Character Analysis Drusilla Hawk Sartoris


In some ways, Drusilla Hawk is one of Faulkner's strongest and most determined defenders of "the old order" of the South. In other ways, she is the greatest violator of "the old order." We first hear of Drusilla when her brother tells Bayard and Ringo how she defied the Yankees who were about to take her horse. She threatens to kill her horse (a horse she is deeply fond of) rather than let the Yankees take it. This extraordinary act of daring (and sacrifice, if necessary) characterizes Drusilla as being different from all the other women in the novel.

When Drusilla's fiancé, Gavin Breckbridge, is killed at the Battle of Shiloh and, later, when Drusilla's father is killed in the war, Drusilla shows no grief in the traditional southern manner of copious weeping and wearing black; her mother, Louisa, thinks that Drusilla has deliberately tried to "unsex herself" because of her refusal to weep. For Drusilla, however, weeping would accomplish nothing, whereas riding out to the front lines and killing Yankees would be an act that would avenge the deaths of her loved ones. Ultimately, Drusilla becomes, in Faulkner's words, the representative of "the Greek amphora priestess of a succinct and formal violence." Consistent with Faulkner's characterization from her first act of defending her horse to her final act of laying a sprig of verbena on Bayard's pillow before she leaves the Sartoris manor forever, Drusilla represents an ancient concept as old as the Greek civilization — that is, the need for formal vengeance: Drusilla is like the Greek Electra who, when her father was killed by his wife, demanded her own mother's death as an act of formal revenge.

When Drusilla says that she wants to ride with Colonel Sartoris' troops, the idea is so foreign and so bizarre that Bayard never even mentions it to his father. Yet Drusilla is serious; she feels that she must kill Yankees to avenge the deaths of both her father and her fiancé. The fact that women have seldom fought in wars never occurs to her; yet what she does is akin to heresy in terms of southern tradition. For Drusilla to dress as a common soldier and sleep on the ground in the same bivouac area and fight and kill Yankees — as a man would — gives credence to her mother's accusation that Drusilla has "unsexed herself." That Drusilla has courage, daring, decisiveness, and resourcefulness is never questioned; but all the qualities which are commonly associated with being a woman are burned out of her by her experiences (not just the deaths) during the war and its aftermath. A major change occurs within the woman: when we first meet Drusilla, in "Retreat," even though her hands are "hard and scratched like a man's," she is sensitive and filled with compassion about the plight of the blacks. Several times, she has gone to the river where swarms of newly freed, confused, and bewildered blacks are trying to cross over "the river Jordan" and get to "the Promised Land." The Yankees are readying to blow up the bridge, but Drusilla's mother, Louisa, is unmoved. She says, simply, "We cannot be responsible. The Yankees brought it on themselves: let them pay the price." Drusilla answers, "Those Negroes are not Yankees"; like Granny, who is a representative of "the old order," Drusilla has a true humanitarian concern for the plight of the blacks, but at the same time, she will see to it, as she does in "Skirmish at Sartoris," that the black person remain in his or her assigned place — that is, as an inferior to the whites. She is fiercely loyal to John Sartoris in his attempt to keep the blacks from voting.

The war denies Drusilla the opportunity to function as an antebellum southern lady; she has lost two men she loves deeply and the South's principles and social convictions have been challenged. The idea of staying behind, trying to hold together the remnants of family life, is impossible for her. She chooses a man's role, and her success in "unsexing herself" (Louisa's term) is most clearly evident when the older women of the community insist on treating Drusilla not as a returning soldier and fighter, but as a woman who has compromised herself. When she cries out, "We went to the war to hurt Yankees, not hunting women," she unconsciously reveals how thoroughly she has aligned herself with the thinking of the men she fought alongside of. Her mother is right; to a degree, Drusilla does "unsex herself." But the women ultimately defeat her when they make her put on a dress. Once more, she has to assume the appearance of a lady, but not before she participates in one last act of violence to preserve the code of "the old order." Drusilla is the only other person in the room when Colonel Sartoris kills the carpetbaggers, and Faulkner indicates that Drusilla is thrilled by these murders; John Sartoris is upholding the principles of "the old order," and this, to Drusilla, is far more important than the marriage ceremony which she forgot all about, even though that was the reason she came to town and even though she took part in the skirmish in full bridal attire.

While there is no mention of any love between Drusilla and Colonel Sartoris, it is clear that Drusilla embraces John's dreams and hopes and believes that they are worth all the killing and pain that happens because of them. Drusilla argues with Bayard that Colonel Sartoris is "thinking of the whole country which he is trying to raise by its bootstraps." She accepts as normal the fact that some people must get killed in the process. In terms of traditional roles, a woman is the nurturer of life, not its destroyer. But Drusilla believes that "there are not many dreams in the world, but there are a lot of human lives. And one human life or two dozen — ."

It is not surprising, therefore, that after her husband is killed, she expects his son to become his avenger and his successor. The scene is archetypal: Bayard, the son, is standing by his father's coffin when Drusilla, dressed in a yellow ball gown, with sprigs of verbena in her hair, her eyes shining with fierce exultation and her voice "silvery and triumphant," extends to him the two loaded dueling pistols with "the long true barrels true as justice." Here she is the figure of Woman as Avenger, as was the Greek Electra. She stands before Bayard fully expecting him to perform the full measure of revenge and vengeance, and here she even elevates the concept of revenge to a sacred status reserved only for the select few, of whom Bayard is one of the fortunate ones.

When Drusilla realizes that he is not going to carry out the act of revenge, she becomes hysterical. However, the next day when Bayard returns, he finds that Drusilla has gone forever, but she left for him a sprig of verbena — that symbol of courage which she has always worn. Thus, even though Drusilla can respect Bayard's courage, she cannot change what she has become and, as a result, must depart forever from Bayard's life.