Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner is the story of a man who outraged the land that then turned and destroyed the man’s family (Serafin 356). Growing up as a poor mountain white, Thomas Sutpen yearns for more than what he has ever had. He marries a young woman and fathers a son, but soon after it is revealed to him that his wife has Negro blood. Abandoning his new wife and child, Sutpen leaves to create a life for himself of wealth, family, and social acceptance. Thomas Sutpen marries a gentlewoman, Ellen Coldfield, with whom he begets two children, Henry and Judith. Although he is a man of accomplished dreams and affluence, everything that he has achieved and established crumbles around him (Magill, Magill’s Survey of American Literature 675). The events transcend into a twisted plot of revelation, revenge, and murder. When Henry goes off to college, he becomes good friends with Charles Bon, the first son of Thomas. Charles meets and then falls in love with his half-sister Judith, which causes Henry to kill him because he is committing incest. As a result of this incestuous relationship and murder, the fabulous life that Sutpen has worked to maintain is torn apart by the revengeful attitudes of the family members. William Faulkner’s novel Absalom, Absalom! contains an allusion to the Biblical account of King David and his family and to William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet in order to develop the characters in the conflicts that revolve around four thematic ideas.
Faulkner’s allusion to the Bible and Hamlet allows for the development and shaping of the characters in Absalom, Absalom! (Brooks 51). In the novel, there is a similarity between the lives and the characters of Thomas Sutpen and Charles Bon and King David and his son Amnon. A comparison is made between Thomas and King David as well as between Charles and Amnon (Vogel 69). With the description of and the reference to King David, Thomas Sutpen’s character qualities are clearly seen and understood. Both of these men have had one of their sons killed by another son because of an incestuous relationship that have been partaken in. The first son of Thomas Sutpen is Charles Bon and he is likened unto Amnon the son of King David (Lind 888). Through feelings, actions, and even death, the two men are closely related. The story of Hamlet is used as an allusion to the character of Henry Sutpen as well as Thomas Sutpen. Because of the instability of Henry and psychological forces that drive Thomas, they are likened unto the character of Hamlet. The novel Absalom, Absalom! alludes to a particular story in the Bible and the play Hamlet in order to descriptively develop the characters.
There are detailed parallels between the character of King David in the Bible and Thomas Sutpen in the novel, which allows for the development of Thomas Sutpen’s character. Like David, Sutpen is overwhelmed by his preoccupation with the crime of incest (Gray 255). Because of his desire to be with his half-sister in an incestuous relationship, Charles Bon, a son of Thomas Sutpen, is killed by his half-brother Henry Sutpen. The comparison between King David and Thomas Sutpen is that they both mourned over the murder of their one son by another son and over the idea of an incestuous relationship among their children. Although he has committed his own unethical deeds, he is still grieved at the thought of incest. Sutpen is also characterized as a worthy soldier just as David is noted as being a great and mighty soldier (Magill, Magill’s Survey of American Literature 676). During the Civil War, Sutpen is an elected commander of a specific group of men. The two men are likened unto one another because of their ability to kill many foes and enemies. Another way in which Thomas and David are compared is that they are both alienated from their particular society because of their previous actions, although their actions are different from each other (Scholes 197). King David has an affair with Bathsheba, a married woman, and Sutpen mocks Southern society by achieving his quick development of a plantation and his aristocratic social ranking that tradition says should be passed down from generation to generation (Serafin 353). These events that