The Unvanquished By William Faulkner Character Analysis Bayard Sartoris

In many ways, The Unvanquished can be seen as a Bildungsroman — that is, as a novel tracing the growth of a character from youth to manhood. The seven stories in this volume cover Bayard's growing up — from the time he is twelve years old in "Ambuscade" until he is twenty-four years old in "An Odor of Verbena." At twelve, he is on the verge of manhood, but he is still playing childish games of war; at twenty-four, he is in full possession of his mature powers and asserts them in "An Odor of Verbena," finally putting an end to unnecessary violence. Each story, however, since it was published separately, is able to stand alone, without relying too heavily on the other stories; consequently, even though we see Bayard changing and maturing in one story, sometimes that change occurs only within the context of that certain story and does not carry over from one story to the next. Of the seven stories, we see a Bayard who does not change too much in the first three stories; then we view a Bayard who undergoes a tremendous change in the fourth and fifth stories. Finally, Faulkner presents a mature and distinguished Bayard Sartoris in the last story.

The early stories, particularly "Ambuscade," show Bayard as a young boy who looks upon war as a type of game to be played, a game with no serious consequences. The American Civil War is far away, somewhere in the distance. The towns that are talked about are all outside the geographical region of Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County. Therefore, Bayard and Ringo create imaginary war games, using sand as forts and fortifications — insubstantial fortifications which Loosh can, and does, easily destroy. The ease, in fact, with which these fortifications are destroyed seems to suggest the immaturity of the young boys who are constructing them.

The "pot shot" which Bayard takes at one of the Yankees is only a juvenile extension of the war games which he and Ringo are playing. Bayard does not realize the full seriousness of taking a shot at a Yankee. His immaturity is further seen in the final scene of this story; he is so young and so physically small that both he and Ringo are able to hide underneath Granny's hoop skirts while the Yankee soldiers are searching for them elsewhere. Also in this first story of the novel, Bayard accepts Ringo, his black friend, as either an equal or as someone superior in knowledge to himself. As in other of Faulkner's works, young children often do not have the racial prejudices of adult society. Thus, for some time to come, Bayard continues to accept Ringo as an equal, but at the end of the novel, in "An Odor of Verbena," when we see Bayard's final maturation, he and Ringo are presented as two adults — one white male and one black male-and both are keenly aware of the racial difference between them.

Throughout the episodes with the "mule trading" or "borrowing," Bayard is constantly seen assuming more and more responsibility; at the same time, he begins to do fewer childish pranks. But in all of these early stories, the greatest change within Bayard takes place when Granny is murdered by Grumby. According to the southern code of honor, no gentleman would ever harm a woman or child; this dictum is first and foremost. This same code demands that if a woman is killed by a man, then one of that woman's male relatives must avenge her death. Bayard's father is off with his troop of irregulars; no one knows where he is. Thus, the task falls to Bayard. Bayard, in assuming the responsibility for avenging Granny's murder, assumes a role that calls for strong maturity and courage. Bayard, at fifteen, is forced by the southern code of his society to assume a role that many grown men would find difficult or impossible to perform.

The manner, the diligence, and the determination that Bayard exhibits in tracking down Grumby are such that Bayard wins our complete approval and admiration, in addition to that of the entire adult population of Jefferson, for Bayard performs an act that is distinctively more than courageous. His ultimate slaying of Grumby proves that he is a true Sartoris, upholding "the old order" of the South. After all, Granny always divided the profits of her schemes among the entire population of the county, and everyone was obligated to her. They loved her and they depended on her. It is not surprising that after Bayard successfully avenges her murder, he not only would win the approbation of the county's population, but that he would also add to the grand, almost mystical, aura surrounding the Sartoris name.

Bayard's continued maturation occurs during his conversation with his father when he learns that the colonel is tired of killing people; the war is over and too many people have been killed. It is now a time for a restoration of law and order. This conversation, plus Bayard's studying law at the university, are some of the factors which influence his final actions in "An Odor of Verbena." Since Bayard captured the imagination of the entire county by his pursuit of Grumby, it was tacitly assumed that he would, unquestionably, avenge the death of his own father, Colonel Sartoris, the stalwart of the county. After all, nine years ago, Bayard performed an act of such bravery that no one questions what he will do now. Thus when Bayard confronts Redmond unarmed and is responsible for Redmond's leaving town, no one in Jefferson questions Bayard's courage or his manner of handling the situation. Everyone realizes that it takes more courage to confront a man unarmed, as Bayard does, than it does to kill a man. This is the most influential lesson that Bayard learns from his father. At the novel's end, Bayard has developed from a young child playing games of war into a youth capable of tracking down a murderer and has finally become a young gentleman of law who bravely rejects an act of violence and endorses a code of law and order.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

How old is Bayard in the first story in The Unvanquished?




Quiz