The Unvanquished by William Faulkner


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In the novel The Unvanquished, written by William Faulkner, honor is dealt with first hand throughout the novel. In some cases, like Ab Snopes, there is a major lack of honor. But the characters Bayard and his Grandmother, Granny, have honor, and lots of it. Though Granny dies, it is an honorable death that brings out honor in Bayard. Bayard is a young man and is changing, as he grows so does his honor. When in the end he displays his honor in many different ways. Ab Snopes is a conniving devious character that is only in the war for booty. Ab never shows true honor in this novel, and possibly anywhere because he has no honor. Honor plays a key part in this novel and is vividly shown by each character.

Granny takes care of Bayard and his black friend Ringo for most of the book. She dealt with hard times, and had to do some bad things, but she did it honorably, and taught the two boys about honor. Granny ran a business with Bayard Ringo where they stole mules and horses from the Yankees, then sold them back. She was a southern woman, and this was her way of fighting the war. Because she needed the boys help to do this, they had to do some sinful things. Granny took the burden of the sins: “I have sinned. I have stolen and I have born false wittiness against my neighbor, though that neighbor was an enemy of my country. And more than that, I have caused these children to sin. I hereby take their sin upon my conscience” (Faulkner 148). Though she is being a good grandmother, she is also taking the sin of two extra people. Granny shows honor here by taking the sins of the boys. Granny also showed the boys that it was not all right to steal.

When Granny walks into a situation unarmed to get some horses she demonstrates honor because she says to the boys that the men won’t harm a woman, she knows that she could die: “And now I am taking no risk: I am a woman. Even Yankees do not harm old women. You and Ringo stay here until I call you. We tried. I keep on saying that because I know now I didn’t” (Faulkner 153). Though she did die, it was not a dishonorable death.

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She went into a dangerous situation with courage and honor and showed the boys honor.

Bayard left with his grandmother because his father was at war with the Yankees. He demonstrates honor from beginning to end, but it is towards the end that he really shows his honor and adulthood. When his grandmother is killed, Bayard and Ringo hunt down the man who killed her, and the man who lead her there, Ab Snopes. “I just walked steadily toward him as the pistol rose from the desk. I watched, I could the foreshortened slant of the barrel and knew that it would miss me though his hand did not tremble. I walked toward him, toward the pistol in the rock like hand, I heard no bullet” (Faulkner 248-249). It takes courage to walk into a room knowing that you are going to be shot at, and still enter. He is ending the dispute between his family, and the man, without violence. This takes honor that he is not sure that he has: “I remember how I thought while her hands still rested on my shoulders: At least this will be my chance to find out if I am what I think I am or if I just hope; if I am going to do what I have taught myself is right or if I am just going to wish I were” (Faulkner 215). Bayard is questioning his honor and whether he is going to kill or he is not going to kill. He questions if or if not he should continue his family tradition of killing, or end it without killing; which takes honor.

Though when Bayard killed Grumby, he shot him in the back, it took honor to pursue a man that is not afraid to kill when you are only a child: “…Now I could see Grumby’s back (he didn’t scream, he never made a sound) the pistol both at the same time was level and steady as a rock” (Faulkner 183). Bayard shows dishonor by shooting a man in the back. Although the man has no honor because he ran away from the boys, and shot a old woman who was unarmed. Bayard shows honor by hunting down to dangerous men, and killing them for his grandmother’s death. As Bayard grows up he acquires knowledge and honor. He ended killing in his family by not killing Redmond, and displayed throughout the novel.

Ab Snopes is a conniving little coward that fights in the war for himself. He has no honor and that is why he is in the war strictly for booty. He tries to talk his way out of situations that he got himself into: “…we all ate supper together and it was Ab Snopes that was the most anxious about Uncle Buck, saying how it wasn’t any hard feelings and that he could see himself that he had made a mistake in trusting the folks he did and that all he wanted to do now was to go back home because it was the only folks you had known all your life that you could trust and when you put faith in a stranger you deserved what you got when you found that what you had been eating and sleeping with was no better than a passel of rattlesnakes.” (Faulkner 175-176) He is saying that it is horrible that you can’t trust anyone, when he is the one who mistrusted them and their grandmother. Ab wants to go home because he thinks he has done his time and deserves to leave the situation clean with no punishment for the death of Granny. This time Ab was not as smooth and Bayard killed him.

Everyone in the book knew that Ab Snopes was a low life scum, that he had no honor and that he was only in the war for himself. “…I believed that Ab Snopes was Grumby. But Uncle Buck began to holler again. Him, Grumby? Ab Snopes? Ab Snopes? By Godfrey, if he was Grumby, if it was Ab Snopes that shot your grandmaw, I’d be ashamed to have it known. I’d be ashamed to be caught catching him” (Faulkner 160). Uncle Buck is saying that it would be shameful to be killed by such a scum back coward like Ab Snopes and that he would be ashamed to know that Ab killed the boy’s grandma. Ab Snopes had no honor because he put people in bad situations just to advance his life a little. He only cared for himself.

In war honor is always present sometimes it is dishonor. Even those that are not fighting have honor, like Granny. She never actually fights, but she does what she can. Bayard fights against the scum of his country to avenge Granny’s death. He displays honor as he does grows up. Ab Snopes is the most cowardly man in the novel. He has no honor and vividly shows it.


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