Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Jefferson. Seat of William Faulkner’s imaginary Mississippi county of Yoknapatawpha that is Lucius’s hometown. Jefferson is patterned after Faulkner’s own home of Oxford in northern Mississippi. Early in the novel Boon drives Lucius’s grandfather and the family past the typical small-town livery stable, which the advent of automobiles would eventually render obsolete, and then proceeds proudly through the town square.
Because the author chose the adult Lucius as retrospective narrator of the events of the novel, readers learn that Lucius’s home has since been replaced by a gas station and that his grandfather’s house across the street has been divided into apartments. As a result, readers share Lucius’s memories of a place and way of life that have been profoundly altered, to a large extent, ironically, by the automobile, the very conveyance that takes Lucius on his illicit trip away from home.
Winton Flyer. Automobile belonging to Lucius’s grandfather that Boon appropriates and uses to take Lucius to Tennessee. Ned William McCaslin, the grandfather’s black handyman, also becomes an accidental passenger on the trip. One of the earliest cars in Jefferson, the Flyer is an object of great interest to Boon, the huge but childlike man who drives it for Lucius’s grandfather. Faulkner provides many examples of riding in automobiles around the turn of the twentieth...
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Faulkner uses comic techniques that he borrowed and developed from his own regional tradition, southwestern humor. He develops the tall tale, for example, in his story of how the adventurers become stuck at Hell Creek, a series of mud holes faithfully plowed by a local entrepreneur to make the services of his mule team essential for continuing the journey. The complex swapping of car and horse is a tall tale of trading of the kind that appears often in Faulkner and in earlier Southern writers. One of Faulkner's main additions to his tradition is an increased complexity of the comic complications and of subtlety in those characters who must deal with them. Faulkner raises these complications to such a level that it requires acute moral reasoning to escape them with honor.
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Ideas for Group Discussions
The Reivers can be seen as an opposite to Sanctuary. Lucius contrasts with Temple Drake in that he has a set of values by which he is trying to define himself and to live. He contrasts with most of the characters who have values in Sanctuary in that he understands those values and continues to learn their implications. Good discussion can arise out of taking note of those values and evaluating their adequacy to an adult world where seemingly few people live by moral values.
Although Memphis is a place of corruption in both novels, in The Reivers we see many characters who oppose that corruption and who live upright and meaningful lives. It is interesting to discuss the differing views of this world in the two works and to account for Faulkner's shift from savage tragedy to almost romantic comedy in his treatment of it.
1. When Lucius confesses his various sins and expresses regret, the one for which he is most ashamed is lying. What are the principle values by which he tries to live? Why does he consider lying the most serious of his failings during his adventure? Why do his father and grandfather decide that whipping him for his failings is not appropriate punishment?
2. How does Lucius's grandfather define a gentleman? What are the new rules Lucius must accept in order to live as an adult gentleman? Where does the authority of these rules come from? Are they to be found in religious scripture or the...
(The entire section is 610 words.)
The Reivers was a popular novel in part because it tells a wonderfully complicated tall tale to a considerable extent in Faulkner's characteristically difficult style and yet is fairly accessible, very funny, and both risqué and wholesome in a sense that American readers tend to like.
Somewhat like Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), this story takes an innocent boy with a sure sense of right and wrong into a wild world of gambling, debauchery, prostitution, horse-racing, political corruption, and rowdiness. His negotiation of these difficulties with his personal sense of honor more or less intact makes for a moral adventure in an immoral world.
At the novel's center is a moral purpose, the passing on of a tradition of moral behavior, of an ideal of the gentleman. As a story of moral education for young people and of coming of age in a complex and puzzling social world, the novel retains relevance and resonance with a time in which social values are a central node of conflict in Western Civilization.
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In this book, Faulkner draws upon the entire comic tradition that he admired from Shakespeare and Cervantes to George Washington Harris and Mark Twain. Perhaps the clearest and most often noted precursor of The Reivers is Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Though Lucius differs from Huck Finn because he has dependable adult teachers, he is like Huck in that his adventure to the moral margins of society helps him to discover the core values by which he will live, leads him to an increased respect for the moral and intellectual qualities of marginalized African-Americans, and to some extent complicates his views of women. Finally, unlike Huck, Lucius returns to respectable society after his adventure, better prepared to live an adult life.
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Although The Reivers shares characters with other works, notably Boon, who also appears in Go Down, Moses (1942) and other stories, this is Faulkner's only novel that is consistently comic in tone and form. Still, the situations and techniques he uses here are characteristic of his work almost from the beginning. Late in his career, he had used the tall tale extensively in the Snopes novels, The Hamlet (1940), The Town (1957), and The Mansion (1959), but the snowballing absurdity that is typical of his tall tales can be traced back at least as far as The Sound and the Fury (1929), for example, when Jason Compson, Jr. chases his niece and her lover around the Mississippi countryside to recover stolen money she has taken from him.
Another novel that seems especially close to this one is Intruder in the Dust (1948), which shows an adolescent coming of age in his efforts to be true to his friendship with a black man falsely accused of murder.
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The Reivers (1969), a well-reviewed and popular film adaptation is faithful to the novel on the whole, although according to Bruce Kawin, it alters Faulkner's ambiguous perspective on the automobile and his skepticism about childhood innocence.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bell, Haney H., Jr. “The Relative Maturity of Lucius Priest and Ike McCaslin.” Aegis 2 (1973): 15-21. Examines the heroic effort and coming of age. Ultimately finds the story “The Bear” to be a greater struggle toward maturity than that depicted in The Reivers.
Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. Contains separate chapters on the most important Faulkner novels, including The Reivers, and provides description of plot and comparisons between the characters and subtexts of the works. One of the most helpful and accessible books on The Reivers.
Vickery, Olga W. The Novels of William Faulkner. Rev. ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964. A thorough examination of all of Faulkner’s novels, summarizing Faulkner’s technique, style, themes, and the encompassing philosophy that unifies his works.
Williams, David. Faulkner’s Women: The Myth and the Muse. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1977. Considers the women in Faulkner’s novels from the aspect of psychoanalysis and Jungian archetypes. Includes a discussion of male and female characters in The Reivers.
Wittenbeg, Judith B. Faulkner: The Transfiguration of Biography. Lincoln:...
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