...and Father damp too from the ford, his boots dark and dustcaked too, the skirts of his weathered gray coat shades darker than the breast and back and sleeves where the tarnished buttons and the grayed braid of his field officer's rank glinted dully, the sabre hanging loose yet rigid at his side as if it were too heavy to jounce or perhaps were attached to the living thigh itself and took no more motion from the horse than he did. (1.1.23)
A lot of Bayard's admiration for his father isn't for the man, but for what he's wearing. We always heard that clothes make the man, but this is going overboard. The signs of wear and tear on the uniform point to what makes John so impressive: his military might and general manly toughness.
He was not big; it was just the things he did, that we knew he was doing, had been doing in Virginia and Tennessee, that made him seem big to us. (1.1.26)
Ever see one of those tricks of perspective that makes it look like a person is holding the Eiffel Tower in his or her fingers? In a way, admiration is like a cheap camera trick; it makes you imagine that someone is much bigger than they really are.
That was it: not that Father worked faster and harder than anyone else, even though you do look bigger (to twelve, at least, to me and Ringo at twelve, at least) standing still and saying, "Do this or that" to the ones who are doing; it was the way he did it. (1.2.1)
Just acting like a boss goes a long way toward making people think you are one. John doesn't work harder than his kids or the slaves, but his general attitude inspires awe, admiration, and maybe a little fear in those around him.
"Who aint heard about him in this country? Get the Yankees to tell you about him sometime. By Godfrey, he raised the first damn regiment in Mississippi out of his own pocket, and took em to Ferginny and whipped Yankees right and left with em before he found out that what he had bought and paid for wasn't a regiment of soldiers but a congress of politicians and fools!" (2.2.19)
Wanna know how cool someone is? You don't need to ask their friends; ask their enemies. Then you'll get the real dirt. It's one thing for everyone in Mississippi to brag on John Sartoris, but Uncle Buck is saying that the real story is with his enemies, the Yankees. If they don't admire him after being beat by him, we don't know who would.
"I wont say God take care of you and your grandma on the road, boy, because by Godfrey you don't need God's nor nobody else's help; all you got to say is 'I'm John Sartoris' boy; rabbits, hunt the canebrake' and then watch the blue bellied sons of bitches fly." (2.2.20)
We're not exactly sure what in the heck Uncle Buck is talking about with his rabbits and canebrake comment, but we know that he's complimenting John Sartoris' reputation when he says that all Bayard has to do is mention dear old dad in order to get out of trouble.
"Yes, by Godfrey! Not only tracked him down and caught him, but brought back the actual proof of it to where Rosa Millard could rest quiet." (5.4.11)
Uncle Buck has a lot of good things to say about John Sartoris, but also thinks of him as a bit of a coward, too. He's got nothing but unreserved admiration for John's son, Bayard, though, after his bravery in tracking down his grandmother's murderer and then bringing home the dastardly dog's hand to prove it. So courage must be a pretty big deal among these guys, if it's the only way to get a man's admiration.
"Uncle Cash that druv the Benbow carriage twell he run off with the Yankees two years ago. He back now and he gonter be elected marshal of Jefferson." (6.2.15)
There's a lot going on here in Ringo's seemingly simple words (simple aside from the funky spelling, we mean. But can't you just hear him?). So, Uncle Cash is a black man who used to be a slave. Ringo didn't run off with the Yankees when he had the chance, and doesn't really seem to respect guys like Loosh, who left the Sartoris family high and dry. But he does have some admiration in his heart for Uncle Cash because he's back and, instead of being a slave, is running for a respected public office.
And then it was loud; I could hear them when they drew in their breath like when the Yankees used to hear it begin:
It came back high and thin and ragged and fierce, like when the Yankees used to hear it out of the smoke and the galloping:
"Yaaaaaay, Drusilla!" they hollered. "Yaaaaaay, John Sartoris! Yaaaaaaay!" (6.3.35-36)
The expression of admiration, the rebel yell, isn't just for Drusilla and John Sartoris. It's a way of capturing that old pride, wounded after the Yankee victory, that gives the Southerners the feeling that they might recapture their glory and drive the northerners out of their territory.
Loosh would not have thought of that if he had come for me, he would have come straight to the college, to Professor Wilkins', and told his news and then sat down and let me take charge from then on. But not Ringo. (7.1.6)
Now the admiration is for Ringo instead of the other way around. Bayard notes that Ringo isn't just a silent servant, waiting for orders. Ringo takes the initiative and does what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, without being told. He's a leader, even though he's still Bayard's servant.
