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 determined to be a Virginia plantation owner himself. His ambitions are soon realized- 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 to a partly coloured girl, seeks engagement to Sutpen's daughter, Judith. When Charles realizes this he offers to give up Judith for recognition by Sutpen.