Character Analysis Ringo


In the first story, "Ambuscade," Ringo is the black playmate and the constant companion of Bayard Sartoris, a young white adolescent; both are twelve years old. The South has been at war for two years, and Ringo belongs to the race of people about whom the war is being fought. Neither Bayard nor Ringo is fully aware of this fact, however. War is the subject of stories and games. The bloody front lines and the matter of racial segregation are far away from the world where we first meet Bayard and Ringo as they are "playing war" behind the Sartoris smokehouse.

Ringo enthusiastically joins in the game with Bayard, recreating battles which would, ironically, keep the entire black race enslaved; he even likes, and insists on having, a turn playing one of the southern white generals, and Bayard has to play one of the northern ones. Ironically, Ringo is simply too immature to know the social significance of the games; he sees the Yankees as enemies of the Sartoris family and, therefore, as enemies to himself. There seems to be little or no realization on his part that other blacks are "escaping" to their freedom. The thought of joining the others never occurs to Ringo.

Ringo has so thoroughly adopted the white values of the Sartoris family that his judgments are exact replicas of the white society of the South. From "Ambuscade" — where both he and Bayard, a black boy and a white boy, hide under Granny's skirts — until "Vendée," where both boys track down Grumby, kill him, and return home and fall asleep exhausted together on a pallet, there is little or no significant difference between them. In fact, Ringo is more often than not in charge of Granny's "mule borrowing" operation and seems more clever at it than Bayard does.

Even at the end of "An Odor of Verbena," Ringo feels that Colonel Sartoris should be revenged. But by now, the color code of southern society has dictated that Ringo, a black man, can have nothing to do with the colonel's death being revenged. Ringo's only participation in the matter is his serving as a messenger to Bayard, who must do the avenging. Whereas other whites come to Bayard to offer their services — some even offering to avenge the colonel's death by killing Redmond themselves — Ringo does not have these options. Were he even to raise his voice to the white man who killed the colonel, Ringo's life would be endangered. It is further irony that Ringo would even want the colonel's death revenged because all his life the colonel fought to keep blacks enslaved, and, later, he prevented them from exercising their right to vote.

It is not clear when the breech between Bayard and Ringo occurs. Faulkner does not tell us. As was noted, when both were youths Ringo was considered the smarter of the two, but sometime between "Vendée" (when both are almost sixteen and more or less equals) and "An Odor of Verbena" (when both are twenty-four), a significant gulf has developed between them. For example, when they were young, they slept together on the same pallet; yet in the last story of the volume, Ringo cannot even enter Bayard's room to announce the colonel's death; he must announce it to Professor Wilkins and wait in the kitchen until Bayard comes down to him. Ringo is, ultimately, not his own man. He is a person or pawn molded by the values of the old southern society that he grew up in, believed in, and is still ensnared in when the novel ends.