Although Vicksburg was just a handful of chips from the woodpile and the River a trench scraped into the packed earth with the point of a hoe, it (river, city, and terrain) lived, possessing even in miniature that ponderable though passive recalcitrance of topography which outweighs artillery, against which the most brilliant of victories and the most tragic of defeats are but the loud noises of a moment. (1.1.1)
Ever build a sandcastle or a little town in the dirt of your playground or backyard? If it was in the US in the last 100 years or so, it probably wasn't representative of the current battle raging in your region. Bayard and Ringo are just kids, playing like kids do, but the war affects them so deeply that it even finds its way into their games.
"All right!" I cried. "I'll be Grant this time, then. You can be General Pemberton." (1.1.21)
But we were just twelve; we didn't listen to that. What Ringo and I heard was the cannon and the flags and the anonymous yelling. (1.2.5)
For twelve-year-olds, "war is hell" doesn't really mean anything yet. Even though their loved ones are in mortal danger off fighting Yankees, they just want to hear about all of the explosions and mayhem. (There were no Transformers movies in those days…)
"Vicksburg fell? Do he mean hit fell off in the River? With Ginrul Pemberton in hit too?" (1.2.15)
Cities fall, populations rise up and revolt, and all sorts of other weird vocabulary contortions happen in war. Ringo doesn't understand that when Vicksburg fell, it passed from Confederate to Union control. He takes it literally and thinks that it must have fallen in the river.
"Dont you know that if They captured you and this boy, They could almost force him to come in and surrender?" (2.2.46)
People become pawns in the giant chess game of war. The officer advising Granny to go on home believes that if she and Bayard are captured, they could be used as a playing piece to trade for John Sartoris' life. Also, check out the capital T on "They"… the enemy is powerful enough to get special grammatical treatment.
"The Yankees have already been here." Then we saw it too: a burned house like ours; three chimneys standing above a mound of ashes and then we saw a white woman and a child looking at us from a cabin behind them. (3.1.31)
The Yankees became a fierce and fearsome enemy toward the end of the Civil War, with a scorched earth policy that left literally everything smoldering in their path.
But this time what I saw was something that looked like piles of black straws heaped up every few yards and we ran into the cut and we could see where they had dug the ties up and piled them and set them on fire. (3.2.9)
The railroad was, for the boys, a symbol of progress, modernity, and wonder. Bayard had already seen the working railroad at his last visit to his cousins' house, and Ringo couldn't wait to see it for himself. That makes it all the sadder that when they get there it's torn to bits.
But Gavin was killed at Shiloh and so they didn't marry. (3.2.14)
It's a short sentence, but it really packs a punch. Dru's fiancé, the good-looking Gavin, died fighting for the Confederacy at the Battle of Shiloh, along with about 23,000 others from both sides, in one of the bloodiest battles of American history.
"Phut," Ringo said, "these folks is too busy keeping us conquered to recognise no little ten or twelve head of stock." (4.1.27)
As anyone who watches US foreign policy knows, "winning" the war is only half the, ahem, battle. It's keeping it won that's the real trouble, as Ringo points out. The Union might have declared victory over the Confederate secessionists, but they still have many years of work ahead of them "keeping them conquered."
It was just a lieutenant; by this time Ringo and I could tell the different officers' ranks better than we could tell Confederate ranks because one day we counted up and the only Confederate officers we had ever seen were Father and the captain that talked to us with Uncle Buck McCaslin that day in Jefferson before Grant burned it. (4.3.1)
Ringo and Bayard are definitely Southerners, living in Mississippi and rooting for the Confederacy. But the fact that they are more familiar with the Union officers' ranks just goes to show how much of a whooping the Union has given the South: there are more of them around because they are winning.
"Hush your mouth, nigger!" she cried, in that tense desperate voice. "Come on here and get em some wood!" (1.1.15)
This tone makes us cringe, with its bossiness and racial slur. What makes us cringe even more is the fact that it is a slave talking to another slave! The idea that some people should be treated like work animals was so deeply ingrained that it seems natural even for Philadelphy to speak to Loosh that way.
The sun had gone out of the bottom when we finished the fence, that is, left Joby and Loosh with the last three panels to put up.... (1.2.2)
Interesting use of the pronoun "we", eh? Bayard says that "we" finished the fence, but what he really means is that he, his dad, and Ringo left Joby and Loosh, the grown male slaves, to do the work. No matter, though; it is still considered "our" work, because the slaves are the possessions of the owner.
