Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1498

Chapter 1

Old Man Falls walks into town to visit with old Bayard Sartoris, aged seventy, at Sartoris’s bank. Old Bayard spends his mornings and afternoons there sitting in a tilted chair by the door, stopping only to nap every lunch hour. Today, Falls is at long last fulfilling a favor asked of him by old Bayard’s father, Colonel John, as a final bequest in anticipation of Colonel’s death more than forty years earlier. Falls has been keeping the late Colonel’s ornate but weathered and chewed tobacco pipe. After Falls gives old Bayard the pipe, it seems to fill the bank office with the Colonel’s spectral presence. 

After Falls leaves, old Bayard sits smoking a cigar and fingering the pipe, lost in remembrance, until a bank employee tells him that his driver and valet, Simon, has arrived with the horse-drawn carriage to take him home. Simon is waiting with the horses ready to go, so as usual he hasn’t used the bank’s old-fashioned hitching post that old Bayard keeps as a sign of resistance to the motor age. Old Bayard walks with a distinctly erect bearing, and when he has boarded the carriage, Simon brings the horses to life for a grand, dramatic exit. Simon has important news, which he shares with old Bayard: he has heard that young Bayard, old Bayard’s grandson, has returned to town, having completed his service in World War I in Europe. But instead of getting off his train at the station, young Bayard jumped while the train was still moving and disappeared into the woods. Expected at two that afternoon, young Bayard hasn’t been seen since, leading Simon to despair that such uncouth and bizarre behavior must be the result of the foreign War, which Simon had scolded young Bayard and his twin brother, John, for joining.

Four miles outside of town is the plantation house built by Colonel John. The house is set in the hills, shielded behind an iron gate, and covered with thick flowering vines choking the life out of each other. Old Bayard enters the house and calls for his grandson, expecting him to be waiting at home. But Elnora, the housekeeper, tells him that nobody except his Aunt Jenny is home, and Elnora worries that old Bayard is just getting old and confused. 

On his way through the house, old Bayard notices the slants of yellow light coming through a window made of stained-glass panes that Aunt Jenny, Colonel John’s sister, had brought with her when she moved from the ancestral Sartoris family home in Carolina down to Mississippi to live with her brother’s family in 1869. She was thirty at the time, having lost her husband in the Civil War seven years earlier, around the same time her other brother, Bayard, was killed in the war, too. 

The narrative now flashes back in time to a scene soon after Aunt Jenny’s arrival fifty years earlier, with Jenny, the Colonel, and a guest—a Scottish engineer whom the Colonel met in Mexico in 1845. The engineer was now helping Colonel John build his railroad through town. Though clearly saddened by her life’s losses, Aunt Jenny regales the visitor with the story of their brother Bayard’s ignominious death while serving in Virginia as an adjutant to the legendary Confederate Cavalry General J. E. B. Stuart, whom Aunt Jenny recalls with reverence. 

Just before the second battle of Manassas, Stuart and his men were sitting around their campfire telling stories of things missed, when the subject turned to their lack of coffee. Before long, the talk gives way to action and the...

(This entire section contains 1498 words.)

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twenty men mounted up for a midnight raid of the Union General Pope’s private kitchen at the Federal camp across the woods. They passed weary Union soldiers returning from patrol, and the camp was empty except for a staff major who was taken prisoner. The Confederate soldiers take turns drinking scalding black coffee out of General Pope’s pot, which they pass around like a trophy before riding off with the captive major for safe passage through the enemy lines. They are chased and fired at by the startled Union soldiers but escape safely. They graciously release the prisoner, who remarks sarcastically that Robert E. Lee might be coming next for General Pope’s canned anchovies. Hearing this, Bayard Sartoris leads a charge back to the Union camp to pilfer said anchovies and is fatally shot by a cook hiding with a derringer revolver.

Here, the narrative returns to old Bayard in his room, changing into his comfortable riding old boots, smoking a cigar, and remembering his father’s pipe in his pocket. Once again, he hears Old Man Falls voice telling of the Colonel’s legendary exploits. In Colonel John’s days in the state legislature after he had made his fortune, he proposed the need to start killing in order to protect the Southern way of life from meddling Republican carpetbaggers, and Falls notes that once the killing starts, it tends to keep on going. So, even when the Colonel finally renounced violence and stopped carrying a pistol, he knew he was marked for doom by his political rival, Redlaw, and thus entrusted Falls with the pipe to give someday to his oldest male heir.

The scene then shifts to Simon, who picks Aunt Jenny up from a large, beautiful old house in another section of town, in front of which are parked a number of automobiles. Simon enters through the kitchen, where the household servants Rachel and Meloney are feasting on leftovers from lunch. The fare includes ice cream, Simon’s favorite, which they all delightedly share. The ladies’ card game is breaking up, and Aunt Jenny is in a hurry to get home for old Bayard’s toddy time, and she exits with her young friend Narcissa Benbow and bids goodbye to their hostess, Belle Mitchell. 

Aunt Jenny asks Narcissa about her older brother, Horace, who is also due to return home from the War. Horace served as a volunteer with the YMCA and seems to have had an enriching War experience, which Narcissa takes as a sign of the war being a good thing after all. After they drop Narcissa off, Simon repeats his news about young Bayard’s return, but Aunt Jenny calls this news “nonsense” and insults Simon for spreading it. 

Aunt Jenny returns to find old Bayard relaxing after hunting, and the two have their highly ritualized cocktail hour, with old Bayard mixing the whiskey, sugar, lemon and ice. The two continue to discuss the young Bayard matter and berate Simon. That night, old Bayard can’t sleep and is sitting on the veranda smoking a cigar when he notices something moving in the bushes. It’s his grandson, young Bayard, and he appears to be drunk. Young Bayard soon begins to recount the facts of his brother John’s death in the air war, for which young Bayard blames himself. Aunt Jenny is awakened and comes down to join them but refuses to give young Bayard any more alcohol and insists he drink milk. The chapter ends with young Bayard falling asleep and waking up suddenly to see Aunt Jenny in a chair by the bed watching over him.


From the opening sentences, Faulkner establishes the atmosphere that permeates his fictional universe. The introduction of “old Bayard” Sartoris emphasizes the immense influence of the past upon the present, as suggested by his vivid memories of his late father, Colonel John. The passage of the pipe symbolizes the formal consecration of old Bayard’s role as family patriarch and bearer of the once-chivalrous family name, whose Latin roots suggest elegance and splendor. Yet, just as Colonel John’s spectral presence looms over the story, suggesting long-ago greatness given way to encroaching decay, his oft-told legend also suggests the possibility of a kind of eternal heroic afterlife in the minds of the nostalgic older generations yearning for times they can better understand. 

Both Bayard Sartoris I and Colonel John died to preserve their luxurious, racist plantation lifestyle, whether during the Civil War or during the bloody southern resistance to federally-imposed civil rights and social reforms. More than fifty years after the end of the Civil War, it is clear the relations between the white characters of all social classes and the African-American characters have not evolved at the same pace as modern technology, symbolized by the automobile and airplane, or as modern white Southern society with its emerging nouveau riche class, as embodied in Belle. 

Another ghost of mythic Confederate chivalry that haunts the family is that of the real-life J. E. B. Stuart, who, like the Sartorises, had roots in the old Southern colonial aristocracy and was renowned for his handsome, dashing figure and swashbuckling manner. As Faulkner foreshadows, Stuart was killed in a sloppy and undramatic fashion soon after the events depicted in the flashback.


Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis