Narrative Recollection in Faulkner’s The Unvanquished
The narrator in William Faulkner’s “The Unvanquished” is an adult looking back on his childhood experiences. This is a powerful technique, because the reader can receive two sets of images through one voice – in this case both the impressions of the young Bayard Sartoris as well as his older (and perhaps wiser) adult self. There are several ways in which the author makes this known, the first being Faulkner’s use of first person, but in the past tense. In the opening scene of the book Bayard and Ringo are playing behind the smokehouse. The past tense of the verbs make it apparent that the action has already been done, (ex.: “…Ringo and I had a living map…”, and “To Ringo and me it lived…”.
Bayard indicates several times that this narrative is a recollection. One ...view middle of the document...
Then later, when Bayard’s grandmother becomes ill Faulkner writes, “I would be sixteen years old before another year was out, yet I sat there in the wagon, crying.” (152).
So how does this narrative strategy affect the representation of southern masculinities? It allows the reader a glimpse of how this particular southern male – Bayard Sartoris – becomes the man that he is. It allows the reader to see this process in action. It visualizes the relationships with other southern men, including and especially his father. It actualizes the disillusionment that can so often shape childhood, but is often easier seen in retrospect that at the time of occurrence. A poignant example of this is in the third chapter when Bayard is questioning the veracity of his elder’s war stories :
…old men had been telling young men and boys about wars
and fighting before they discovered how to write it down:
and what petty precisian to quibble about locations in
space or in chronology, who to care or insist 'Now come
old man, tell the truth: did you see this? were you
really there? (p.94)
These backward glances of Bayard illustrate the loss of that idealistic faith that children often have in the perfection of their elders.
Faulkner's narrator for "Barn Burning" is also a child, but this narrative is not retrospective. The feel of the story is very different in this reguard. The action is taking place as one reads it just as it is happening to the protagonist - who Faulkner only refers to as 'the boy'. There is no sense of an adult perspective. One sees the other characters - the father, the mother and aunt, the sisters - almost as caricatures. The boy, being immature, is completely immersed in his own emotions towards those characters and that is the sense the reader receives about them - the boy's fear, the boy's dim sense of familial pride, the boy's hunger.