Study Guide

Sartoris

by William Faulkner

Sartoris Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Sartoris, Faulkner’s first published mature novel, and the first to treat the people and places of his fictional county of Yoknapatawpha, is a fitting introduction to his settings and characters. The title is the name of one of his leading families. In one sense, young Bayard Sartoris is the protagonist; in another, it is the entire Sartoris family (at least the first, second, and fourth generations). Also introduced are two members of the Snopes clan—Flem and Byron, employees of old Bayard Sartoris’s bank. Protagonists of an interwoven subplot are the Benbows—brother and sister Horace and Narcissa. Other characters include the MacCallums (spelled McCallum in later works).

The setting begins in Jefferson, the county seat of Yoknapatawpha, and moves to other parts of the region (and occasionally other parts of the United States) in the main narrative but shifts to the Civil War and World War I in digressions.

Colonel John Sartoris, the legendary ancestor of the two Bayards, was modeled after Faulkner’s great-grandfather, Colonel William C. Falkner, a colorful adventurer of the periods before, during, and after the Civil War. Colonel Sartoris’s twin brother, Bayard, was killed while engaged in a prank during the Civil War; Colonel John’s presence still permeates the atmosphere three generations later. Old Bayard is passive and nonviolent. Young Bayard experiences guilt because he has seen his twin brother John’s plane...

(The entire section is 586 words.)

Sartoris Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Shortly after the conclusion of World War I, Will Falls, an ancient veteran of the Civil War, comes to visit old Bayard Sartoris in his Jefferson, Mississippi, bank, bringing a pipe that belonged to John Sartoris, Bayard’s father and a colonel in the Confederacy. John’s heroic ghost seems to fill the room as they reminisce.

The bank day over, Simon Strother, a Sartoris family servant, comes to drive old Bayard home in the family carriage and reports that Bayard’s grandson, also named Bayard, was seen arriving on a train that afternoon. Young Bayard is a Royal Air Force pilot along with his twin brother John. John died foolishly in the skies over France. Juxtaposed with young Bayard’s reported sighting is another story of the past, this one about a third Bayard Sartoris, who fought in the Civil War. Colonel John Sartoris’s brother died vaingloriously in the service of Jeb Stuart. His Civil War exploits, as did his brother John’s, became part of the Sartoris family legend. The repository of the Sartoris legends is eighty-year-old Aunt Jenny Depre, who keeps house for the Sartorises. The sister of John and Bayard Sartoris of the Civil War, she alternated between paying homage to and scoffing at the deeds of her brothers. A no-nonsense person with an acidic tongue, she attributed the violence and foolishness of the World War I generation of brothers to the same streak of Sartoris bullheadedness that ran through the Sartoris men of the Civil War.

Safely returned home to the care of Aunt Jenny and his grandfather, young Bayard still cannot find peace. He is filled with guilt over his brother’s death and is driven to self-destructive behavior. He foolishly tries to ride an untrained stallion and is thrown. Rather than return home, he becomes drunk with some country folks and then serenades all the eligible ladies in town, including Narcissa Benbow. He also races recklessly through the county in an automobile, running wagons off the road. Although warned to avoid the automobile because of a bad heart, the elder Bayard rides along, ostensibly to restrain his grandson’s recklessness but really, according to Miss Jenny, because, as another Sartoris male, he desires the same thrill of danger as his grandson. Narcissa is Jenny’s friend and formerly was in love with Bayard’s brother John. Visiting one day, she confides to Jenny that she was receiving anonymous and obscene love letters. For all of her ladylike decorum, however, she is secretly flattered by the letters. The sender, Byron Snopes, is a stealthy, animalistic bookkeeper at the Sartorises’ bank, who dictates his...

(The entire section is 1065 words.)