Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Yoknapatawpha County (YOK-nuh-puh-TAW-fuh). Fictional county in northeastern Mississippi created by Faulkner and used as the primary setting for most of his fiction, including The Unvanquished. The name of the county and its southern boundary, the Yoknapatawpha River, is an earlier spelling of the actual Yocona River. Yoknapatawpha County is similar to, though larger than, Lafayette County in northeastern Mississippi, where Faulkner lived most of his life. In addition to the Yoknapatawpha River, Faulkner’s county is bounded by the Tallahatchie River to the north, hill country to the east, and thick woods and hills to the west. The terrain of this rural county contributes to the success of the protagonist Bayard Sartoris, his slave companion Ringo, and Bayard’s grandmother Rosa Millard (“Granny”) in their scheme to get and sell Union Army mules. On the other hand, when Bayard, Ringo, and Uncle Buck McCaslin turn into pursuers circling the county in search of Grumby, Granny’s murderer, they too are handicapped by the terrain even though they know it well. Centered in the heart of the Confederacy, Yoknapatawpha County also functions as a microcosm of the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction.
Sartoris plantation. Large plantation located in Yoknapatawpha County about four miles north of Jefferson. With its mansion, slave cabins, and farm buildings,...
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The Unvanquished is a series of linked short stories that compose a novel; it is in the tradition of such works as Joyce's Dubliners (1914) and Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919; see separate entry), both of which give portraits of places and people that effectively examine societies and cultures. Where Joyce can use his stories to analyze the effects of religion and colonialism on his Dubliners, Faulkner uses his stories to create a sense of what the South was like when it began to lose the Civil War, when it was defeated, and what it was like in the decade after the war's end. Panoramic scenes of the South, usually gleaned from the travel of the Sartorises, give a good idea of the privation of the war with houses burned and white people living in the slave quarters, but sometimes the details gathered from story to story do powerful work as well, such as the substitution of Pokeberry juice for ink, the use of peeled wallpaper for writing paper, the borrowing of clothes and the patching of them with feed sacks, the chewing of bark instead of tobacco, and a hunger so overwhelming that inedible weeds pass for food.
Unlike Joyce and Anderson, Faulkner is examining a relatively constant group of characters in one family, with Bayard not only the narrator but also the central character tying the stories together. Consequently, Faulkner's The Unvanquished seems more like a novel than the linked stories of Joyce and Anderson....
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Faulkner was working closely with materials based on his own family in Sartoris and The Unvanquished. Of the many biographies on Faulkner, Joseph Blotner's Faulkner: A Biography (1974) does the best job of dealing with Colonel John Falkner and his descendants who mirror the fictional John and Bayard Sartoris. John Falkner's military career during the Civil War, the shooting of Colonel Falkner, and the revival of the family fortunes through a railroad now a part of the Illinois Central are repeated in the novel. After reading the chapter, "The Ancestors," in Blotner, contrast and compare the factual details of the family to the fictional details of the novel to see how closely Faulkner is working with his sources and try to estimate why he makes the changes he does and their effects. Fiction is sometimes very close to fact, and it is fascinating to see how close in the case of this novel.
Perhaps more important would be reading a good history of the South, such as C. Vann Woodward's The Burden of Southern History (1968, 1993) to get a sense of the area and the period. Ralph Burns's documentary on the Civil War, frequently shown on PBS stations, is invaluable in giving one a perspective of the war, its participants, and the civilians who suffered through it. Faulkner's Southern audience, to the extent he had one in the late 1930s, knew Southern history, although the rest of the United States was ignorant of the South and less interested...
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William Faulkner is said to have recommended that readers unfamiliar with his work should begin with The Unvanquished. Probably his reason for this choice was not the book's relative ease of reading or quality, but because The Unvanquished provides an historical origin for the Southern attitudes and dilemmas that have shaped the South since the Civil War and hence Faulkner's fiction. Because historical fiction is generally not respected by critics, none have thought of The Unvanquished as historical fiction, although the novel comes close to that genre as it dramatizes how Southerners and the Sartoris family of Mississippi in particular responded when the war began to turn against the South with the fall of Vicksburg in 1863 and later with an action highlighted by invasion, defeat, Reconstruction, and to a limited extent, renewal. While The Unvanquished shows an erosion of values for the Sartoris family and their neighbors through the war prior to Bayard's affirmation of value in "An Odor of Verbena," the novel has many panoramic scenes that give a sense of what it was like to be invaded, to suffer privation, to have hopes of freedom unable to be realized, and to fear the absence of order and the loss of control. While readers care most about the Sartoris family and the blacks whose destiny is tied to theirs, one is given a sense of an historical period from a Southern perspective through their representative suffering, defeats, and...
