Narrative Techniques in Faulkner’s The Unvanquished and Barn Burning

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Narrative Techniques in Faulkner’s The Unvanquished and Barn Burning

The Unvanquished is composed of a series of stories during which Bayard Sartoris, the narrator, grows up from a twelve-year-old boy to a young man of twenty-four years. The narrative style makes it obvious that events are being related by an adult who is looking back at his past. There are several indications of this: in the very first story “Ambuscade”, the narrator, while describing his war games with his coloured friend, Ringo, states: “We were just twelve then”. (5) He tells the readers how they fantasized about the military exploits of John Sartoris, Bayard’s father, seeing them as heroic and exciting adventures. The narrator describes himself and Ringo at this stage of the novel as “the two supreme undefeated like two moths, two feathers riding above a hurricane” (7), drawing attention to the fact that while the two boys are positioned in the midst of war with all its attendant destruction and insanity, they have no understanding of its horror.

When his father first appears on the scene, the Bayard says: “He was not big, it was just the things he did… that made him seem big to us” (9). Swept up in the romance of war, with the dust of battle clinging to him, John Sartoris seems to assume a larger than life persona but even as the narrator delineates his father before us, he attaches a caveat that in actuality, the Colonel was different from how he saw him as a young boy. This statement presages the mature understanding of his father’s character that Bayard develops as the novel progresses. In “The Odor of Verbena”, he has reached such clarity of vision that he can say without much difficulty that his father was a difficult man to get along with, he ac...

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...an adult, his articulation of this southern code of morality is coherent and well thought out while Sarty’s reaction to his father’s incendiary behaviour is instinctive and not intellectualized. The image of the violent Southern man is evident in both stories, both boys have fathers who have participated in violence-Abner Snopes has a seething rage which finds satisfaction only through burning the property of people he hates and John Sartoris has been directly involved in the war, has a belligerent disposition and resorts to bloodshed frequently in the novel. But the difference lies in the ultimate response of the central character of each story to the southern ideals of masculinity - Bayard initially abides by but ultimately distances himself from Southern codes of honour while Sarty, being a child, is still far from finding himself at the end of “Barn Burning”.

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