Skip over navigation

The Unvanquished

William Faulkner

Important Quotations Explained

An Odor of Verbena

Key Facts

…Ringo and I had been born in the same month and had both fed at the same breast and had slept together and eaten together for so long that Ringo called Granny 'Granny' just like I did, until maybe he wasn't a nigger anymore or maybe I wasn't a white boy anymore, the two of us neither, not even people any longer: the two supreme undefeated like two moths, two feathers riding above a hurricane.

On a basic level, this quote from the beginning of "Ambuscade" expresses the intimacy between Bayard and Ringo. It proves that the two boys have been raised together and that Ringo has not been treated any differently even though he is a slave. But it also reflects Bayard's childish lack of understanding about the realities of race. Even if he does not literally believe that race can be exchanged by eating and drinking together, he does believe that his family treats Ringo as an equal, failing to understand his power over Ringo as his master and as a white man.

We never did overtake them, just as you do not overtake a tide. You just keep moving, then suddenly you know that the set is about you, beneath you, overtaking you, as if the slow and ruthless power, become aware of your presence at last, had dropped back a tentacle, a feeler, to gather you in and sweep you remorselessly on. Singly, in couples, in groups and families they began to appear from the woods, ahead of us, alongside of us and behind…men and women carrying babies and dragging older children by the hand, old men and women on improvised sticks and crutches, and very old ones sitting beside the road and even calling to us when we passed; there was one old woman who even walked along beside the wagon, holding to the bed and begging Granny to at least let her see the river before she died.

This passage from "Raid" describes the migration of slaves toward the river, on the other side of which is the Union army. The entire black community is on the move, from children to the very elderly. Faulkner's tidal metaphor shows the slaves' incredible yearning. That metaphor suggests that their desire is a natural force that cannot be stopped for any reason. Their hidden power is also apparent: if black people ever chose to rise up and free themselves, whites could not prevent it, any more than a wagon can prevent being swept along on a flood. Twenty years after the novel was published, the civil rights movement would begin in the South in earnest, fulfilling Faulkner's prophecy.

"It's for all of us," she said—"for John, and you, and Ringo and Joby and Louvinia. So we will have something when John comes back home. You never cried when you knew he was going into a battle, did you? And now I am taking no risk: I am a woman. Even Yankees do not harm old women."

Coming on the last page of "Riposte in Tertio," these are Granny Millard's last words. They reveal that Granny thinks of herself as a warrior just as Colonel Sartoris is—since Bayard does not cry when he endangers himself, he should not cry for her either. Granny has the same chivalrous traits as the colonel, the traits celebrated by the Southern code of honor: protection of the helpless and of family, in this case the Sartoris slaves as well as Bayard and his father. Granny claims she is not risking anything, but the fact that she states her reasons for going forth justify her doing so—a justification that would not be necessary if she truly believed there were no danger of her not coming back. Her acceptance of that risk in turn makes her actions all the more heroic. Unfortunately, her faith in the universality of the honor code is misplaced. Unlike the Sartorises and even Yankees like Colonel Dick, Grumby is not a gentleman or even a brave man. Granny's murder at his hands is the ultimate violation of the old principles of society.

"The proof and the expiation!" Uncle Buck hollered. "When me and John Sartoris and Drusilla rode up to that old compress, the first thing we see was that murdering scoundrel pegged out on the door to it like a coon hide, all except the right hand. 'And if anybody wants to see that too,' I told John Sartoris, 'just let them ride into Jefferson and look on Rosa Millard's grave!' Aint I told you he is John Sartoris' boy? Hey? Aint I told you?"

This passage is the last paragraph of "Vendée," after Bayard and Ringo have returned home having killed Grumby. Uncle Buck congratulates Bayard for fulfilling his family obligation and avenging his grandmother. In "Retreat," Buck was the first person outside the family to describe Colonel Sartoris—he confirms Bayard's adoration of his father, and initiates the idea that Bayard has a special social role as the colonel's heir. Avenging Granny's death is Bayard's first act as the head of the family, his temporary role while his father is off at war. By attaching Grumby's hand to her grave, Bayard has done more than ensure she will rest in peace—he has announced to the world that he will fill his father's shoes.

He looked around the room again, where the smell of powder smoke still lingered a little, still lay somewhere on the hot dead air though invisible now, blinking a little with his fierce pale unintroverted eyes. "Well by God," he said again. "Maybe you're right, maybe there has been enough killing in your family without— Come on." We left the office.

When Granny died, Bayard's most overwhelming sensation was the smell of gunpowder inside the old compress. The smell of powder in Redmond's office in this quotation from "An Odor of Verbena" echoes the earlier sensation and links Bayard's two actions. As George Wyatt surveys the scene, he suddenly understands why Bayard decided to confront Redmond unarmed. His heroic refusal to commit violence has won a convert who opposed the idea fiercely only moments before. Wyatt's remark ends abruptly, with a dash—a grammatical echo, perhaps unintentional, of the cycle of violence that Bayard has just broken.

More Help

Previous Next
bad

by iluvmabritches, September 02, 2012

this is the worst book i have ever come across, why would someone write something so stupid that the average man could not understand

0 Comments

12 out of 24 people found this helpful

youre wrong

by leimuu, December 17, 2013

this is the easiest faulker book to read. the rest are so unbelievably complex that this was a relief to read and understand. and the plot is more about characteristics of what a man really is and what a female should be in this era. great novel.

Bad summaries

by wolfea28, February 06, 2014

A ton of vital info is left out of these summaries, especially in the Raid chapter.

Follow Us