Chuck's Reviews > The Unvanquished

The Unvanquished by William Faulkner
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's review
Oct 01, 08

Read in October, 2008

Still making my mind up about this one; in many ways, I like this novel as much if not more than I liked much of the Faulkner that I've read. It's unified in that there was only one point of view character, Bayard Sartoris, as opposed to the multiple narrators (sometimes as many as fifteen) that are common in Faulkner's works. It also has a compact period of time, about ten years in Bayard's life, from the early 1860s to the 1870s, from when he was a young boy in the Civil War until he is a law student at the University of Mississippi.

The novel also captures much of what was despicable and admirable about the South. Slavery is not sugar coated--Faulkner flat-out believed slavery was wrong--and yet you see the complex relationships that developed between slave and the families who were over them. Particularly interested is the relationship between Bayard and Ringo, a slave who is exactly Bayard's age. Bayard and Ringo have been raised together, nursed at the same breast and sharing the same bed when they were younger. During the Civil War period, it is Ringo who is most responsible for keeping the family safe and together; Bayard declares flatly that Ringo was more intelligent and more capable than he. But by the end of the book, you see the different paths that post-bellum Southern society will push them on; Bayard is clearly the master of the house, Ringo, clearly the servant although still probably the better man.

The Unvanquished also explores the plight of the freed slaves, who were not really wanted or welcome in the North after emancipation, and the starvation and other dangers they faced on the road in a South whose white society feared and did not welcome them. Also, one sees the kindness in the form of the Granny, who does her best to make sure all who are displaced by the war, white or black, are fed and sheltered.

It's a novel that has no clear cut bad guys or good guys, of people trying to find their way in a world that changes so much it is virtually unrecognizable. It also has some of the strongest and most interesting women characters I've read in Faulkner, particularly Granny and pistol-packing, street fighting Aunt Dru, who gives lie to those who say that all of Faulkner's women are whores or mothers. Dru is neither, and it is she, more than any other character in the book , who chafes against the strictures society places on her.

Okay, now that I've thought it through, I really like the book a lot. The fewer stars than I might otherwise give are becuase it's a Faulkner--most other authors, this wouold be a four or five star tome. But since it's Faulkner and I know he wrote at least five books better than this one, I give it three stars and a strong recommendation.
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message 1: by Clara (new)

Clara I quite agree with your comment. However, I give "The Unvanquished" four stars for the simple reason that Faulkner draws a true picture of the South and the suffering of its people. He puts the historical record straight, which is uncommon. Nowadays we would call him "politically incorrect" since many of the issues he writes about are totally "forgotten" by the mainstream. The truth is that the racial problem was by no means the reason that led to the Civil War. In fact the North simply did not care, at first, about the destiny of the Negro. The characters are neither heroes nor villains; they are human beings who do their utmost to protect their families and their land-two sacred values. The love for the land, the place, the South another theme that Faulkner deals with poetic intensity.

Chuck Appreciate the comment, Clara, and I agree with what you said 100%. The book has grown on me; now I look back, after having read the book more than a year ago, I realize that I probably ranked it too low. I appreciated your comments about the North not caring about what happened to the people of color; in many cases, this was all too true . . .

message 3: by Clara (new)

Clara Thanks for your quick answer.I must say that I greatly admire Faulkner. In spite of being from Portugal, a long way from his reality, I deeply feel and sympathize with Faulkner's concerns.This only stresses the universal element of his writing...

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