Study Guide

Ringo in The Unvanquished


It Must Have Been Cold There in My Shadow

Ringo, a slave boy who lives in the Sartoris household, is the same age as Bayard Sartoris. But even though he's got enough brains, smarts, and good humor to sink a ship, he's always playing second fiddle to Bayard. Of course, Bayard's our narrator, so everything we know about Ringo comes filtered through his ego. But even so, it's still clear that Ringo could show up Bayard six ways to Sunday—at least, he could if he weren't a slave.

From the start, Bayard acknowledges the racial divide between him and Ringo. The problem is that he doesn't realize that race is the only thing keeping Ringo from dominating the story. In fact, he seems to think that, because Ringo is sort of like part of the family, their color lines have blurred: when the boys play war, Bayard lets Ringo be the Southern General Pemberton as a concession because the Yankees are coming close:

But now it was that urgent even though Ringo was a n***** too, because Ringo and I had been born in the same month and had both fed at the same breast and had slept together and eaten together for so long that Ringo called Granny "Granny" just like I did, until maybe he wasn't a n***** anymore or maybe I wasn't a white boy any more, the two of us neither, not even people any longer... (1.1.21)

The urgency is to let Ringo act like a Southerner to play General Pemberton, even though it's Bayard's turn. This is because Ringo is trapped between two cultures; there are the slaves, who hope for the Union victory and freedom, and their masters, who hope to preserve their way of life and win the war. Ringo is a slave, sure, but he acts more like Bayard than like Loosh.

Basically, he considers himself part of the household, and cheers for the South as if it were a football team instead of a warring faction—and the faction that's fighting to keep him enslaved, at that. What Ringo is too young to realize is that, since he is a slave, he'll never be considered a true part of the family.

But what's really wild is that even after the war, when his uncle Loosh and aunt Philadelphy take off for freedom, Ringo stays around. It's like he can't imagine another life.

In fact, when the Union soldiers come close, Bayard and Ringo defend the house from them:

We held the musket between us like a log of wood. "Do you want to be free?" I said. "Do you want to be free?"

[T]he musket was already riding up across Ringo's back as he stopped, his hands on his knees and panting "Shoot the bastud! Shoot him!"

See that? Ringo is defending the Sartoris family from the Union, egged on by Bayard's warning that if he doesn't, he'll be "free." He doesn't know what that means (um, obviously), because it seems like a fate worse than death to him. Rather than being free, he'd rather be Bayard's gun rest.

The Tables Turn

Ringo's smarts come especially in handy for the mule-stealing operation. So much so that Bayard feels left out. Bayard doesn't really have a role, whereas Ringo is very useful to Granny:

They looked at the map, Granny's head white and still where the light came through the window on it, and Ringo leaning over her. He had got taller during the summer; he was taller than me now, maybe from the exercise around the country, listening out for fresh regiments with mules, and he had got to treating me like Granny did—like he and Granny were the same age instead of him and me. (4.1.23)

Granny and Ringo are now the equals instead of Bayard and Ringo. Ringo's leaving Bayard behind, because he's better at math, negotiating, and planning. He's got a good head for business, and Bayard's just in the way.

When the two boys grow up, and John is killed, the difference between them becomes even starker. They used to be like two peas in a pod; now they're more like a baby sweet pea and an Oregon giant pea. (That's a thing, right?)

Anyway, Ringo goes to get Bayard and deliver the news, and Bayard recognizes that even though Ringo is still basically a slave and he is studying to be a lawyer, he is no better than Ringo:

I remember how I thought then that no matter what might happen to either of us, I would never be The Sartoris to him... Maybe it was because he had outgrown me, had changed so much that summer while he and Granny traded mules with the Yankees that since then I had had to do most of the changing just to catch up with him. (7.1.10)

Ringo and Bayard will never have the master-slave relationship of the past. It's not just that the war is over and Ringo is free. In fact, he's stayed on as a servant in the household. It's also because he's just better than Bayard in many ways. He's smarter, more mature, and more willing to avenge the death of Bayard's father (and possibly his too—see more on this theory in Bayard's page elsewhere in this section). He may not be a lawyer, but hey, who wants to be? The point is, he has really left Bayard in the dust.