[Joby] had been Father's body servant all the time that he was raising and training Simon, Ringo's father, to take over when he (Joby) got too old, which was to have been some years yet except for the War. So Simon went with Father; he was still in Tennessee with the army. (1.2.6)
Slaves might have been considered and treated like possessions, but the fact is that they get old just like any human being. That's why one generation of slaves would have to train the next so that the owners could enjoy uninterrupted service. The war disrupted this process not only by ending slavery, but also by taking some slaves away from the plantations to fight.
"I dreamed I was looking out my window and a man walked into the orchard and went to where it is and stood there pointing at it," Granny said. She looked at Louvinia. "A black man." (2.1.16)
It's kind of strange to imagine sharing your life with a group of people whom you deeply mistrust. Granny's dream reveals how she relies on the slaves to do all the work, but also realizes that their indispensability makes them a little bit dangerous—they know where all the silver's buried. Maybe she should have treated them a little better…
[Joby] and Granny were like that; they were like a man and a mare, a blooded mare, which takes just exactly so much from the man and the man knows the mare will take just so much and the man knows that when that point is reached, just what is going to happen. Then it does happen: the mare kicks him, not viciously but just enough, and the man knows it was going to happen and so he is glad then, it is over then.... (2.2.8)
We guess it's not entirely clear, but it does seem like Joby would be the man and Granny the mare. At first that seems kind of strange, because Granny is the master and Joby the slave. However, as we can see, the mare is really the one in charge because she can kick the man.
They lived in a two-room log house with about a dozen dogs, and they kept their niggers in the manor house. It didn't have any windows now and a child with a hairpin could unlock any lock in it, but every night when the niggers came up from the fields Uncle Buck or Uncle Buddy would drive them into the house and lock the door with a key almost as big as a horse pistol; probably they would still be locking the front door long after the last nigger had escaped.... (2.2.14)
What a crazy ritual! Every night Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy lock up their slaves, knowing full well that they're just going to go out the back door. They must be doing it for show, maybe to remind the slaves that they're in charge; however, the fact that they let them get out the back door also means that they share some of the control.
We lived in Joby's cabin then, with a red quilt nailed by one edge to a rafter and hanging down to make two rooms. (3.1.10)
After the big, beautiful house burns down on the plantation, everybody has to move into the slaves' cabins. Of course, Joby is used to having a rustic little cabin with a blanket for a wall, but the Sartoris family sees it as a huge hardship when they have to live that way.
"You tell them niggers to send Loosh to you and you tell him to get that chest and them mules and then you whup him!" (3.1.18)
Here goes Louvinia again, acting like she herself isn't a slave. She is angry that the Union soldiers have taken Loosh, the silver, and the mules, and tells Granny to go get all of it back. Maybe she is afraid of change, or maybe she thinks that life would be worse where she isn't the top slave, but she's part of keeping the racial order the way it is.
It was as if…the railroad, the rushing locomotive which [Ringo] hoped to see symbolized it—the motion, the impulse to move which had already seethed to a head among his people, darker than themselves, reasonless, following and seeking a delusion, a dream, a bright shape which they could not know since there was nothing in their heritage, nothing in the memory even of the old men to tell the others, "This is what we will find".... (3.1.26)
The desire for freedom, even for people who have not known freedom in many, many generations, is compared to the railroad in this passage. The train is unstoppable, strong, and fast, just like the need to break free from slavery that the many people headed north feel.
They were coming up the road. It sounded like about fifty of them; we could hear the feet hurrying, and a kind of panting murmur. It was not singing exactly, it was not that loud; it was just a sound, a breathing, a kind of gasping murmuring chant and the feet whispering fast in the deep dust. I could hear women too and then all of a sudden I began to smell them. "Niggers," I whispered. (3.1.33)
Phew. This is a tough one, but it's important. Bayard Sartoris has grown up seeing slavery as a natural state of being. He recognizes the escaping slaves by their smell, which is a terribly sad thing. It makes us realize how access to soap, water, and doctors was limited for the slaves and made them live like animals. Not easy to stomach, but it tells us a bunch about that time.
But that dont suit John Sartoris because John Sartoris is a damned confounded selfish coward, askeered to stay at home where the Yankees might get him. (2.2.22)
Huh. Uncle Buck's assessment of the situation is a little counterintuitive. The boys think that John Sartoris is a hero because he's always off fighting, but Uncle Buck calls him a coward for the same reason. Maybe he's afraid of staying home, which makes fighting the cowardly thing to do.
