Charles Bon, Thomas Sutpen's illegitimate but sophisticated son, seeks a sense of identity in a South ill-equipped to handle his aspirations. Unrecognized by his father, Charles Bon attempts to gain his rightful inheritance by marrying his half-sister, Judith. Judith's brother, Henry Sutpen, is unable to accept the lineage of the half-brother he loves, but Henry is paralyzed by the justice of Charles Bon's claim.
In Absalom, Absalom!, Quentin Compson most closely identifies himself with Charles Bon. Both Charles Bon and Quentin see their sisters as living symbols of the moral code they esteem, and both find the objects of their estimations unachievable. Charles Bon's attempt at reconciliation with the social order of the South through the woman he loves is most comparable with the romantic quests of Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler from Gone With the Wind.
As imagined by Quentin Compson, the passage relates the struggle of Charles Bon and Henry Sutpen in a military camp at the close of the war.
(from chapter 8 of Absalom, Absalom!)
Then it was dawn, or almost, and it was cold: a chill which struck through the worn patched thin clothing, through the something of weariness and undernourishment; the passive ability, not the volitional will, to endure; there was light somewhere, enough of it for him to distinguish Bon's sleeping face from among the others where he lay wrapped in his blankets, beneath his spread cloak; enough light for him to wake Bon by and for Bon to distinguish his face (or perhaps something communicated by Henry's hand) because Bon does not speak, demand to know who it is: he merely rises and puts the cloak about his shoulders and approaches the smoldering fire and is kicking it into a blaze when Henry speaks:
Bon pauses and looks at Henry; now he can see Henry's face. He says,
--You will be cold. You are cold now. You haven't been asleep, have you? Here.
He swings the cloak from his shoulders and holds it out.
--No, Henry says.
--Yes. Take it. I'll get my blanket.
Bon puts the cloak about Henry and goes and takes up his tumbled blanket and swings it about his shoulders, and they move aside and sit on a log. Now it is dawn. The east is gray; it will be primrose soon and then red with firing and once more the weary backward marching will begin, retreating from annihilation, falling back upon defeat though not quite yet. There will be a little time yet for them to sit side by side upon the log in the making light of dawn, the one in the cloak, the other in the blanket; their voices are not much louder than the silent dawn itself:
--So it's the miscegenation, not the incest, which you cant bear.
Henry doesn't answer.
--And he sent me no word? He did not ask you to send me to him? No word to me, no word at all? That was all he had to do, now, today; four years ago or at any time during the four years. That was all. He would not have needed to ask it, require it of me. I would have offered it. I would have said, I will never see her again before he could have asked it of me. He did not have to do this, Henry. He didn't need to tell you I am a nigger to stop me. He could have stopped me without that Henry.
--No! Henry cries.--No! No! I will--Ill--
He springs up; his face is working; Bon can see his teeth within the soft beard which covers his sunken cheeks, and the whites of Henry's eyes as though the eyeballs struggled in their sockets as the panting breath struggled in his lungs--the panting which ceased, the breath held, the eyes too looking down at him where he sat on the log, the voice now not much louder than an expelled breath:
--You said, could have stopped you. What do you mean by that?
Now it is Bon who does not answer, who sits on the log looking at the face stooped above him. Henry says, still in that voice no louder than breathing:
--But now? You mean you--
--Yes. What else can I do now? I gave him the choice. I have been giving him the choice for four years.
--Think of her. Not of me: of her.
--I have. For four years. Of you and her. Now I am thinking of myself.
--No, Henry says.--No. No.
--You shall not.
--Who will stop me, Henry?
--No, Henry says.--No. No. No.
Now it is Bon who watches Henry; he can see the whites of Henry's eyes again as he sits looking at Henry with that expression which might be called smiling. His hand vanishes beneath the blanket and reappears, holding his pistol by the barrel, the butt extended toward Henry.
--Then do it now, he says.
Henry looks at the pistol; now he is not only panting, he is trembling; when he speaks now his voice is not even the exhalation, it is the suffused and suffocating in breath itself:
--You are my brother.
--No I'm not I'm the nigger that's going to sleep with your sister. Unless you stop me, Henry.
Suddenly Henry grasps the pistol, jerks it free of Bon's hand and stands so, the pistol in his hand, panting and panting; again Bon can see the whites of his inrolled eyes while he sits on the log and watches Henry with that faint expression about the eyes and mouth which might be smiling.
--Do it now, Henry, he says.
Henry whirls; in the same motion he hurls the pistol from him and stoops again, gripping Bon by both shoulders, panting.
--You shall not! he says,--You shall not! Do you hear me?
Bon does not move beneath the gripping hands; he sits motionless, with his faint fixed grimace; his voice is gentler than that first breath in which the pine branches begin to move a little:
--You will have to stop me, Henry.