The Maturation of Bayard in Faulkner’s The Unvanquished
William Faulkner tells his novel The Unvanquished through the eyes and ears of Bayard, the son of Confederate Colonel John Sartoris. The author’s use of a young boy during such a turbulent time in American history allows him to relate events from a unique perspective. Bayard holds dual functions within the novel, as both a character and a narrator. The character of Bayard matures into a young adult within the work, while narrator Bayard relays the events of the story many years later.
Several details within the work clue the reader to Bayard’s actual maturity. Diction from the opening chapter provides immediate clues. Although only twelve, the descriptions of Bayard’s mock-battlefield contain vocabulary far beyond his years (recalcitrance, topography, recapitulant) (p. 3-4), and Bayard admits his earlier shortcoming with words: “I was just twelve then; I didn’t know triumph; I didn’t even know the word” (p. 5). If the young boy did not know triumph, he most likely had not learned multi-syllabic words with etymological roots in Latin and Classical Greek.
Not only does Bayard possess the intellect of a boy, but a particular kind of boy – an adolescent. Through the first half of the novel, Bayard progresses from the ages of twelve through fifteen, perhaps the most influential years of his cerebral development (as an aside, my own father claims that this age experiences a temporary lobotomy that lasts for several years). This step in development leaves Bayard susceptible to many influences and subjectivities, which in time not only mold his identity in general, but also his sense of masculinity in particular.
We see his father, the Colonel, as Bayard’s first major figure to shape his initial ideas of the model Southern male. We know from his title that Sartoris holds an important military post, but as Bayard explains, the position alone does not...