Study Guide

The Reivers Themes

  • Coming of Age

    Eleven-year-old Lucius Priest's adventures with his friend Boon indoctrinate him into a world of sex, corruption, and rock 'n' roll (okay, more like ragtime). In other words, he enters adulthood, a reality that before his trip with Boon was far off on the horizon.

    Part of what makes Lucius's narration of The Reivers so enlightening is the fact that he's telling the tale from the vantage point of an adult looking back. He inserts a kind of analysis and wisdom about growing up that can only come with the hindsight available with age. His choosing to tell us about his life back then, and how it shaped him into the adult he is now, reveals that the adventure told in this novel marks a turning point in his life. It's how he came of age.

    Questions About Coming of Age

    1. How does Lucius change over the course of the novel?
    2. What role does Boon play in Lucius's transformation? What role does Ned play? What about Miss Corrie?
    3. How does the story's narration style help to convey the theme of coming of age?
    4. Is Lucius the only character who comes of age? Does Boon grow up, too?

    Chew on This

    Lucius is more of an adult than the actual adults around him because he thinks things through and does not make impulsive decisions.

    Compared to the actual adults around him, Lucius is still a child of eleven who has a lot of growing up to do.

  • Men and Masculinity

    Like most dudes, Lucius learns how to be a man from the guys who surround him. In <em>The Reivers</em>, he goes through the process like osmosis, absorbing masculine qualities from Grandfather and Boon and learning to associate objects like guns with masculinity. Throughout his adventures, he also meets guys whose masculine qualities aren't so nice—we're looking at you, Otis, Mr. Binford, and Butch. A big part of Lucius's growing-up process is figuring out which kind of man he'd most like to be.

    Questions About Men and Masculinity

    1. What does Lucius learn about masculinity throughout his adventures? How does he feel about what it means to be a man?
    2. What role does masculinity play on Grandfather's farm? In Miss Reba's brothel?
    3. How do the male characters' views of women inform their sense of masculinity?
    4. Why are the majority of the characters in the story male?

    Chew on This

    In The Reivers, male characters use their masculinity as an excuse to make poor choices.

    Male characters make poor choices in The Reivers for reasons beyond their control, such as Non-virtue.

  • Respect and Reputation

    What makes Boss Priest, well, such a boss? Answer: he's old, he's rich, and he has a car.

    Patriarchal status goes far in Faulkner's South, especially during a time that valued hospitality and decorum. But respect and reputation also have ties to customs outside of the household. There are certain traditions that garner respect, too, such as proper treatment of women and knowledge of horseracing etiquette. The Reivers features Southern reverence for both people and tradition, and it offers examples and scenarios that challenge Lucius's understanding of the status quo.

    Questions About Respect and Reputation

    1. Are there any other characters who garner as much respect as Boss Priest?
    2. Are there some characters not worthy of respect? Why?
    3. What is the reputation of Miss Reba's brothel?
    4. What is Ned's reputation in Jefferson? Does his reputation match up with reality?

    Chew on This

    Characters like Butch and Mr. Binford are judged in large part for their lack of respect towards women.

    Characters like Butch and Mr. Binford are judged in large part for their reputations in their respective communities.

  • Foolishness and Folly

    The only wisdom to be gained in <em>The Reivers</em> is the wisdom that adult-Lucius drops throughout in order to make things a little more respectable. Otherwise, it's all foolishness and folly—especially where Boon is concerned. The entire adventure our characters go on is somewhat of a farce—total horseplay from start to finish. Faulkner does hit us with some pretty heavy themes, but the burlesque actions that propel the plot make those weighty themes much more palatable.

    Questions About Foolishness and Folly

    1. How would Lucius's adventure have been different if it hadn't been so ridiculous?
    2. In what ways is Lucius foolish? What about Boon?
    3. Are all of the characters foolish to some extent?
    4. Is adult-Lucius at all foolish?

    Chew on This

    Grandfather Priest is the only character who does not embody foolishness.

    Grandfather Priest is the most foolish of all the characters for leaving his car in the care of Boon in the first place.

