This chapter, more so than the first one, illustrates one aspect of Faulkner’s narrative technique: Faulkner will, throughout the book, present Sutpen mainly from the viewpoint of other people. We seldom see Sutpen directly, and this method of circumlocution — of presenting the main character through indirection — aids in establishing Sutpen as a mythic character.
The mythic quality is also stressed at the beginning of the chapter where Faulkner emphasizes the continuity of the past with the present. With this emphasis, Faulkner is stressing man’s past as a direct influence upon his present actions. Ultimately, Quentin will try to determine the meaning the Sutpen story has for his own personal life and for the entire South.
In terms of Faulkner’s narrative technique, this chapter begins to fill in certain episodes which have already been mentioned in the first chapter. Note that nothing new is narrated, but only that we get a fuller picture of the marriage between Sutpen and Ellen Coldfield. It is therefore important that Mr. Compson narrate the facts about the marriage because of his own father’s involvement in the wedding. The grandfather could pass the actual facts on to Quentin’s father who in turn tells them to Quentin. Ultimately, this second chapter begins Faulkner’s retelling of the story and already the story should be familiar to us so that the details can be elaborated upon.
A question arises as to why Faulkner had Miss Rosa narrate the first chapter, in which we hear Sutpen referred to as a demon or a djinn. Would our view of Sutpen be different if we had not already been prejudiced by Miss Rosa’s view? Generally speaking, this chapter depicts Sutpen as a strong, powerful, independent, and individualistic man who can and will do anything to achieve his ends. This view of Sutpen colors most of Mr. Compson’s narration. Basically, it will later become clear that Mr. Compson is fascinated with the legend. He sees in the defeat of a strong, determined man like Sutpen the rationale by which he concludes that all men are incapable of determining their own destinies.
In this early picture of Sutpen, the basic ingredients of a heroic and admirable man are present; yet our view of him is modified by several factors, such as Miss Rosa’s hatred, the town’s irrational dislike for Sutpen, and the cold, determined way in which he arranges his marriage with Ellen Coldfield. In the town’s dislike for Sutpen, Faulkner forces us to enter into the novel and become narrators since he never explains or gives any clues as to why the town conceived this dislike for the man. Thus, to speculate, the dislike could result from Sutpen’s arrogance and independence which might easily have offended the townspeople. Furthermore, when the town cannot understand an outsider’s actions, then all types of motivations are assigned to his endeavors. Apparently, the town also resented Sutpen’s engagement and marriage to Ellen Coldfield and his expectation that everyone would attend the wedding. The entire marriage and arrangements for it have a dehumanized quality, partly due to Sutpen’s innocence — that is, that quality in him which fails to delineate between moral subtleties.
There are many other things left unknown or merely implied. For example, we never know where Sutpen gets his money, why he was arrested, what the link was between Coldfield and Sutpen, why the architect remained in the wilderness for two years to build the house — or many other aspects of the story. Many interpretations are offered by various narrators, but we are never to know for certain. This failure to give the answers is part of Faulkner’s purpose of forcing the reader into the story.