Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 725
"Wash" by William Faulkner depicts the murder of a rich colonel at the hands of Wash Jones, a man considered white trash even by the slaves on Colonel Sutpen's plantation.
The colonel is married to Wash's granddaughter Millie, and at the beginning of the story, Millie gives birth to a baby girl. The colonel had desperately wanted a son, and upon seeing his newborn daughter, he arrogantly states,
"Well, Milly," Sutpen said, "too bad you're not a mare. Then I could give you a decent stall in the stable."
This implies that he views Millie and their daughter as worth less than the animals on his plantation. To the Colonel, the more important news is that his mare had given birth to a colt earlier in the day.
He said quietly to the squatting Negress, "Griselda foaled this morning."
"Horse or mare?" the Negress said.
"A horse. A damned fine colt . . . What's this?" He indicated the pallet with the hand which held the whip.
"That un's a mare, I reckon."
"Hah," Sutpen said. "A damned fine colt. Going to be the spit and image of old Rob Roy when I rode him North in '61. Do you remember?"
In the context of the story, it is telling that, at this point, he is addressing one of his slaves. Now that Millie has given birth to a daughter, he seems to have no more use for her. People are only on his plantation to give him what he wants.
The story moves on to explain that Mille's grandfather Wash stayed on the plantation while the colonel was at war. He told anyone who would listen that he stayed on the plantation because
"I'm looking after the Kernel's place and niggers."
Everyone knew he was lying. The reality was, first, he had just become too comfortable staying at the old, broken-down shack the Colonel Sutpen had given him as a home, and, second, the colonel's slaves had always treated him with derision. From their point of view, Wash had an even lower status than themselves.
Wash tried to claim superiority over the slaves, but mostly they just laughed in his face.
"Git out of my road, niggers."
"Niggers?" they repeated; "niggers?" laughing now.
"Who him, calling us niggers?"
"Yes," he said. "I ain't got no niggers to look after my folks if I was gone."
"Nor nothing else but dat shack down yon dat Gunnel wouldn't let none of us live in."
From this perspective, Wash sees it as a big hit to his pride when the Colonel compares his granddaughter and her child to an animal. He must have hoped, when the Colonel had taken interest in his granddaughter, that he and his family had finally risen in social status, but now it must seem that that they are in no better position than before.
The sun was now up, the swift sun of Mississippi latitudes, and it seemed to him that he stood beneath a strange sky, in a strange scene, familiar only as things are familiar in dreams, like the dreams of falling to one who has never climbed. "I kain't have heard what I thought I heard," he thought quietly. "I know I kain't." Yet the voice, the familiar voice which had said the words was still speaking, talking now to the old Negress about a colt foaled that morning.
Sutpen tries to show his dominance over Wash by beating him with the whip he has held in his hand throughout the short story, but Wash manages to get past his blows and kill him with a scythe.
Sutpen slashed Wash again across the face with the whip, striking him
to his knees. When Wash rose and advanced once more he held in his hands the scythe which he had borrowed from Sutpen three months ago and which Sutpen would never need again.
With Wash's anger and pride finally exposed, Wash kills his granddaughter and then runs at the men outside with the scythe raised above his head.
With the scythe lifted, it bore down upon them, upon the wild glaring eyes of the horses and the swinging glints of gun barrels, without any cry, any sound.
He doesn't run at them in an animalistic state, but with purpose and intent. It is as if he is claiming back his family pride.
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