Sins of the FatherPosted: November 19, 2006
I’m reading – almost through – a fascinating book by Faulkner – Absalom, Absalom! – which is too complicated to really summarize, but:
It’s about a man, Thomas Sutpen, born poor white trash c. 1810 in the mountains of Virginia, who, because of something that happened to him on a plantation when he was 14 and the family had rolled out of the hills to lowland Virginia, spends his whole life in pursuit of his “design” of acquiring a plantation and establishing a dynasty. So he leaves home, ends up (years later) married to the daughter of a plantation owner, heir to the land, with a son: and leaves it all, repudiates the wife, and takes away only 20 slaves, because he discovers that his wife is an octoroon, 1/8th black. So he starts over in another state, marries again, has another son & a daughter, and things are going well – until the Civil War breaks out, and his first, abandoned son turns up to marry his half-sister. At the war’s end, the second son kills his older brother, disappears, the sister who was never a bride is widowed, and everything falls irreparably apart.
Also: the first son had a son himself, by a woman who was also an octoroon. The (twice) abandoned grandson marries the blackest woman he can find, in rejection of the 15 16ths of his blood that’s white: and they have a son, who lives in a shack on Sutpen’s abandoned plantation. Sutpen’s last scion turns out to be a poor mulatto, feeble-minded and slack-jawed.
Two dynasties: both of which die of after a few generations, cursed by the father’s racism. A brilliant use of David’s and Absalom’s story to try to come to grips with the (still enduring) legacy of American slavery and racism, and a brilliantly written (and difficult) novel.
It seems to me that a great deal of what’s wrong in the world – certainly not all, but a lot – is wrong because of Western European arrogance: the arrogance that claims another people’s lands, exploits them, enslaves some of them, wrecks the environment, etc, all for economic gain and material comfort. An oversimplification, probably, but not untrue.
There’s more to say, but I’m losing the ability to put words together in a way that makes sense: time a pipe, a stout, and sleep.