(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The opening page and a half, set in 1872 at dawn on Sunday morning, presents all principal characters except Wash Jones. It begins with Thomas Sutpen standing above the pallet where Milly Jones and her child lie; Sutpen’s arrogance is seen in his stance, with whip in hand, as he looks down on the mother and child. His mare has also given birth; the contrast between his attitude toward the colt and toward his and Milly’s child presents the central problem of the story: The mare has borne a male; Milly, a female. If Milly were a mare, he would provide better quarters for her. Leaving the run-down fishing shack, he walks past his rusty scythe, which Wash Jones, Milly’s grandfather, borrowed three months earlier. The scythe will become important both as a symbol and as an instrument of death.

The third-person narrator now embarks on a six-page digression, recounting events from 1861, when Colonel Sutpen rode away to fight in the “War Between the States,” until his return to a ruined plantation in 1865, and through the years 1865 to 1870, when Sutpen and Wash together ran a country store and drank “inferior whiskey.” There is reference to Sutpen’s son, “killed in action the same winter in which his wife had died,” and to Wash’s grandchild. Emphasis is placed on the deterioration not only of Sutpen’s property but also of his person. Even though he still rides the same black stallion and presents, at least to the naïve, worshipful Wash, a proud image, he is now a storekeeper best characterized by misplaced pride,...

(The entire section is 632 words.)