absalom!," M. E. Bradford writes, "Quentin Compson envelops the story of Thomas Sutpen" (77). The Sutpen story, however, makes Quentin's "envelopment" implode. Quentin has no personal reason/need to refute the incest theory, which would place everything in its "ordered place" and satisfy his personal obsession with the triangular relationship. Nevertheless, he decides--or is compelled to decide--to abandon the incest theory and make Henry accept incest. This decision is a forced one, and it shatters his romantic incest fantasy.
Therefore, I believe that some critics are wrong in regarding the miscegenation theory as Quentin's creation to avoid the incest theme (Schoenberg 83-84; Steinberg 64). Such readers commit serious misreading not only of Absalom but also of its intertextual relationship to The Sound and the Fury. In the first place, if he had developed the miscegenation theory to avoid facing the unacceptable incest issue, Quentin would have been much less miserable at the end of the novel.
Quentin's tragedy is not "that he is not capable of Henry's tragic heroism" (Hunt 43), but that he is forced to realize that his personal, romantic obsession with the incest issue is impotent when he encounters the real world. For Quentin, his incest fantasy can only be protected (and is worth protecting) through suicide. In the real world of the Sutpen story, however, incest is nothing when compared to miscegenation. "[O]nce we learn that Bon was part black, which raises the possibility of miscegenation," Robert Dale Parker writes, "then the possibility of incest does not go away. Incest replaces bigamy, but miscegenation adds to rather than replacing incest. Or it replaces not so much in the circumstances as in Henry's reaction to them" (154). The "circumstances" are none other than the racist ideology of the South, which manifests itself when Quentin himself as a narrator/detective makes miscegenation replace incest. It is Quentin's Bon who says to Henry: "So it's the miscegenation, not the incest, which you cant bear. . . . I'm the nigger that's going to sleep with your sister" (AA285-86). Hugh M. Ruppersburg misses a crucial point when he contends that Quentin gets "the painful knowledge that the real truth can never be uncovered" (91) and that "Henry's illness and old age painfully bespeak how remote the past is" (130). On the contrary, Quentin's "painful knowledge" is that the past is so close, so real, and so easily imaginable to him (as a Southerner) that he cannot unlearn it or escape into his fantasy.
Shreve's participation in the re-presentation of the Sutpen story does not relieve but ironically relativizes Quentin's emotional burden or "tragedy." Shreve contributes to the "Southernization" of the Sutpen story because of his interest in (and stereotyped images of) the South, but he is also an outsider, who does not have to have "any serious emotional commitment" to the dark history of the South (C. Brooks, Yoknapatawpha 312). As critics have noticed, his attitude to the Sutpen story is conspicuously different in chapter eight (Michel 216): "Shreve, the usually ironical narrator, becomes the most sentimental one in the novel when he comes to create Bon's story" (Xiao 43). It is not hard to find reasons why he can participate in the re-creation of Bon (in addition to Quentin's reluctance to narrate in the chapter). "As an outsider to the story," Matthews observes, "Shreve . . . sympathizes with the general dilemma of Bon's plight" (144-45). Because of Bon's status as an outsider, furthermore, Shreve's lack of deep knowledge of the South does not discourage him to re-create Bon. "And now," Shreve openly (and rather self-consciously) says right before he develops the Bon story in detail, "we're going to talk about love" (AA 253). Shreve's romantic story of the life of Bon, we might say, is more "universal" than are the stories we learn from the other (Southern) narrators, which is why it highlights the fact that the "Southerness" of the Sutpen story tortures Quentin.
Take, for instance, Shreve's conjecture about Bon's switching of the pictures: "Dont you know?" Shreve says excitedly, "It was because [Bon] said to himself, 'If Henry dont mean what he said, it will be all right; I can take it out and destroy it. But if he does mean what he said, it will be the only way I will have to say to [Judith], I was no good; do not grieve for me.' Aint that right? Aint it? By God, aint it?" (287). "Ultimately," Floyd C. Watkins asserts, "the reader cannot know what picture was in the case or why it was there" (60). Be that as it may, what we learn in chapter six supports (if not verifies) Shreve's sentimental conjecture: the picture must have been of Bon's mistress because otherwise Judith (and Clytie) could not have found her and her (and Bon's) son; because Judith tried to take care of Charles Etienne, sacrificing her own life, she must have loved Bon and felt Bon's love so that she could understand what Bon had intended by switching the pictures. This is a logical if highly romantic conjecture. What is important is that Quentin cannot (or does not) reject this romantic conjecture: he says, "Yes" (AA 287), when Shreve finalizes his story, whereas he has twice objected to Shreve's opinions about love (258, 263). Perhaps, as Ragan notes, "Quentin's simple 'Yes' as a rejoinder should not necessarily be interpreted as a confirmation of Shreve's opinion. Rather it may represent merely a reluctance to become more involved" (92-93). Even so, Quentin's lack of objection at the end of chapter eight allows Shreve's "universal" story to be in a dialogic relationship to the other "Southern" stories. My emphasis is on arguing what this romantic story means to Quentin when he cannot (or does not) dismiss it, exactly because Quentin has been reluctant to participate in the re-creation of the Bon story.