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While this essay has already examined the tradition of linked short stories as novels and Faulkner's modifications in that tradition, the subject matter of The Unvanquished itself is part of a series of literary precedents about the South. One of the reasons why one of the aims of the novel is historical fiction is in some ways to revise myths of the Southern past much as Mark Twain did in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884; see separate entry). Faulkner shows the myths of the Lost Cause beginning to develop in the war itself especially through the women in the novel such as Drusilla's mother, Aunt Louisa, Mrs. Habersham, and Mrs. Compson, who force Drusilla into marrying John Sartoris. In a letter to Granny, whom Aunt Louisa does not know has been killed, Aunt Louisa sees her husband having "laid down his life to protect a heritage of courageous men and spotless women" as a motive for fighting the war. When a community of women in Faulkner begin to repeat such notions, attributing causes to established facts, it is not long before a myth of the South develops, nicely expressed by relatively contemporary works to The Unvanquished such as Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell, 1936; see separate entry) or by novels published shortly after the Civil War such as The White Rose of Memphis written by Faulkner's great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner. In rewriting the South of the Lost Cause, Faulkner concentrates less on Southern...
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Once Faulkner began writing Flags in the Dust, the early version of Sartoris, links to nearly all of the characters of what comprise Yoknapatawpha's fourteen novels and many short stories was in place. In Sartoris, the action is set shortly after World War I, although the Bayard Sartoris of The Unvanquished and the novel's Jenny Du Pre appear in the novel. While The Unvanquished shows the beginning of the myths of the South, Sartoris shows the effect of those myths on the descendants of Colonel John Sartoris. The courage with a purpose of the colonel is reduced to foolhardy daring in his descendants a few generations later, as characters are attracted to yet fear death, as the young Bayard does. The railroad which was a means of recouping family fortunes in The Unvanquished and seems heroic in itself in the stories of the Great Locomotive Chase becomes the more dangerous automobile and airplane in Sartoris. In place of Drusilla and Granny of The Unvanquished, one encounters Narcissa Benbow and a debased femininity. Where the Bayard of The Unvanquished acts to choose value, in Sartoris that value is replaced by a debased art, such as Horace Benbow's attempt to create perfect glass urns. Sartoris or Flags in the Dust is worth reading for those interested in Faulkner's Sartoris family, but one must remember that The Unvanquished, while dealing with a Civil War period, is nonetheless...
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Faulkner sold the film rights to The Unvanquished to MGM, but MGM never made a motion picture from the book, probably because Faulkner's truth about the Civil War period was dwarfed by the popular success of Gone with the Wind, which was published in 1936 and made into a motion picture in 1939.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. Presents a favorable discussion of the novel, remarking on strong characterization and the importance of the female characters. Finds the last chapter strong as a coda for the novel’s themes.
Hoffman, Daniel. Faulkner’s Country Matters: Folklore and Fable in Yoknapatawpha. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989. Contains a clear synopsis of the novel’s plot as well as discussions of Bayard’s maturity and his relationship with Ringo.
Roberts, Diane. “A Precarious Pedestal: The Confederate Woman in Faulkner’s Unvanquished.” Journal of American Studies 26, no. 2 (August, 1992): 233-246. Notes that the novel does not endorse the more masculine roles of Granny or Drusilla.
Taylor, Nancy Dew. “‘Moral Housecleaning’ and Colonel Sartoris’s Dream.” Mississippi Quarterly 37, no. 3 (Summer, 1984): 353-364. Concentrates on the last speech between the Colonel and Bayard; believes that only the methods, not the aggressive nature and goals, of the Colonel change.
Walker, William E. “The Unvanquished: The Restoration of Tradition.” In Reality and Myth, edited by William E. Walker and Robert L. Welker. Nashville:...
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