"We had a prisoner last week who said...that Colonel Sartoris didn't fight, he just stole horses." (2.2.25)
The chinks in the armor grow… John Sartoris is supposedly a big, bad, fearless hero, but he's accused, again by Uncle Buck, of actually stealing horses rather than fighting Yankees. That would make him less courageous and more cowardly than he's made out to be.
"Dru stopped Bobolink and jumped down in her Sunday dress and put the pistol to Bobolink's ear and said I cant shoot you all because I haven't enough bullets and it wouldn't do any good anyway but I wont need but one shot for the horse and which shall it be?" (3.2.22)
Drusilla's outnumbered in many different ways here. She's surrounded by Yankees that literally outnumber her, for one. But she's also a girl surrounded by men, putting her at a definite disadvantage. She's also about to lose everything, including her prized horse, but her courage in the face of all these difficulties saves her and her horse.
[N]obody ever admitted they ever saw him in a uniform, though when Father was away he would talk a lot now and then about when he was in Father's troop and about what he and Father used to do. (4.1.3)
Here's our first hint that Ab Snopes is a big old coward. He claims that he fought with Sartoris, but no one can confirm that. In a time when every able-bodied man around is risking his life, Snopes just saying he has done so is an insult to the real courageous folks.
…Granny straight and still, with her sunbonnet on and the shawl drawn tight over her shoulders where she had her arms folded in it so that she looked littler than anybody I could remember, like during the four years she hadn't got any older or weaker, but just littler and littler and straighter and straighter and more and more indomitable.... (4.3.12)
What a great word, indomitable. It comes from the Latin indomitabilis, where in- means "not", and domitare means "to tame." That means that little old Granny can't be tamed, mostly because of her courageous spirit.
Because we didn't know that his arm was making him sick yet; he hadn't given us time to realise it. (5.2.33)
Uncle Buck's another old-timer with a lot of courage. He goes with the boys to hunt down Grumby and make sure they get their revenge, but along the way he is shot in the arm. Instead of letting it get the best of him, Uncle Buck ignores the pain and even bravely hides it from the boys, so that he can stay with them a little longer.
"Three of you can jump on me and knock me down again, but you got to pick me up first to do hit. I aint got no rights and justice here, but you cant keep me from protesting hit." (5.2.48)
In contrast to the great, courageous examples of Granny and Uncle Buck, Ab Snopes is a yellow-belly who refuses to admit his mistakes or even fight back when Bayard tries to make him pay for what he did to Granny. His attempt at legalese, trying to make it look like he's being attacked unfairly, just makes him look like more of a coward.
Last woning not thret. Turn back. The barer of this my promise and garntee. I have stood all I am to stand children no children. G. (5.3.2)
We gotta admit, we'd be afraid to keep going after Grumby after getting a message like this. Especially when you consider that it's pinned to a dead body hanging from a tree. But the boys must summon all their courage to continue, even in the face of such danger.
"Got to leave it because you lost your nerve and killed an old woman and then lost your nerve again and refused to cover the first mistake." (5.3.12)
What a weird way to talk about nerves. You'd think that losing your nerve would mean being afraid to do something and losing the bravery you need to do so. So that means that Grumby's men are calling him a coward for killing Granny, because he lost his nerve when he did it.
At least this will be my chance to find out if I am what I think I am or if I just hope; if I am going to do what I have taught myself is right or if I am just going to wish I were. (7.1.8)
When Bayard hears that his father has been murdered, he knows that everyone will expect him to kill the killer—vengeance is the Southern way, after all. However, he has been studying and thinking, and has decided that he wants to live a different way, without killing. Breaking with tradition, even if it means doing what you believe is right, takes a lot of courage.
Bobolink came up the road out of the trees and went across the railroad and into the trees again like a bird, with Cousin Drusilla riding astride like a man and sitting straight and light as a willow branch in the wind. They say she was the best woman rider in the country. (3.2.12)
This sentence has three similes to compare unlike things. Bobolink, the horse, runs like a bird, which makes us think he must be moving quick and light. Drusilla rides like a man because she has her legs hanging on either side of the horse instead of both on the same side (plus she's light as a willow branch, which is about as light as a tree simile can get). So at that time, a woman acting like a man was as strange as a horse acting like a bird.
