Haiti in Absalom, Absalom! (Location)

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Although Quentin most often refers to it generically as the "West Indies" (192) and Shreve flippantly refers to it as "Porto Rico or Haiti or wherever it was" (239), the place to which Sutpen goes to accomplish the first step in his design is the island of Haiti, as the Chronology and the Genealogy at the end of the novel make clear. The "Haiti" in the novel is not the historical Haiti, which successfully won independence from France and abolished slavery by 1804; at least, it still seems to be a slave-holding French colony when Sutpen arrives there in 1820, and in the novel the slave rebellion occurs in the late 1820s. Instead, Absalom! represents "Haiti" in vague and essentially symbolic terms. The 14-year-old Sutpen who goes there imagines it as a land of opportunity, "a place called the West Indies to which poor men went in ships and became rich" (195). The one long description of the "little lost island," furnished in Quentin's narrative but based on what his "Grandfather said," locates it in a moral realm rather than in the Caribbean or in history: as "the halfway point between what we call the jungle and what we call civilization," as "a spot of earth which might have been created and set aside by Heaven itself, Grandfather said, as a theatre for violence and injustice and bloodshed and all the satanic lusts of human greed and cruelty" (202). In terms of the story, the most important Haitian setting is the French sugar plantation where Sutpen is an overseer until the slaves revolt. It is in Haiti that Sutpen marries his first wife and has his first child, and where he acquires the twenty slaves he brings with him to Yoknapatawpha.

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Plantation; Foreign Country