Quentin Compson and Shreve, his Harvard room-mate, are obsessed by the rise and fall of Thomas Sutpen.
As a poor white boy, Sutpen was turned away from a plantation owner's mansion by a negro butler. From then on, Sutpen was determined to be a Virginian plantation owner himself. His ambitions are soon realised: plantation, marriage, children, his own troop to fight in the civil war...but Sutpen returns to find his estate in ruins. Worse, Charles, son of Sutpen's first repudiated marriage to a partly coloured girl, seeks engagement to Sutpen's daughter, Judith. When Charles realises this he offers to give up Judith for recognition by Sutpen.