Her hair was cut short; it looked like Father's would when he would tell Granny about him and the men cutting each other's hair with a bayonet. She was sunburned and her hands were hard and scratched like a man's that works. (3.2.24)
Cousin Dru is all about pushing gender boundaries. Her hair, skin, and hands all show signs of outdoor work. That may seem normal for all you urban gardeners or cross-country runners, but at the time all of those signs showed that Dru was not a proper lady and acted more like a man than a woman.
[E]verybody thought that the food we had to eat in 1862 and 63 would finish killing him, even if he had eaten it with women to cook it instead of gathering weeds from ditch banks and cooking them himself. (4.2.2)
Brother Fortinbride is a survivor, and everyone marvels that he survived his own cooking. It isn't that he's a particularly bad cook; it's that he's a man. In the 19th century cooking was women's work, and we can see from this quote that the roles were pretty hard and fast.
"Maybe it's the wrong season for women and children….Folks hereabouts is got used to having their menfolks killed and even shot from behind. But even the Yankees never got them used to the other." (5.2.27)
Yikes. When this guy talks about season he's not talking about the holidays. He's talking about hunting—people are upset because, even if they did get used to men being killed in the war, they didn't get used to women and children being hunted and murdered.
And so now Father's troop and all the other men in Jefferson, and Aunt Louisa and Mrs Habersham and all the women in Jefferson were actually enemies for the reason that the men had given in and admitted that they belonged to the United States but the women had never surrendered. (6.1.1)
Battle of the Sexes, Civil War Edition. The men, who fought, lost, and then gave up, must face an enemy even fiercer than the Yankees: their women. The women are the real "unvanquished" from the book's title, because they do not give up their traditions after defeat.
Ringo and I were fifteen then; we felt almost exactly like we had to eat and sleep and change our clothes in a hotel built only for ladies and children. (6.1.2)
You might have noticed that women and children get lumped into the same category (versus men) a lot in this novel. They're supposedly the helpless ones, the ones who the men are off protecting. We know, though, that often it's the women (like Granny) and children (like Bayard and Ringo) who are the real fighters.
Aunt Louisa had cried in the pokeberry juice about how she did not know where Drusilla was but that she had expected the worst ever since Drusilla had deliberately tried to unsex herself by refusing to feel any natural grief at the death in the battle not only of her affianced husband but of her own father.... (6.1.3)
Poor Aunt Louisa. She just doesn't understand where she went wrong. She's got an idea in her head of how the world is supposed to be, and the war has really screwed it up. One of the biggest problems comes with how men and women are supposed to act. When her daughter doesn't act like a "lady," that's as big a tragedy for her as the death of her husband.
[W]hen Aunt Louisa told her that she and Father must marry at once Drusilla said Cant you understand that I am tired of burying husbands in this war? that I am riding in Cousin John's troop not to find a man but to hurt Yankees? (6.1.4)
Once again, the clash of the generations is all about gender roles. Aunt Louisa is trying to get her daughter to act how she thinks a lady should; Drusilla has experienced so much loss through the war that she no longer sees how traditional gender roles fit into her life. The war has changed her as well as her ideas about the way the sexes should behave.
Aunt Louisa…did hope and pray that Mrs Compson had been spared the sight of her own daughter if Mrs Compson had one flouting and outraging all Southern principles of purity and womanhood that our husbands had died for…. (6.2.1)
We wonder if, in a poll of dead Confederate soldiers, any of them would have said they were fighting for purity and womanhood. You never know, but we would guess they would lean more toward states' rights, property (of slaves) rights, and stuff like that. But gender roles are wrapped up in every aspect of culture, so in a way Aunt Louisa is right: Southern womanhood is a part of Southern culture, which is what the soldiers were fighting for.
So Father came out too and we went down to the spring and found Drusilla hiding behind the big beech, crouched down like she was trying to hide the skirt from Father even while he raised her up. "What's a dress?" he said. "It dont matter. Come. Get up, soldier."
But she was beaten, like as soon as she let them put the dress on her she was whipped; like in the dress she could neither fight back nor run away. (6.2.21)
Think about this next time you pick up the first dirty jeans you find on your floor: clothing has the power to define, and defeat, a person. Putting on the dress is, for Dru, the last straw. She loses her freedom when she puts it on; it's like a sign blinking "woman." Clothing is a really important marker in our society, and not just for the people seeing it, but also for the people wearing it.
