Quentin Compson

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Quentin Compson
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Compson, Quentin
Upper Class
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Wednesday, January 1, 1890 to Wednesday, December 31, 1890

Quentin Compson is the one character who is present, at least implicitly, on almost every page of the novel. He is one of the four people who tell various parts of the story of Thomas Sutpen and his family in the attempt to reconstruct the past, but even more pervasively he is the listener to the stories the others tell in the novel's two different 'presents': a hot afternoon and night in Mississippi in September 1909 (Chapters 1-4) and a cold Massachusetts night in January 1910 (Chapters 5-9). His most direct connection to Sutpen, as his father explains, is as the grandson of the man, General Compson, who was Sutpen's "only friend" (220), but his deepest connection to the story is as "Quentin Compson, the southerner" (276), "born and bred in the deep South" (4), whose "being" is "a barracks filled with stubborn back-looking ghosts" (7). "Twenty years old" (7), he is described physically as "fragile and wan" (236), and psychologically as "morose and delicate" (276). "Having to listen" (4) is for him an ordeal: "I have heard too much," he thinks, long before he hears the worst; "I have been told too much; I have had to listen too much, too long" (168). In the course of his story Quentin does get inside "the haunted house" (174) - the old Sutpen mansion - to confront one of its ghosts in person, but no exorcism occurs. He and Shreve seem to get much further than anyone else toward knowing what happened in the past, but the anguished note the novel ends on makes it clear how far Quentin remains from making peace with his southern "heritage" (7). And as readers of Faulkner's earlier novel The Sound and the Fury, where Quentin is also a major character, already knew when Faulkner published Absalom!, the dark night Quentin spends in his Harvard "sitting-room" wrestling with the legacy of Thomas Sutpen is not just "five months" (23) after the day when the first half of this novel occurs; it is also almost exactly five months before the day in the earlier novel when Quentin leaves that dorm room to commit suicide.

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