In this chapter Faulkner is continuing to fill in certain aspects of his myth, allowing for variant interpretations and also presenting further aspects of the same story with additional details. Some of these details are not presented as fact but only as speculations. For example, could Sutpen have meant to name his mulatto daughter Cassandra instead of Clytemnestra? Clytemnestra was the wife of Agamemnon, who led the Greeks in the defeat of the Trojans in the Trojan War. She killed both her husband and Cassandra. Cassandra was the daughter of the king of Troy who predicted the fall of Troy and was not believed, and who also predicted her own death, and Agamemnon’s, at the hands of Clytemnestra — and was not believed. Thus, if Sutpen meant to call his daughter Cassandra, he had fathered the daughter who would preside over the destruction of the Sutpen dynasty.
Most of the episodes in this chapter will be elaborated upon in subsequent chapters. Again, a central critical concern is Faulkner’s narrative technique which involves retelling the same episodes from many different perspectives. Furthermore another aspect of the narrative technique is seen in the manner in which Charles Bon is discussed at first as though the reader knows all about him even though it is not until sometime later that we learn who he actually is.
An examination of the Coldfield family shows them to be heavily endowed with romanticism. This aspect of the Coldfield nature will show up in Henry Sutpen, who is more of a Coldfield than he is a true Sutpen. Neither Faulkner nor any of the narrators ever classify the Coldfield family as romantic; however, almost every action can be classified as being tinged with romanticism.
All of Mr. Coldfield’s actions are the height of romantic bravura and protest. Then, too, the circumstances surrounding Miss Rosa’s birth and childhood force her into a romantic mold. Ultimately, her devotion to writing poetry is another act of romanticism. In general terms, seclusion, isolation, suicide, poetry, and over-refined morality are all qualities often associated with romanticism. Therefore, the Coldfield family represents the romantic element most opposed to the brute reality of the Sutpen character. Now in looking back to the first chapter where Judith and Henry are watching Sutpen fight, we can see that Judith’s fascination aligns her with the Sutpen character and Henry’s revulsion to violence is a romantic reaction which identifies him as a Coldfield.
This romantic aspect of the Coldfield nature is emphasized in Henry’s repudiation of his house and home and birthright. Such a rejection carries with it all the elements of the romantic outcast who is often at variance with his society and his family. When we understand the basis of the Coldfield nature, then we can understand more fully the underlying motivations of Henry’s actions. Likewise, to repudiate one’s family for the sake of a friendship is even more noble in terms of the romantic code of behavior.
But more important, Faulkner is now preparing for the final act of the novel when Henry must perform his fratricide, that is, he is now creating the basic elements of Henry’s character which will make his later actions completely believable.
Again in this chapter, the mystery surrounding the relationship between Coldfield and Sutpen is emphasized. Whatever offer or arrangement Sutpen made to Coldfield was never revealed by Mr. Coldfield and apparently he later regretted that arrangement — a regret which becomes a contributory cause to his suicide by starvation. We are led to believe that he did have some over-refined guilt feelings about the transactions, which forced him to seek penance.
Finally, the reader needs to step back from the involvement in the novel and note that Mr. Compson’s narration is developing an idea that chance or fate or destiny controls the lives of all men. Ultimately, he will view man as incapable of determining his own life and as a victim of forces beyond his control.