And when I went in to supper, the table was set with the kitchen knives and forks in place of the silver ones, and the sideboard (on which the silver service had been sitting when I began to remember and where it had been sitting ever since except on each Tuesday afternoon, when Granny and Louvinia and Philadelphy would polish it, why, nobody except Granny maybe knew, since it was never used) was bare. (1.2.3)
Does your family have any strange traditions, where no one knows how they got started? That's a little bit like the silver-polishing Tuesdays at the Sartoris household. Even if the silver doesn't need to be polished, Granny, Louvinia, and Philadelphy do so just to keep the tradition. It gives the family a sense of history.
Because he said that he would rather just maybe have tasted coconut cake without remembering it than to know for certain he had not; that if he were to describe the wrong kind of cake, he would never taste coconut cake as long as he lived. (1.3.4)
Ringo, as a slave boy, doesn't get the same privileges that Bayard does. That's why he isn't sure whether or not he's tasted coconut cake; Bayard can remember the taste perfectly because he's had more chances to try it. Ringo would prefer to have tasted and forgotten it than to have never tasted it at all, which means that even forgotten memories are more precious than never having had the experience in the first place.
So I took the snuff box from my pocket and emptied half the soil (it was more than Sartoris earth; it was Vicksburg too: the yelling was in it, the embattled, the iron-worn, the supremely invincible) into his hand. (2.2.39)
Have you ever moved away from your home? Did you take any souvenirs with you, or leave anything behind? Ringo and Bayard both feel strong connections to the land, and when they have to leave their home, they want to take some dirt along with them. And it isn't just dirt; it's filled with all the memories and spirit of the place because of what they associate it with.
"Oh," the officer said. "I see. You're drawing it like you used to be."
"Co-rect," Ringo said. "What I wanter draw hit like hit is now for? I can walk down here ten times a day and look at hit like hit is now. I can even ride in that gate on a horse and do that." (4.3.4-5)
Ringo is drawing a picture of the plantation before it was burned down, and the Union officer thinks it's funny at first. Art, like Ringo's drawing or even Faulkner's novel, is an important way to get in touch with memories and the past, even after they've been destroyed.
I reckon I heard the sound, and I reckon I must have heard the bullets, and I reckon I felt him when he hit me, but I dont remember it. I just remember the two bright flashes and the gray coat rushing down, and then the ground hitting me. (5.3.18)
Sometimes traumatic events are so terrible that we can't remember everything about them, just sort of snapshots of the moment. That's what happens when Grumby shoots at Bayard. He knows there must have been a sound and a feeling, but all he remembers is the visual part of the memory.
We hitched the mules in the cedars and Ringo was just starting off to find a board when we saw that somebody had already put one up—Mrs Compson, I reckon, or maybe Uncle Buck when he got back home. (5.4.2)
Different cultures have different methods of creating memorials or using objects to help them remember important events. Burying a loved one and marking the grave is an important part of saying goodbye while holding onto memories, so the board on Granny's grave is the perfect place to nail Grumby's hand. If you have to nail a hand anywhere, better do it in a place that shows vengeance has been served, we always say.
Now it was as though we had not surrendered at all, we had joined forces with the men who had been our enemies against a new foe whose means we could not always fathom but whose aim we could always dread. (6.2.10)
Talk about amnesia. All of Bayard's conscious life has been spent hating the Yankees, wanting to beat the Union in a war, and hoping to drive the northerners out of the South. Now that the war is over, everyone is supposed to forget those aims and start hoping that the Yankees will come in and rebuild. We can see by the novel, though, that forgetting isn't so easy.
People talk glibly of presentiment, but I had none. (7.1.1)
We kind of like Bayard's admission as a narrator here. A lot of novels let their readers know that something terrible is going to happen by letting a character have a presentiment, a feeling about the future, but here he admits freely that that didn't happen. The funny thing is that admitting he didn't have a presentiment lets the reader know that something is about to happen, namely John's death.
I should have known; I should have been prepared. Or maybe I was prepared because I remember how I closed the book carefully, even marking the place, before I rose. (7.1.2)
There was no way for Bayard to know about or be prepared for his father's death, but the fact that he's telling the story long after the fact makes it so the memory gets all bunched up, as though he could have somehow been prepared for what hadn't happened yet. He uses his careful movements and memories as proof that he was prepared.
