"The Proud Galloping Image": Sutpen, Wash, and the Gaze in Faulkner's "Absalom, Absolom!"
William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! has been hailed as a matchless achievement in American literature. Despite the extensive criticism on this novel, however, a disproportionately small amount examines the relationship between Thomas Sutpen, the novel's central character, and Wash Jones, Sutpen' s tenant and murderer. Jean-Paul Sartre, landmark existential theorist, provides the most effective theory by which to explore this relationship and to reveal Wash's importance in the novel as a whole; in his principal treatise, Being and Nothingness, as well as in other writings, Sartre presents his theory of "the gaze." A person's gaze, according to Sartre, has the power to transcend, objectify, and define another. Two of the novel's pivotal scenes hinge on this objectifying power. It is a gaze that incites the young Sutpen to formulate his grand "design" for his life, which drives the plot of the novel, and it is Wash's sustained gaze on Sutpen that ultimately results in Sutpen's demise. Although Sutpen and Wash are born into essentially the same low social class Sutpen successfully makes himself into a wealthy Mississippi plantation owner while Wash's position remains static. This essay demonstrates that the only difference between them is their reaction to the collective "gazes" of their societies; Wash accepts and conforms to this gaze, but Sutpen rejects it. Traditional Southern notions of "class" are thus exposed as hypocritical and false.
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Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
College of Arts and Sciences
Arts and Sciences -- Dissertations, Academic; Dissertations, Academic -- Arts and Sciences; Faulkner, William -- 1897-1962 -- Absolom, Absolom! -- Criticism and interpretation; Gaze in literature
Length of Campus-only Access
Honors in the Major Thesis
Sigmund, Dana, ""The Proud Galloping Image": Sutpen, Wash, and the Gaze in Faulkner's "Absalom, Absolom!"" (2004). HIM 1990-2015. 423.