Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1065
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 missives to a schoolboy, as if they were business correspondence. The boy blackmails Snopes into giving him an air rifle.
Narcissa welcomes home another returning veteran, her brother Horace Benbow. A noncombatant during the war, he served in the YMCA and learned glassblowing in Italy. Impractical and absent-minded, Horace finds that his love of beauty is a thin disguise for his cowardice. He adores his sister, even naming one of his glass vases after her, but he falls out of favor with her when he resumes an affair with Belle Mitchell, a discontented married woman.
A third returning veteran is Caspey Strother, son of Simon, who comes to believe that, given their equal status in France, blacks need no longer accept a servile position in southern society. Caspey’s war tales are exaggerated, and the only real wounds he suffered were in a crap game. Old Bayard regards Caspey’s notions of his rights as insolent. In the meantime, old Bayard develops a wen on his face, which, much to Aunt Jenny’s exasperation, he allows Will Falls to treat with an ancient Indian remedy. Fearful that Bayard will get blood poisoning, she takes him to a pretentious but ineffectual specialist. Falls’s salve ultimately works...
(The entire section contains 1065 words.)
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