Message and Similarities between Faulkner’s Short Story Entitled ‘Wash’ and the Absalom, Absalom!
Wash was written in 1933, three years before the publication of Absalom, Absalom! This short story makes the novel complete considering the message and representation of the South.
Typical Southern themes are present here as well: strong family relationships, the loss of the Civil War described in a melancholic way, aggression, and violence. One of the first things we get to know about Sutpen is that he thought in the Civil War (very strongly emphasized in here). His stable is nicer than his own house (house and character are in a relationship, and it becomes relevant later that horses are more valued by him than people). His present house is just the remains of a majestic house (reference to his personal and financial decrease). He keeps and raises horses, indicating his social character.
A sudden tragedy happened to him- lost his wife and son nearly at the same time. (The son was killed but cannot be Henry, his death is a mystery. Charles Bon was killed in 1865, three years after Ellen Coldfield’s death, so this information can be a hint to the family relationship between Sutpen and Charles Bon). Therefore, his family line is broken, and very keen on having a son who would go on with the family name. He takes up with Milly Jones for this reason.
The person who is in the habit of listening to Sutpen’s stories about the Civil War is Wash Jones, the ‘white trash’. He is living in a shack given by Sutpen. Years before he was not allowed to enter Sutpen’s house, but since Sutpen once got terribly drunk during their common drinking, Wash Jones took him home and from that time he would always do that (a reference again to the fall of Sutpen).
The person who would open the door for Wash Jones is Judith, the ‘unbrided widow’, in the short story: ‘Miss Judith’. Her only task is to check if Sutpen is in bed when he is drunk. She is the only close relative of Sutpen whom he can count on in 1869.
Wash Jones is on the bottom of society, he is of lower rank than the Blacks, because they had the chance to go to the Civil War at the second wave as opposed to the white trash. Therefore he is mocked by everyone, even the Blacks cannot be forced to show any kind of respect for him.
According to this information the question arises: How come that Wash Jones and Sutpen drink together? A person who did fight in the Civil War, and someone who never had the chance.
Wash thinks he increases to the level of Sutpen. He would say to Sutpen: ‘Well, Kernel… they kilt us but they ain’t whupped us yit, are they?’
But in reality Sutpen now has descended, he cannot keep that level of distance from Wash, although he keeps up this pretence (for example, they talk only on Sundays and in secret, and Wash in theory still cannot enter his house, only after their drinking).
For Wash Sutpen’s glory is unquestionable, because he thought for the values and ideas of the South.
Therefore, when Wash realizes that Sutpen is trying to get his own granddaughter, he trusts him, but it goes without saying that for Sutpen marriage is out of question. He just simply cannot afford it at the age of 60. (From the Absalom, Absalom! we know that before Milly Jones Sutpen wanted to marry Rosa Coldfield for the same purpose, but after a while she changed her mind because she wasn’t willing to breed ‘like a couple of dogs’). So it is more convenient to have sex with a young and healthy girl.
After Milly’s child is born, Sutpen sees that the baby is a girl, and his reaction disappoints Wash Jones. That is: ‘Well, Milly… too bad you are not a mare. Then I could give you a decent stall in the stable.’
This is the point Wash Jones realizes that Sutpen is not as perfect and honourable person as he thought him to be. ‘He heard what Sutpen said, and something seemed to stop dead in him before going on.’
Morally Sutpen is the white trash because as opposed to Wash he does not know what is right and what is wrong. It does not matter if he thought in the Civil War or not. It is a matter of humanity.
The role of the scythe that Wash Jones borrowed from Sutpen is symbolic. Wash wanted to cut the weeds with it, but in the end he uses it for killing Sutpen. ‘When Wash rose and advanced once more he held in his hands the scythe which he had borrowed from Sutpen three months ago and which Sutpen would never need again.’
Therefore, Sutpen becomes his own executor; he is the weed to cut. Faulkner emphasizes it with Sutpen’s descending into the weeds. ‘He went out, passing out the crazy doorway and stepping down into the rank weeds…’
The question arises for Wash: If the world is full of Sutpens, where can he flee? Immoral people like Sutpen can not win for which they are fighting. This may be Faulkner’s moral response to the loss of the Civil War.