Narrator’s Use of Language and Memory in Faulkner’s The Unvanquished

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Narrator’s Use of Language and Memory in Faulkner’s The Unvanquished In the Unvanquished, a version of southern masculinity is developed through the narrator using dialect and the device, or should I say vice of memory. Fairly early in the novel, the reflective standpoint of the narrator becomes obvious, and a certain sense of “retelling” the story, not just telling it as it happened, prevails. This use of memory is not necessarily selective but it does show the processing of perceptions of the narrator’s childhood. As readers, we first get the sense that we are hearing the story from a much older Bayard when he drops comments like “I was just twelve then; I didn’t know triumph; I didn’t even know the word” (Unvanquished 5). If he was just twelve then, he could be just fifteen or sixteen when retelling this story, assuming the grandiosity that adolescence creates, leading to such thoughts as “I was just a kid then.” However, the second part of the statement reveals a much older and wiser voice, the voice of someone who has had time to think out such abstractions as triumph and failure. Furthermore, the almost obsessive description of the father in the first part of the novel seems like the narrator comes to terms, much later in life, with how he viewed his father as a man. “He was not big” (9) is repeated twice on the same page. He was short enough to have his sabre scrape the steps while ascending (10), yet he appeared large and in command, especially when on his horse (13). The shape and size of a man being an important part in defining masculinity, I think Baynard grappled with his father’s physical presence as well as his tenuous position as a leader in the Confederate Army. Other telling moments are on page 66 when Baynard postulates what a child can accept as true in such incredible situations and on page 95 with his declarations on the universality of war. (Possibly he is an old man now and has lived to see other wars.) Upon realizing the distance between the setting of the story and age of its narrator, the reader is forced to consider how memory and life itself have affected the storytelling. Another way to contemplate the development of masculinity, one that calls upon the southern gentleman to be well educated and verbose, is the use of dialect in the story.

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