It is important to note that the picture episode is Shreve's version. According to Richard Forrer, "[Quentin and Shreve] re-create Bon in the image of a concerned lover who sacrifices his love for Judith's sake, thereby exonerating him of the charge that he cruelly abuses Judith's love," and their narrative is "an effort to show that Bon is true to his love for Judith" (41). Peter Lurie asserts that Quentin and Shreve, at the end of chapter eight, have a "satisfying way to reduce and contain the historical, social, and economic complications surrounding the war. All of their earlier efforts to understand Sutpen, and thereby a period of Southern history, collapse at their narrative's end into a tragic image of failed romance" (586). These observations would be correct if they were limited to Shreve. It is true that the (semi-)omniscient narrator says, "now both of [Quentin and Shreve] were Henry Sutpen and both of them were Bon" (AA 280), right before the italicized passages in the present tense begin. It is, however, only after the italicized passages end that Shreve expresses his conjecture about Bon's picture. In other words, Bon's "heroic" decision to protect Judith is Shreve's creation, whereas Bon's "tragic" decision to do anything to get Sutpen's acknowledgment might be Quentin and Shreve's. It is an outsider, not a Southerner, who attributes pathos to Charles Bon (see Samway, "Storytelling" 17).
Shreve's romantic picture episode functions to conceal Bon's ruthlessness in deciding to be "the nigger that's going to sleep with your sister." When his ruthlessness is concealed, Bon becomes "the most noble character in the novel" (Railey 137). If Bon had been a stereotyped "evil nigger" who wanted to rape a white woman, Quentin could have found Henry's fratricide acceptable or perhaps even heroic. Shreve's romanticization of Bon, however, not only subverts the racist idea that there must be a clear demarcation between black and white but also foregrounds Henry's racism--and Quentin's, because Quentin, as a Southerner, does not (or cannot) participate in romanticizing the "nigger" Bon, despite the fact that he does not (or cannot) object to the Canadian's conjecture. If he identifies with Bon when he develops the incest theory, the miscegenation theory puts him back to firm identification with the miserable Henry. Quentin, after all, fails in repressing the "other."
The detective Quentin successfully "solves" the Sutpen mystery, but the price is too high. The defender of Southern honor turns out to be not a hero but a living corpse. Quentin's incest fantasy is devastated by his own detective work. Things are apparently in their "ordered place," but all he has is agonizing ambivalence toward the South ("I dont. I dont! I dont hate [the South]! I dont hate it!" [AA 303]). In detective fiction, the solution to the mystery often reflects the dominant ideology of the period (McCracken 60), and one important characteristic of hardboiled detective fiction is the detective's bitter self-consciousness about his/her deep complicity with the dominant ideology. What tortures Quentin, who has solved the case and passed the initiation rite, is this bitter self-consciousness as a Southern man, which he is forced to acquire at the great cost of his cherished incest fantasy.
It is no wonder that Quentin--or Faulkner--cannot even mention Caddy's name. We might recall that Faulkner obscured Horace's incestuous desire for his sister when he revised Sanctuary even though it somewhat damaged the unity of the novel. In the modern, "motherless" world of Sanctuary, there is no room for the beautification of Narcissa Benbow Sartoris. Likewise, there is no room for the beautification of Caddy in the (also "motherless") world of Absalom. The unromantic reality of the Sutpen story mercilessly tells Quentin that it is practically impossible or at least meaningless for him to sacrifice his own life for the sake of his romantic ideal, when he is compelled to admit that incest, in plain words, is not a big deal at all in the real South. From the vantage point of Absalom, Quentin's suicide in The Sound and the Fury is not tragic but merely pathetic. This rereading by the author himself, I think, is the most radical and important criticism ever made on the masterpiece the novelist loved the most, and indicates the point Faulkner reached at the pinnacle of his literary career as a novelist--rather than as a Modernist.