Mason Tarwater, great-uncle of Francis Marion Tarwater, has died at the breakfast table one morning. The old man had spent years training his nephew, with whom he lived in a backwoods spot called Powderhead, how to bury him properly. As young Francis Tarwater begins to prepare for the burial, he recalls events from his life with Old Tarwater and the various reasons he does not want to follow in the old man’s footsteps. Young Tarwater recalls that the old man had kidnapped him from the home of his uncle, George F. Rayber, and provided a fundamentalist education quite different from the education the boy would have received in public school. Young Tarwater also recalls the old man’s stories about his life as a prophet and his failed attempts to save relatives other than his great-nephew, notably Rayber, whom Old Tarwater kidnapped at age seven; Rayber rejected the old man’s preaching and later tried to get young Tarwater back. Old Tarwater would tell his great-nephew that he shot Rayber in the leg and ear to prevent the boy’s being taken away by Rayber and the woman who became his wife, Bernice Bishop.
Old Tarwater was pleased that Rayber and Bernice had only one child and that the child, Bishop Rayber, was an idiot, for idiocy would protect the boy from Rayber’s foolish ideas. Young Tarwater remembers that he had been ordered by Old Tarwater to accept the mission of baptizing little Bishop. He also remembers a trip to the city with Old Tarwater, who found out from lawyers that he could not take Powderhead from Rayber and give it to young Tarwater; it was on this day that young Tarwater got the only glimpse of both Rayber and Bishop that he could remember while living with Old Tarwater.
As Tarwater starts to dig the old man’s grave, he hears a stranger’s voice. When two black people, a woman and Buford Munson, interrupt Tarwater’s digging to have him fill their jugs with liquor, Tarwater goes to Old Tarwater’s still and gets drunk. The stranger’s voice encourages young Tarwater to go his own way. After being scolded by Buford, Tarwater falls asleep, and Buford buries Old Tarwater in accordance with the old man’s wishes. When young Tarwater awakes, he burns down the house, thinking Old Tarwater’s body is still in it, and...
(The entire section is 925 words.)