Study Guide

The Reivers Men and Masculinity

By William Faulkner

Men and Masculinity

...telling us how the pistol was the living badge of his manhood, the ineffaceable proof that he was now twenty-one and a man; that he never intended, declined even to imagine the circumstance in which he would ever pull its trigger against a human being, yet he must have it with him; he would not more have left the pistol at home when he came away than he would have left his manhood in a distant closet or drawer when he came to work. (1.7)

Everyone knows how John feels about his pistol. His wife has even stitched a pocket exactly fitting the pistol on the inside of the bib of his overalls. John keeps it with him at all times; it's a public statement of his masculinity.

It's not men who cope with death; they resist, try to fight back and get their brains trampled out in consequence, where women just flank it, envelop it in one soft and instantaneous confederation of unresistance like cotton batting or cobwebs, already de-stingered and harmless, not merely reduced to size and usable but even useful like a penniless bachelor or spinster connection always unable to fill an empty space or conduct an extra guest down to dinner. (3.11)

Upon learning of the death of his grandfather, Lucius offers the wisdom that men and women cope with death differently. While men try and combat death, women welcome it with open arms.

"They are house rules," Mr Binford said. "A house without rules is not a house. The trouble with you b****es is, you have to act like ladies some of the time but you don't know how. I'm learning you how."

"You cant talk to me that way," the older one said.

"All right," Mr Binford said. "We'll turn it around. The trouble with you ladies is you don't know how to quit acting like b****es." (5.74-76)

We hope Mr. Binford angers you as much as he does us, as this isn't a nice thing to say to women. Even Lucius is uncomfortable around Mr. Binford, and he's not a guy that Lucius wants to be like at all.

"Why don't you take these boys on back home to bed, if you're all that timid about strangers?" Miss Corrie said.

"Why don't you take them back home yourself?" Boon said. "Your old buddy-buddy there has already told you once you aint got no business here."

"I'll go with him to get the crow-bars," Miss Corrie told Sam. "Will you keep your eyes on the boys?" (7.38-40)

Boon believes that gender roles are quite clear: women take care of the children, and men play with the tools. Except Miss Corrie challenges Boon's sense of what it means to be male, suggesting that <em>he</em> tuck the boys in to bed and <em>she</em> go and get the crowbars.

Because the other half was chivalry: to shield a woman, even a whore from one of the predators who debase police badges by using them as immunity to prey on her helpless kind. (8.66)

As an adult looking back on the situation between Butch and Miss Corrie, Lucius now realizes that Butch used his status as a cop to prey upon women. He recognizes that this was wrong, and he understands why Boon was so angered by the situation.

"A man that never had nothing in it nohow, one of them little badge goes to his head so fast it makes yourn swim too," Ned said. (8.114)

Ned tries to explain to Lucius why Butch thinks he's so important: it's because he thinks that having a badge and a pistol somehow makes him better than everyone else. So for a cop like Butch, it's a badge and a gun provide him with a sense of masculinity.

"[Miss Corrie] is the reason me and Lightning are free right now. That Butch found out he couldn't get to her no other way, and when he found out that me and you and Boon had to win that race today before we could dare to go back home, and all we had to win it with was Lightning, he took Lightning and locked him up. That's what happened." (12.17)

Ned reveals to Lucius that Butch used the horserace as an excuse to get Miss Corrie to do, well, you know, exactly what he wanted. In other words, Butch used his masculinity as leverage not only to imprison Lightning, Ned, and Boon under false circumstances, but also to subjugate Miss Corrie. Not a very good guy.

"No!" I said. "No! It wasn't her! She's not even here! She went back to Memphis with Sam yesterday evening! They just didn't tell you! It was something else! It was another one!"

"No," Ned said. "It was her." (12.19-20)

Lucius reacts with disbelief when he learns that Miss Corrie submitted to Butch's advancements in an effort to free Lightning, Ned, and Boon from prison. His reaction reveals his discomfort with Butch's actions.

"Why didn't somebody else help her? a man to help her—that man, that man that took you and Lightning, that told Sam and Butch both they could be whatever they wanted in Memphis or Nashville or Hardwick either, but that here in Possum he was the one—" I said, creid: "I don't believe it!" (12.22)

Lucius continues to react with disbelief. Yet he also affirms his belief that masculinity should protect femininity when he calls for a man to help Miss Corrie out of her tricky situation with another man.

"Boon went and whupped that gal and then come straight back without even stopping and tried to tear that Butch's head off, pistol and all, with his bare hands…" (12.22)

Ned reveals the actions Boon took once he found out how Butch used his masculinity to subjugate Miss Corrie. His actions toward Miss Corrie are far from admirable, but can we justify his decision to attack Butch?