  • Technology and Modernization

    <em>The Reivers</em> takes place in a time when it was the almighty automobile that brought folks into the modern era. In fact, Faulkner offers an interesting look at how the landscape in 1905 was not actually that friendly to automobiles. Not only were roads unpaved and muddy, but people also didn't believe the automobile was a change that was going to have any lasting effects. To Boon, Boss Priest's car is a vehicle for introducing modernization into an otherwise sleepy town in Mississippi.

    Questions About Technology and Modernization

    1. What is the common attitude toward the automobile? What does this say about people's views about modernization?
    2. Why does Boss Priest decide to get a car in the first place?
    3. Does The Reivers offer any other symbols of technology and modernization?
    4. Is the automobile a catalyst for change? Or is change inevitable?

    Chew on This

    Modernization is synonymous with sin, for bad things happen to otherwise good people, like Boon and Lucius, only after the automobile is introduced to Jefferson.

    Modernization is synonymous with good. Characters like Boon and Lucius transform for the better only after the automobile is introduced to Jefferson, Mississippi.

  • Manipulation

    Peer pressure, folks—it's a thing. Just ask Lucius, our hero, who's constantly finding himself manipulated by the big boys. Well, okay, but is he really that naïve? Or does he allow himself to be swayed? Temptation comes in many forms, whether we're prodded by others or seduced by the exciting possibilities that accompany risk and sin. The Reivers offers an interesting look at manipulation, and at just how easy it can sometimes be to let yourself go off in a dangerous, though enticing, direction.

    Questions About Manipulation

    1. Are some characters more easily manipulated than others? Are some characters more manipulative than others?
    2. Is manipulation linked to gender? Race?
    3. In what ways does Miss Corrie suffer the worst form of manipulation?
    4. Are some characters manipulated into making good choices? Or do all manipulative efforts yield negative results?

    Chew on This

    Lucius allows himself to be manipulated by Boon and Ned and deliberately chooses to act against his own better judgment.

    Boon and Ned completely manipulate Lucius into lying, stealing the car, and racing the horse.

  • Lies and Deceit

    Can we get a Big Mac with a side of lies?


    Anyway, lies, lies, and more lies: that's what we've got in The Reivers. From the moment he agrees to help Boon sneak Boss Priest's car out of town, Lucius covers his lies with more lies. He's quite conscious of all of the lies he's telling; he even claims he's never told so many in his life. But are all lies bad? Lucius's lies kinds of cause him to embark on the most transformative adventure of his life, after all, right? Is anyone harmed by his lies?

    Questions About Lies and Deceit

    1. Are some characters more prone to lying than others?
    2. What role does deceit play in the situation between Miss Corrie and Butch?
    3. Which character is the most deceitful? Who tells the most lies?
    4. Is Grandfather capable of lying?

    Chew on This

    When Boss Priest's automobile arrives in town, it brings along with it sin and temptation, which in turn cause Lucius to lie for the first time.

    Lucius has always been capable of lying, and the introduction of the Boss Priest's automobile into Jefferson brings out what he was always capable of doing.

  • Women and Femininity

    Well, folks, most of the women we meet in The Reivers work in a brothel, so you can bet your behinds there's going to be some questions raised about the role of women here. The women in this novel are often seen as objects to be used and then disposed of—although, as we'll see, the women themselves have some opinions about this attitude.

    In his transition to adulthood, Lucius learns that men's treatment of women is an important issue, so when he doesn't like what he sees, he takes action. He gets into a physical brawl with Otis when he objectifies Miss Corrie, and he lashes out when he learns what she had to do to free Lightning, Ned, and Boon from prison. All part of growing up, we guess?

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. How are women viewed in Jefferson? In Memphis? In Parsham?
    2. Did Miss Corrie have other options? Or was she forced into a subservient position by Butch?
    3. What is Lucius's view of women? Does it change over the course of the novel?

    Chew on This

    Women drive the action in the story: it's Miss Corrie and the brothel that cause Boon to take the car in the first place, and it's Miss Reba who helps get Lightning on the train.

    Women only react to the action in the story; they don't cause it.