Study Guide

Lucius Priest in The Reivers

By William Faulkner

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Lucius Priest

When your last name is Priest, it's maybe not surprising that you're a little innocent.

When we meet Lucius, he's never lied to another human being before. He's basically a little angel. But it doesn't last long: when Boon asks him to help smuggle Boss Priest's car to Memphis, Lucius finds himself caught smack dab in the middle of what he calls Virtue and Non-virtue. In other words, he has to decide whether he should stay good and innocent or whether he should take a risk and follow the call to adventure.

Which does he choose? Well, we certainly wouldn't have a story if he remained all cute and naïve.

By the end of Lucius's tale, after he's journeyed with Boon and Ned and met all sorts of Southern characters, he's transformed into the kind of kid you'd want to kick it with. Check out his résumé: he's stolen a car, taken out a hater, and raced a stolen horse to victory. Sounds like a pretty chill dude.

Let's take a look and see how Lucius goes from teacher's pet to rebel with a cause.

Daddy's Boy

Lucius isn't the type to watch weekend morning cartoons. When we first meet eleven-year-old Lucius, it's Saturday morning, and he's working at his grandfather's bank, as he does each Saturday.

He's the oldest of four boys, and he has the lucky responsibility of making the rounds each morning to collect bills, bringing them back for counting, and answering the telephone—all for ten cents per week. (Hey, it is 1905, after all.) Working at Grandfather's bank is all part of his "Father's logic or premise," he says, a "burden of the requisite economic motions" for a boy of eleven (1.2). According to Lucius's father, growing up means taking on adult responsibilities, like having a job and making money.

What Lucius learns from his father is that becoming a man is defined by working and making money. But that's not the only definition running around these parts: as Lucius will soon find on his adventures with Boon, others define growing up and dealing in lying and corruption, and learning about the birds and the bees.

Forbidden Fruit

Shmoopers, if you ask the residents of Faulkner's Mississippi, temptation has existed since the Garden of Eden. And while temptation may come in the form of an apple for Lucius, it does come rolling by in the form of the Winton Flyer.

Caught in a bit of a pickle, Lucius finds he must choose between his sworn oath to protect his grandfather's car and Boon's enticing call to adventure. He wages an internal battle between the forces of Virtue and Non-virtue, which sit atop his right and left shoulders just like little angels and devils. Yeah, we know. Drama, right?

Lucius keeps hoping that the forces of Virtue will come to his aid. He even hopes the whole thing is a dream, and he'll wake up tomorrow and be "saved." But with the padlock on the stable that holds the Winton Flyer snapped in two and the car in Boon's clutches, it's all too late. "What pity," he says, "that Virtue does not—possibly cannot—take care of its own as Non-virtue does" (3.25).

Virtue is kind of weak, it seems, and Non-virtue keeps a better hold on Lucius. In the end, the temptation is just too great, Non-virtue triumphs, and Lucius takes a bite of the forbidden fruit, by which we mean that he totally drives away in the Winton Flyer.

The Birds and the Bees

Like Huckleberry Finn's adventures down the Mississippi River, Lucius's adventures down to Memphis are accompanied by all sorts of life lessons.

Life lessons about sex, for example.

Glad we got your attention.

At eleven years old, Lucius knows very little about sex. Before his adventures, what he knows about men's and women's roles really only comes from watching his mother, his father, and his grandparents. And there's not much to report here: they all seem happy and go on non-sexy rides together in the Winton Flyer.

Lucius has had a relatively privileged and sheltered upbringing so far, partly because Grandfather's status as a prominent banker garners immense respect for both the men and women in the family. Being eleven in 1905, Lucius doesn't have access to information about sex like kids today do. There's no Internet in 1905, folks.

Yeah, well, everything changes the moment Lucius sets foot in Miss Reba's Memphis brothel. Toto, we're not in Jefferson anymore.

At the brothel, everything Lucius thought he knew about moms and dads goes straight out the window. Here, he finds himself in an environment where men subordinate women, and where those like Otis and Butch get away with profiting off of women's subordination. It's not a light lesson that Lucius learns, but it's one that certainly shapes his moral compass. He begins to discern right from wrong by coming to the conclusion that women should not be taken advantage of in such ways.

What really angers Lucius is the fact that Miss Corrie feels the only way she can free Boon, Ned, and the horse from prison is by submitting to the corrupt cop Butch, who really has the hots for her. Lucius just doesn't believe it. "You see," he says, "just to keep on saying I don't believe it served only for the moment; as soon as the words, the noise, died, there it still was—anguish, rage, outrage, grief, whatever it was—unchanged" (12.27).

Lucius expresses a lot of frustration toward the inequalities he sees in gender roles and in sex. And the fact that he responds much more explosively than characters like Boon and Ned perhaps shows that unlike the others, he doesn't take for truth what he sees in the world around him. Lucius realizes that just because all the guys coming to the brothel are jerks to the women there, that doesn't mean they're right.

Atta boy, Lucius.

The Long and Windy Road

The road to adulthood isn't necessarily a straight shot. It has lots of twists and turns.

But as Lucius discovers, it's those bumps along the way that make him—well—who he is. From lying and stealing to confessing his adventures to Boss Priest, Lucius learns just how complicated it is to be a human.

In just these four days since he's been gone, after all his lying and deception, Lucius has "done and seen and heard and learned [things] that Mother and Father wouldn't have let [him] do and see and hear and learn" (13.107). Even he acknowledges that such things have changed him. "[N]othing was the same as if it had never been" (13.107). Upon his return home, things look and feel different. Why? It's not that Jefferson has changed—it's that Lucius himself has changed.

There's no doubt that Lucius returns to Jefferson, Mississippi quite a different person from the one he was four days prior to his departure. That smart and responsible boy we met at the beginning of the story is still there, but he's now grown into a young man of experience, discernment, and maturity—and without any grand theft auto charges. Phew.

Lucius Priest in The Reivers Study Group

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