Flags in the Dust Summary

Flags in the Dust by William Faulkner is a novel about the aristocratic Sartoris family of Mississippi, who are haunted by both old ghosts and changing times.

  • Young Bayard Sartoris returns from his service in World War I, haunted by the death of his twin, John.
  • Young Bayard is restless, drinking often and driving recklessly. This troubles his grandfather, old Bayard, and Aunt Jenny.
  • Narcissa Benbow, a family friend, cares for an injured young Bayard, and they begin a troubled romance.
  • After his wild driving causes his grandfather to have a heart attack, young Bayard’s self-destructive behavior worsens.

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In the spring of 1919, the country pauper Old Man Falls brings the late Colonel John Sartoris’s ancient, weathered tobacco pipe to the Colonel’s seventy-year-old son, Bayard II. Bayard II, who is known as “old Bayard,” is the town banker and current patriarch of the Sartoris family. At the end of every bank day, Simon, a servant to the Sartoris family who was born enslaved on the family plantation before the Civil War, arrives in a horse-drawn carriage to pick up old Bayard, since the elder Sartoris detests automobiles. Simon has heard from a Black train worker that Bayard III, known as “young Bayard,” who was expected home that afternoon after being demobilized from allied air force service in World War I, jumped off the train and ran into the woods instead of getting off at the town station. Just as the Sartoris family is awaiting young Bayard’s return from the war, Narcissa Benbow, a family friend, is awaiting the return of her older brother, Horace, who is due back from his overseas volunteer service with the YMCA. That night, young Bayard stumbles home drunk through the bushes and stays up late talking to Aunt Jenny and old Bayard, his only family, about the death of his twin brother John in an air battle, for which young Bayard blames himself.

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Aunt Jenny can’t understand the traumatic effects of John’s loss on young Bayard and dismisses the men of his generation as weak and overly sensitive to struggle and tragedy. Simon’s son Caspey has also just returned from the war, and his experience laboring at the French docks has opened his mind to new realities and possibilities, personally empowering him to resist the local racist dominant order, and making him confident that African-American service in the war for European freedom will lead to domestic civil rights gains. Narcissa has been receiving a series of bizarrely written anonymous love letters which make her feel tawdry and ashamed; they are soon revealed to be written by Byron Snopes, the bank bookkeeper. Meanwhile, young Bayard has brought a fast new car home back from Memphis, delighting some members of the family and terrorizing others, like Simon and old Bayard. One night, young Bayard and some friends bring two Black musicians out to serenade the single women in town, saving Narcissa’s home for last. Fearing for young Bayard’s safety in case he were to drive inebriated, Aunt Jenny arranges for the sheriff to detain young Bayard comfortably for the night.

Horace Benbow arrives home with much luggage and a new passion for blowing glass vases, and he displays an unusual level of closeness and affection with the innocent Narcissa. A lawyer like his father, the aesthetically inclined Horace doesn’t take his work very seriously and has a tendency to view reality in grandly Romantic terms. He is having a gossiped-about affair with Belle Mitchell, a new-money socialite married to Harry Mitchell, a friend of the Sartoris and Benbow families. Turning away from her brother, Narcissa spends more time with Aunt Jenny as young Bayard has been trying to improve himself, working long hours in the fields and neither drinking nor driving recklessly. When summer ends and the fieldwork is done, young Bayard goes back to his old ways and soon has a...

(The entire section contains 1299 words.)

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