Thomas Sutpen

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Thomas Sutpen
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Sutpen, Thomas
Upper Class
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Specific Job: 
Planter, Confederate Officer
Date of Birth: 
Thursday, January 1, 1807 to Thursday, December 31, 1807
Cause of Death: 

At the center of Absalom, Absalom! is the story of Thomas Sutpen, from his childhood in the mountains of western Virginia to his violent death 62 years later in Yoknapatawpha. As one of the county's earliest, and certainly its largest planter, and a Confederate Colonel during the Civil War, he has a lot in common with John Sartoris, the man who represented the Old South's plantation aristocracy in Faulkner's first Yoknapatawpha fiction. At the start of the war, Sartoris and Sutpen work together to raise and lead the Confederate regiment that fights in Robert E. Lee's army. However, just as Sutpen takes Sartoris' place in command of that regiment, so the story of Thomas Sutpen affords a much more searching look than the Sartoris saga at the cultural issues of class, race and slavery - issues that are largely taken for granted in Flags in the Dust. It is a story that is told retrospectively, from almost half a century after his death, one that changes dramatically depending upon who is telling it. To Rosa Coldfield, for example, Sutpen is "fiend blackguard and devil" (10), the outsider on whom the defeat of the South can be blamed. Wash Jones sees him at different moments as both the redeemer he worships and the "instrument" of his "despair and grief" (232). Quentin Compson raises the novel's implicit question when he wonders if it took "Thomas Sutpen to make all of us" (210). One part of the story - of the "innocent" (178) young Sutpen's "fall" into the Old South (180) - he apparently tells himself, though it reaches the reader as it is passed on by Quentin's grandfather to his father, by this father to Quentin, and by Quentin himself to Shreve. As the absent embodiment of the past, Sutpen himself remains both indeterminate and inescapable. Sutpen's design, to revenge himself upon the plantation aristocracy by creating an aristocratic dynasty of his own, fails - tragically, or ironically, or perhaps even justly. But his legacy remains to haunt the characters who inherit his story.

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Date of Death: 
Thursday, August 12, 1869