Skip over navigation

The Unvanquished

William Faulkner

Retreat

Ambuscade

Raid

Summary

A year has passed since the previous chapter. Granny directs Ringo and the other slaves to load a wagon with supplies and a heavy trunk, in preparation for a journey the next day. The Yankees are trying to catch Colonel Sartoris, and Granny wants to remove both the boys and a prized chest of silver to safety in Memphis. Louvinia and Bayard question Granny's plan, but Granny stubbornly insists she is only following the colonel's instructions. She demands that they dig up the buried chest a night in advance, because she has dreamed that a black man discovered the hiding place. Moreover, she forces them to carry the trunk all the way into her room upstairs, if only for one night. The slaves grumble but obey. As they leave Granny for the night, they hear a key turn in her bedroom door for the first time ever. Ringo asks Bayard who he thinks Granny dreamed about, but Bayard does not answer.

The next morning, the party slowly reloads the trunk onto the wagon; Granny adds a musket to the supplies. Granny, Joby, Ringo and Bayard set off for Memphis. During a brief stop in the town of Jefferson, where Granny pays a call on Mrs. Compson, Bayard spots Uncle Buck McCaslin hobbling across the square. Bayard pauses his story to remember Uncle Buck and his brother Uncle Buddy, their skill at poker, their progressive ideas about land ownership and their remarkable system of slave management (they keep their slaves in a house with an open back door, but the slaves always return by morning). At the start of the war, Colonel Sartoris had told the McCaslins they were too old to enlist. However, the brothers reached a compromise with Colonel Sartoris, agreeing that only one would go. They played poker for the privilege of going to war. Uncle Buck lost and is now stuck in Jefferson. He loudly praises Colonel Sartoris to Bayard and tells him he and Granny hardly need protection on the road to Memphis thanks to his father's fearsome reputation. Uncle Buck also reveals that Colonel Sartoris's regiment demoted him out of kindness, allowing him to go home. However, the colonel raised a new regiment, and must now send his family to Memphis for protection.

Back on the road, the wagon makes steady progress, stopping at a spring for water and at farmhouses along the road. But Granny refuses to sleep in the houses, preferring to remain behind with the chest of silver. On the third night, a Confederate officer warns them they will not be able to make it to Memphis, and that as Colonel Sartoris's family, they would be coveted Yankee hostages. Granny ignores him. Down the road, men with guns dart out from the trees. Granny tries to beat them back with her umbrella, but they steal the Sartoris mules, Tinney and Old Hundred. Bayard grabs a horse from a nearby stable to pursue them, but by the time he gets the horse loose, the men have vanished. Bayard and Ringo follow the trail into the night before collapsing from exhaustion. Colonel Sartoris's search party awakens them; the colonel curses them for leaving Granny, but Ringo insists she is capable of defending herself. The colonel and his regiment take the boys back to the plantation, a two nights' ride. As they gallop over a hill, they accidentally catch the Yankee troops who stole the mules. The colonel, pretending he has a large force, takes them prisoner before they can react. The colonel strips his captives and tells them he will deal with them in the morning; as night falls, they quietly escape into the woods. The Confederates are secretly watching them and laughing. The next morning, the troublesome prisoners are gone but their valuable supplies remain.

As they arrive at the Sartoris house they see Granny riding up in her wagon with a team of strange horses, which Granny claims to have borrowed. The next day, however, fifty Union soldiers ride up to the house looking for Colonel Sartoris. As the colonel stalls the Yankees by pretending to be a nearly deaf hillbilly, Ringo and Bayard quietly prepare a horse. The colonel successfully escapes. The Yankees burn the house, but Granny is most worried about the reburied chest of silver, realizing that Loosh has led the soldiers to the plantation. Granny protests that the silver does not belong to Loosh, but she is helpless to prevent him from taking it. Philadelphy sobs, knowing her husband is wrong, but she leaves with him and the Northern soldiers anyway. As the Yankees ride off, leaving the smoldering ruins of the plantation in their wake, Granny and the boys shake their fists and curse "the bastards."

Analysis

Faulkner's novels are not known for their comedic value, but The Unvanquished contains a number of genuinely humorous episodes. In "Retreat," for example, the narrator compares the standoff between Joby and Granny Millard to an attempt to tame a stubborn, irritable mare. The capture and escape of the Union prisoners is also humorous, as Ringo disguises himself as "Lieutenant Marengo" and accidentally fools the Yankees, who sneak off into the woods. Even in the chapter's most serious moment, the near-capture of the colonel by Union troops, the tension is relieved by the colonel's impersonation of a near-deaf hillbilly and the Yankees' impatient frustration. In part, such comic episodes result from the fact that the novel was originally a series of popular magazine stories. Six of the seven chapters were published in The Saturday Evening Post or Scribner's, middle-class magazines with a family readership. Critics have usually dismissed this humor as stemming from a commercial sentimentality: Edmond L. Volpe, for instance, complains that the ending of "Ambuscade" is "slick and offensively coy."

The comedy can also be seen as Faulkner's use of the American folk tradition of tall tales. The tall tale, a popular form on the American frontier that reached its highest literary expression in the novels and stories of Mark Twain, mock- seriously tells of an implausible or hopelessly exaggerated situation. The humor is enhanced by the teller's grave insistence that the story is true. Although it was unusual for tiny forces like Colonel Sartoris's to capture the enemy at an unguarded moment, the Yankees' escape through the underbrush in their white undershirts, is obviously impossible. The narrator presents the episode in the same straightforward style; only the colonel's chuckles provide evidence that the author realizes the scene is funny. Thanks to the tall tale form, Colonel Sartoris becomes an even more mythic figure, a Paul Bunyan or a Davy Crockett, especially in the eyes of the adoring son who records the scene. A second thematically consistent explanation for the use of humor is that it emphasizes the innocent quality of Bayard's childhood, contrasting with his eventual maturity. As a boy in "Retreat," Bayard's experience of the war is thrilling and entertaining. Humor surrounds his father's exploits, and his escape removes some of the hard edge from the grim reality. Bayard has not grown up yet, but the moments of crisis that reflect his greatest lessons and most profound growth will be deadly serious.

Although "Retreat" began as a magazine story, Faulkner revised the story before it became part of the novel. One significant revision was the addition of six pages about Uncle Buck to an otherwise uninterrupted narrative. Bayard recalls Buck and Buddy's system of slave management and their competition to see who would join the regiment, as well as Uncle Buck's dialogue. The Uncle Buck section adds weight and complexity to the story, making it less frivolous. Uncle Buck appears in other Yoknapatawpha County stories, and his son Ike is a major character in Go Down, Moses. By including more details about Buck and Buddy, Faulkner weaves The Unvanquished more closely into the interconnected universe of his novels. In addition, Buck's lavish praise of Colonel Sartoris to Bayard is the first confirmation that the outside world lionizes the colonel as much as his son does. By telling Bayard stories about his father and emphasizing his special role as the colonel's son, Uncle Buck forces the boy to consider his place in the community. He underscores and creates the sense of familial responsibility that Bayard feels, adding significance to Bayard's actions at the end of the novel.

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