The narrator of Faulkner’s The Unvanquished is apparently an adult recounting his childhood. The first person narrator is a child at the story’s outset, but the narrative voice is lucid, adult. Telling the story of his childhood allows the narrator to distinguish for the reader what he believed as a child from what he “know[s] better now” (10). The difference affords an examination of dominant southern masculinity as it is internalized by Bayard and Ringo, and demonstrates the effects on the boys of the impossible ideal.
The initial indication that narrator Bayard may be an adult recounting his childhood comes with the past tense in the story’s opening line: “Behind the smokehouse that summer, Ringo and I had a living map” (3). Other summers have passed between the narration and the action of the story; this summer is “that summer,” not last summer or the summer before, presumably. Temporal distance is suggested in personal and episodic description, as well: “[Louvinia] used to follow us up and stand in the bedroom door and scold us until we were in bed…[b]ut this time she not only didn’t wonder where we were, she didn’t even think about where we might not be.” The differences in language between narrator and character are dramatic, as well. Bayard’s inadequate description of the railroad to Ringo (“only hearsay”), though not articulated in the narrative, is undoubtedly inferior to the narrator’s description of the railroad:
It was the straightest thing I ever saw, running straight and empty and quiet through a long empty gash cut through the trees and the ground too and full of sunlight like water in a river only straighter than any river, with the crossties cut off e...
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There are two attainable models of masculinity for Ringo in the story. Joby is defeated, withered, frustrated, subservient “even” to white women. He can live and function in southern society, but only as a slave. The other, Loosh, is angry, defiant, independent, subservient only to the point that he must be until he escapes or is set free. He cannot live in southern society except as a slave, so at first chance, he leaves. The narrator, with appropriate distance from the action, hints that Ringo will shed the stagnant familiarity of slavery, and risk reinvention like Loosh has. Ringo’s infatuation with the railroad appears to the boy Bayard to be part of their regular game of one-upmanship, but the adult narrator “know[s] now it was more than that with Ringo…[it was] the motion, the impulse to move which had already seethed to a head among his people” (81).
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