Analysis: Plot Analysis
Most good stories start with a fundamental list of ingredients: the initial situation, conflict, complication, climax, suspense, denouement, and conclusion. Great writers sometimes shake up the recipe and add some spice.
Saturday night at the barber shop
It's hard to imagine that anybody in Jefferson wasn't talking about the rumor. But the barber shop, McLendon's recruiting station, is where the plot make an example of Will is hatched. The shop is also where Hawkshaw begs the other men to "Find out the truth first" (1.19). Unfortunately, nobody follows his advice.
Meet Miss Minnie Cooper
In the Initial Situation, Hawkshaw insinuates that Minnie is a sexually frustrated woman, capable of imagining or lying about sexual encounters with men. In this stage, we are conflicted – we feel sorry for Minnie, and at the same time imagine that there might be something to Hawkshaw's theory.
In this stage we're back to the men. Five men drive out of town, McLendon, the stranger, the ex-soldier, Hawkshaw, and Butch. Things get complicated when they arrive at the ice plant and kidnap Will. So complicated that Hawkshaw jumps from the moving vehicle, taking the reader with him (leaving five men in the car). We are stuck in the dusty ditch while McLendon and company drive Will out of town. This complicates things for us because we don't get to find out exactly what happens to Will. In all likelihood, Will is killed. In any case, when Hawkshaw sees McLendon drive by on his way back to town, there are only four men in the car – Will has been left somewhere dead at worst, and severely injured and humiliated at the very least.
"Shhhhhhhhhhh! Poor girl! Poor Minnie!" (4.9)
Minnie's breakdown in the movie theatre, which culminates in her laughing/screaming fit in the bedroom probably occurs around the same time something bad is happening to Will. If we were to witness the details of the abuse of Will Mayes, we would have a double climax on our hands. But, Will's climax is left untold, a dark secret, something unpleasant to be hushed up like Minnie's breakdown.
What really happened?
When we get to Section 5, we have some hope that we will learn 1) what happened to Will after Hawkshaw removed himself from the scene, 2) learn what really happened between Will and Minnie, and 3) pick up some details on how the rumor got started. Since those questions aren't conclusively answered, the story suspends us in this Suspense Stage.
McLendon at home
We might not get answers to the questions in the Suspense Stage, but we do get some insight into John McLendon. We learn that he physically and emotionally abuses his wife.
The story ends with a naked, sweaty, "panting" McLendon "pressed against the dusty screen" of his porch where he sleeps, and then a vision of a lonely afflicted world "beneath the cold moon and the lidless stars" (5.7). The hope in this bleak vision lies in the fact that the story is told, hopefully influencing readers to act differently than the characters. Historical truth-telling through a variety of media, including fiction, is a powerful way to effect change. If you want to throw a little non-fiction into the mix, check out this article that discusses the hate crimes against which Faulkner is reacting in "Dry September."