[T]he road to Jefferson lay before us, the road which I had travelled for the first time three years ago with Father and travelled twice at Christmas time and then in June and September and twice at Christmas time again and then June and September again each college term since alone on the mare, not even knowing that this was peace; and now this time and maybe last time who would not die (I knew that) but who maybe forever after could never again hold up his head. (7.1.11)
When you make the same trip over and over, like to visit your grandmother every Christmas or go to school every day, time can start to collapse onto itself. It's like the repetition jumbles everything up, and while you're taking the familiar road you don't realize that someday you'll look back on that route like a big, old chunk of time.
"Yes," Granny said. "I am following Colonel Sartoris' instructions as I believe he meant them." (2.1.5)
Granny is a tough old bird, but there is one person she's willing to defer to. Even though she spends most of her time being bossy, as the lady of the house she feels that it is her duty to obey her son-in-law's instructions.
She came and shoved Joby aside and stooped to lift the trunk. "Git away, nigger," she said. Joby groaned, then he shoved Louvinia aside.
"Git away, woman," he said. He lifted his end of the trunk, then he looked back at Loosh who had never let his end down. (2.1.38-39)
You might wonder what keeps the slaves around once John is gone and the Yankees have all but kicked the Confederates' butts; it might be duty. They feel an obligation toward Granny and the rest of the Sartoris family, so though guys like Loosh leave first chance they get, they stay to fulfill their duties.
Father said…they not only possessed, but put into practice, ideas about social relationship that maybe fifty years after they were both dead people would have a name for....They believed that land did not belong to people but that people belonged to land and that the earth would permit them to live on and out of it and use it only so long as they behaved and that if they did not behave right, it would shake them off just like a dog getting rid of fleas. (2.2.15)
Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy are ahead of their time. Instead of treating their plantation as though they had created it, they consider themselves almost guests on it. Their duty isn't to themselves, but rather to the earth. Now that's revolutionary.
"They are borrowed horses," Granny said. "I'm going to take care of them until I can return them." (3.1.3)
Granny knows her way around the five-finger discount. She and the boys stole some Yankee horses, but she considers them borrowed, and also feels responsible for keeping them safe until she can do the right thing and give them back.
"And dont yawl worry about Granny. She cide what she want and then she kneel down about ten seconds and tell God what she aim to do and then she git up and do hit." (3.2.34)
Granny, as we know, is a super strong-willed lady. But she does feel a duty to do the right thing. Even though Ringo jokingly characterizes her as someone who will do whatever she wants, the fact that she prays about it first shows that she does think about the responsibility that comes with her actions.
"I borrowed hit," Ringo said. "Twarn't no Yankees handy, so I never needed no paper." (4.1.62)
Everybody's ethics get all mixed up in the war. Granny had always disciplined the boys really harshly, but when she starts to see her duty to her family as more important than her personal ethics (she starts stealing), they start following her lead. Ringo steals a buggy in the heat of the moment in order to save Granny and Bayard and get home.
We sat down in our pew, like before there was a war only for Father: Granny still and straight in her Sunday calico dress and the shawl and the hat Mrs Compson had loaned her a year ago, straight and quiet with her hands holding her prayer book in her lap like always, though there hadn't been an Episcopal service in the church in almost three years now. (4.2.1)
The plantation family and the folks that live in the surrounding countryside continue to fulfill their religious duty and attend church services once a week. That commitment brings together some social classes that had been separated before the war, and the religion begins to create a new community of Southerners.
Each time Granny would make them tell what they intended to do with the money; and now she would make them tell her how they had spent it, and she would look at the book to see whether they had lied or not. (4.2.5)
Granny's mule-stealing business isn't used just for personal gain; Granny takes the proceeds and invests it in the community, letting everybody have a piece of the Yankee pie. She holds everyone to a high standard though, forcing them to be honest about what they will use the money for.
Then the wet red dirt began to flow into the grave, with the shovels darting and flicking slow and steady and the hill men waiting to take turns with the shovels because Uncle Buck would not let anyone spell him with his. (5.1.3)
The oldest guy in town, Uncle Buck doesn't let his age stop him. He feels a strong duty toward Granny, her family, and also the tradition of a proper burial. That commitment is probably what gives him the strength to keep digging longer than anybody else.
"Need me or not," he hollered, "by Godfrey, I'm going. You cant stop me. You mean to tell me you don't want me to go with you?" (5.1.7)
Once again, Uncle Buck sees duty bright and clear, ignoring the pesky details like his age, his poor health, and the tough job ahead. He knows that the boys will fulfill their own duty, avenging Granny's death, and he sees it as his own duty to help them.
