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 shot down; he is also driven by the Sartoris penchant for violent endings—partly fatalism, partly recklessness. He drives his car too fast, endangering himself and his passengers. Once he drives off a bridge and breaks his ribs; another time he drives over a cliff and back onto the road, only to learn he has caused his grandfather, old Bayard, to die of a heart attack.
The Benbow house is in Jefferson, as are the cemetery, the courthouse, the church, and other places of interest. Horace is a young lawyer recently returned from wartime experience as a YMCA worker in Italy; he is interested in poetry and art, bringing a glassblowing apparatus home with him. He becomes involved with another family, Harry and Belle Mitchell and their daughter, little Belle. Eventually Belle divorces Harry and marries Horace. Narcissa and Horace are very close, with strong emotional ties to each other. She is friends with old Bayard’s aunt, Miss Jenny DuPre, whose common sense offers a contrast to the Sartoris attitudes and actions. Byron Snopes writes anonymous letters to Narcissa, eventually breaking into her house and stealing an undergarment. He, like his people, is low-bred, amoral, and grasping.
The Sartoris family is also treated at length in The Unvanquished; the Benbows are among the important characters of Sanctuary. The MacCallums(McCallums) are the protagonists of the short story “The Tall Men” (1941). In Sartoris, their hill farm home, more than fourteen miles north of Jefferson, becomes young Bayard’s refuge after old Bayard’s death. Here drinking and hunting (two of Faulkner’s favorite avocations) take place. Another family, a nameless and poverty-stricken black family, share their hospitality on Christmas Day. They stand in contrast to others in the novel who are stereotypes of black characters in literature and drama of the time. Following the death of young Bayard, who has foolheartedly flight-tested an unsafe plane in Dayton, Ohio, the focus is on Benbow Sartoris, who represents a new generation of the family. Bayard’s wife, Narcissa, has named the son Benbow in hopes that he will avoid the curse of the Sartoris men.
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 entire section contains 1651 words.)
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- Critical Essays