Study Guide

The Reivers Technology and Modernization

By William Faulkner

Technology and Modernization

Boon finally found the shape of his dream in the automobile your great-great grandfather bought in 1904, finding it not with humility and passion and joy as Ike found his, but with a kind of outrage that nobody had even told him it existed until he was already past thirty years old. (2.11)

Grandfather buys the automobile; Boon finds his soulmate. Except Boon isn't overjoyed at the opportunities the car affords. Rather, he's angered that he has gone the first thirty years of his life without a vehicle. Gosh, and we thought waiting until we were sixteen to drive was tough.

My grandfather didn't want an automobile at all; he was forced to buy one. A banker, president of the older Bank of Jefferson, the first bank in Yoknapatawpha County, he believed then and right on to his death many years afterward, by which time everybody else even in Yoknapatawpha County had realized that the automobile had come to stay, that the motor vehicle was an insolvent phenomenon like last night's toadstool, and like the fungus, would vanish with tomorrow's sun. But Colonel Sartoris, president of the newer, the mushroom Merchants and Farmer's bank, forced him to buy one. (1.16)

Grandfather bought the car after Colonel Sartoris officially banned automobiles from Jefferson, before they got there. However, Grandfather's purchase of the automobile is a deliberately considered violation of Colonel Sartoris's decree. Take that, Colonel.

So he bought the automobile, and Boon found his soul's lily maid, the virgin's love of his rough and innocent heart. (2.22)

The stars are aligned, and Boon feels the vehicle is his soulmate. 'Nuff said. How much do you love your car?

It was a Winton Flyer…You cranked it by hand while standing in front of it…it had kerosene lamps for night driving and when rain threatened five or six people could readily put up the top and curtains in ten or fifteen minutes…also, all of us, grandparents, parents, aunts cousins and children, had special costumes for riding in it, consisting or veils, caps, goggles, gauntlet gloves and long shapeless throat-close neutral-colored garments called dusters. (2.22)

Modernization is accompanied by other changes, such as changes in proper riding attire. That's a good example of the way a change in one kind of technology can inspire changes in other kinds of technology, or even in everyday things like clothing. It's like a domino effect.

"I don't think nothing about it," Ned said, "Boss Priest could a bought the best two-hundred-dollar horse in Yoknapatawpha County for this money.

"There aint any two-hundred-dollar horse in Yoknapatawpha County," Boon said. "If there was, this automobile would buy ten of them." (2.37-38)

People like Ned still don't quite understand the value of the automobile. He, like others in Jefferson, believes that horses are more beneficial than cars. He'll stick with what he knows, thanks. Also, we're getting a bit of foreshadowing here, since we all know that Ned will end up trading a car for an expensive horse.

It was as if the automobiles themselves were beating the roads smooth long before the money they represented would begin to compel smoother roads.

"Twenty-five years from now there wont be a road in the county that you cant drive an automobile on in any weather," Grandfather said. (2.63-64)

Grandfather is a man of long vision, as Lucius claims. He can foresee the value of the automobile, and he goes on to explain how his bank will buy bonds for automobiles to stay on top of the market.

"People will pay any price for motion. They will even work for it. Look at bicycles. Look at Boon. We don't know why." (2.67)

Grandfather likens the automobile to the bike, explaining the mesmerizing effect vehicles of motion have on some folks, such as Boon. So is all this modernization being done out of necessity, or is it being done to hypnotize people and make them buy more things they don't need?

[Miss Ballenbaugh] told us that thirteen automobiles had passed there in the last two years, five of them in the last forty days; she had already lost two hens and would probably have to begin keeping everything penned up, even the hounds. (4.16)

The fact that Miss Ballenbaugh has seen more vehicles in recent days means that modernization is accelerating. It's also physically maiming remnants of a pre-modern era, such as those farm animals. Symbolism alert, folks.

"You said you aint acquainted with automobiles yet. That's one complaint you wont never have to make again for the rest of your life. All right"—to me—"ease her ahead now and whenever she bites, keep her going." (4.60).

Boon teaches Lucius how to drive the Winton Flyer, and there you have it: it's Lucius's initiation into the modern era. He's becoming a pretty tech savvy dude. For 1905, that is.

"Boss says that when I get old enough to own an automobile, there wont be any more mudholes to get into. That all the roads everywhere will be so smooth and hard that automobiles will be foreclosed and reclaimed by the bank or even wear out without ever seeing a mudhole." (5.39)

Lucius further elaborates his grandfather's vision to Boon, claiming that the roads, and thus society, will transform to accommodate the advance of the automobile. Some of the characters in the novel think that's silly, and that things will keep on going as they've always been going. But we know that Gramps is right—that's exactly what happens.