She sat there looking at the fire, with the can in her hands and the string which suspended it looping down from around her neck. She didn't look any thinner or any older. She didn't look sick either. She just looked like somebody that has quit sleeping at night. (4.1.6)
The can around Granny's neck is full of the money she's earned from stealing and selling back Union mules. She knows that it's wrong; that's why she's constantly praying for forgiveness for her sin. But that weight around her neck (both the literal and the figurative) keeps her from getting any rest.
[S]he said quiet too, quiet as Brother Fortinbride: "I have sinned. I want you all to pray for me." (4.2.3)
Granny is a proud woman, and in case you don't know any, they usually have a hard time saying that they were wrong. For Granny to admit in front of everyone that she has sinned, and ask them to pray, she must need to summon all her humility.
Ringo and I were just past fifteen then, but I could imagine what Doctor Worsham would have thought up to say, about all soldiers did not carry arms, and about they also serve and how one child saved from hunger and cold is better in heaven's sight than a thousand slain enemies. But Brother Fortinbride didn't say it. (4.2.4)
The definition of sin, and also of virtue, changes with the preachers who come through the Sartorises' church. Doctor Worsham was more of an educated guy, and would have weighed good and evil in a sort of moral calculus (and you thought regular calculus was bad!). Brother Fortinbride is a little more of a utilitarian with his definitions, as we can see with his involvement in Granny's scheme.
"I made a mistake," he said. "I admit hit. I reckon everybody does." (5.2.38)
When Ab Snopes confesses his sin, he calls it a mistake. Yeah, we'd agree that it was a mistake to lure Granny to her violent death. The problem with Snopes's apology is that he tries to blend in; instead of owning his mistake he just reminds the boys that everybody makes them. Not what they were looking to hear.
"It wasn't him or Ab Snopes either that kilt her," Ringo said. "It was them mules. That first batch of mules we got for nothing." (5.4.5)
Granny was killed by Grumby, let's make that clear. And Ab Snopes was the one who set her up. But the underlying sin, her greed and thieving, is what put her in the position to let those two evildoers kill her.
"I have come to appeal to them once more with a mother's tears though I dont think it will do any good though I had prayed until the very last that this boy's innocence might be spared and preserved but what must be must be and at least we can all three bear our burden together." (6.2.18)
The innocent boy in this scene is Bayard, and his Aunt Louisa intends to keep him that way by forcing her daughter, Dru, to marry John. In case you're missing the subtext, Aunt Louisa thinks they are living in sin, having sexual relations outside of marriage, and therefore is scandalized. She'll solve that sin by having them marry.
"You wish to tell me that you, a young woman, associated with him, a still young man, day and night for a year, running about the country with no guard nor check of any sort upon—Do you take me for a complete fool?" (6.2.23)
Aunt Louisa apparently has never heard of self-control. She thinks that sin is waiting around every corner, and the only way to avoid it is by setting up chaperone systems so that it never gets the chance to find you in the dark.
But they caught on quick now; now all of them were patting Aunt Louisa's hands and giving her vinegar to smell and Mrs Habersham saying, "Of course. You poor thing. A public wedding now, after a year, would be a public notice of the…." So they decided it could be a reception, because Mrs Habersham said how a reception could be held for a bridal couple at any time, even ten years later. (6.3.2)
Sexual sin is often a gossip's best friend. And these ladies are no exception. They are obsessed with whether or not Dru and John have done the deed, whether or not she's pregnant, and forcing the two to marry. But the marriage has to be done right, or it will just confirm to everyone that there was, indeed, sexual sin.
"Since you have forced your mother and brother to live under a roof of license and adultery you think you can also force them to live in a polling booth refuge from violence and bloodshed, do you?" (6.3.27)
A license is a cool thing when it lets you drive your parents' car to the movies whenever you want. But in this case, it's a sin: it's related to licentiousness, which is sexual immorality. Aunt Louisa believes that her daughter and John have committed several sins, and her proximity to them has stained her lily-white reputation.
[W]e had talked about it, about how if there was anything at all in the Book, anything of hope for His blind and bewildered spawn which He had chosen above all others to offer immortality, Thou shalt not kill must be it…. (7.1.10)
For all their concern with other people's sin, the people in the novel don't seem to care too much about the huge sin of killing that is constantly taking place through the war and the various revenge plots that they deal with. Bayard's the only one who seems to notice this fact.