Henry Sutpen

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Henry Sutpen
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Sutpen, Henry
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In two of the three texts in which this son of Thomas Sutpen is mentioned, he is not named and his story is relatively uncomplicated. In "Wash," the prequel to Absalom!, he was "killed in action" during the Civil War (538). In The Unvanquished, published soon after Absalom!, the narrator writes that Sutpen's "son killed his daughter's fiance on the eve of the wedding and vanished" (222). In Absalom! itself, however, he is given the name Henry, and his action provides the narrative with the mystery that haunts it from beginning to end. As the only son of the largest plantation owner in Yoknapatawpha, Henry is expected to inherit and perpetuate his father's dynasty. Instead, on the eve of the Civil War he "adjures his father and renounces his birthright and the roof under which he had been born" (62). Mr. Compson describes him as both a "humorless yokel" (86) and a "romantic" (97), and refers more than once to Henry's "curious relationship" with his sister Judith (62, 79). At college he meets Charles Bon, for whose sake he renounces his patrimony and with whom he serves throughout the Civil War, before killing him at the gate to Sutpen's Hundred during the war's last days. As a fratricide he is a kind of double-exile for decades, but despite his renunciation and his disappearance, in the end he cannot escape the legacy of his father's "design," and the huge mansion his father had built is the roof under which he dies.