Study Guide

The Reivers Coming of Age

By William Faulkner

Coming of Age

I'm sure you have often noticed how ignorant people beyond thirty or forty are. I don't mean forgetful. That's specious and easy, too easy to say <em>Oh papa </em>(or grandpa) <em>oh mama </em>(or grandma), <em>they're just old; they have forgotten</em>. Because there are some things, some of the hard facts of life, that you dont forget, no matter how old you are. (1.5)

Lucius provides this insight as an adult looking back on how, as a child, he probably viewed adults as forgetful. But he realizes now that adult ignorance is deceptive. In the years that have passed between his adventure and his telling the tale, he has learned that some things are just too great to be forgotten.

He [Boon] already had a certain way…with horses and mules; your great-great grandfather always said, not so much because of his size as because of his innocence since the only other domestic animal that big and that uninformed was a horse. (2.13)

The childish Boon exudes a certain innocence, which perhaps suggests that he has just as much growing up to do as the story's narrator, Lucius.

When grown people speak of the innocence of children, they don't really know what they mean. Pressed, they will go a step further and say, Well, ignorance then. The child is neither. There is no crime which a boy of eleven had not envisaged long ago. His only innocence is, he may not yet be old enough to desire the fruits of it, which is not innocence but appetite; his ignorance is, he does not know how to commit it, which is not ignorance but size. (3.10)

Classic Faulkner, leading us in circles and circles. And classic Lucius, understanding now as an adult how adults viewed him as a child. There's a logic here: adults think kids are innocent and ignorant. But kids are actually quite the opposite (as we well know).

You see? I was doing the best I could. My trouble was, the tools I had to use. The innocence and the ignorance. I not only didn't have strength and knowledge, I didn't even have time enough. When the fates, gods—all right, Non-virtue—give you opportunities, the least they can do is give you room. (3.36)

As a child, Lucius believed that he was not responsible for his choice to sin; he thought it was fate (or what he calls Non-virtue) that prodded him along. His childish logic reveals that he wished he had more time to weigh the pros and the cons of his choices, but he thinks Non-virtue didn't give him that time. Hmm, is fate entirely to blame for bad decisions?

It was like any other hall, with a stairway going up, only at once I smelled something; the whole house smelled that way. I had never smelled it before. I didn't dislike it; I was just surprised. I mean, as soon as I smelled it, it was like a smell I had been waiting all my life to smell. I think you should be tumbled pell-mell, without warning, only to experience which you might well have spent the rest of your life not having to meet. But with an inevitable (ay, necessary) one, it's not really decent of Circumstance, Fate, not to prepare you first, especially when the preparation is as simple as just being fifteen years old. That was the kind of smell it was. (4.20)

Welp, plain and simple: Lucius has just learned about sex. Only he's coming to terms with it—well—on his own terms. Whether it's a literal stink that he's smelling, or more of a dirty feeling that's coming from what he's seeing in the brothel, Lucius is learning more about the birds and the bees than he was prepared to learn.

"Just listen to me a minute, will you? I aint talking about mudholes. I'm talking about the things a fellow—boy can learn that he never even thought about before, that forever afterward, when he needs them he will already have them. Because there aint nothing you ever learn that the day wont come when you'll need it or find use for it—providing you've still got it, aint let it getaway from you by chance or, worse than that, give it away from carelessness or pure and simple bad judgement. Do you see what I mean now?" (5.42)

So Boon is telling Lucius that he'll use trigonometry again someday, right? Or maybe he's just telling Lucius that the things he's learning on this trip are things that he'll never forget. In fact, they're things he <em>shouldn't</em> forget. Why? Because one day they'll certainly come in handy, so it's best not to forget them. Got it.

It was after ten now; there were few lights, these only in the other boarding houses (I was experienced now; I was a sophisticate—not a connoisseur of course but at least cognizant; I recognized a place similar to Miss Reba's when I saw one). (7.15)

At the beginning of his adventure, Lucius may not have known what a brothel was. But in just one day, he's become a self-professed expert on what a "boarding house" looks like at night.

I was having to learn too much too fast, unassisted; I had nowhere to put it, no receptacle, pigeon-hole prepared yet to accept it without pain and lacerations. (7.81)

Sheesh, growing up just sort of hits you all at once, doesn't it? Lucius doesn't really know where to put all of the information that's coming at him in rapid fire. And it doesn't help that Boon keeps telling him not to forget any of it.

You have to learn too fast; you have to leap in the dark and hope that Something—It—They—will place your foot right. So maybe there is after all something besides just Poverty and Non-virtue who look after their own. (7.103)

Maybe Peter Pan was on to something. Perhaps growing up is like taking a leap in the dark. Who or what helps you to fly? Is it guys like Boon, who help guide you through the process? Or is it fate itself, helping you to learn all that you need to know about surviving adolescence? Lucius's advice is that you have to learn it all quickly, because when it's time to leap, it's time to soar.

Because I couldn't now. It was too late. Maybe yesterday, while I was still a child, but not now. I knew too much, had seen too much. I was a child no longer now; innocence and childhood were forever lost, forever gone from me. (8.62)

Lucius finds himself in a very adult situation: he's literally holding the reigns to a horse that has huge sums of money bet on him. There's no going back to yesterday, when Lucius was a child. He's an adult now, and he has no choice but to act like one.