Faulkner\'s "The Unvanquished"


Though Faulkner\'s The Unvanquished is set during the Civil War, another
war is being fought simultaneously. This second war is not one of guns and
thievery, but one of beliefs. It is a conflict between two philosophies:
idealism and pragmatism. This war rages on throughout the novel, but is decided
by one event: Bayard\'s decision not to avenge his father\'s death.
An idealist is one who is guided by ideals, especially one that places
ideals before practical considerations. Life in Yoknapatawpha was idealistic, as
was life everywhere in the South at the time. The Southern Code was entirely
idealistic. Throughout the book, idealism seems dominant over pragmatism. For
example, all of the Sartoris women were idealists; almost everyone in
Yoknapatawpha was an idealist. The fact that John Sartoris was able to get away
with murder and be elected into public office soon after is a strong example of
this.
There were not many pragmatists in the novel. By definition, a
pragmatist is one who believes that the meaning of conceptions is to be sought
in their practical bearings, that the function of thought is to guide action,
and that truth is preminently to be tested by the practical consequences of
belief. Bayard Sartoris was a pragmatist. He \'let his conscience be his guide\'.
Telling his father about Drusilla\'s attempt to seduce him and refusing to avenge
his father\'s death are two good examples of this. In the beginning of the novel,
Bayard is shown to be simple minded, but as time passes on and Bayard grows into
a young man, his mind develops and he ultimately ends the battle between
idealism and pragmatism in one carefully thought out decision.
The battle between the two philosophies is very subtle in the beginning.
But it grows and strengthens, and since there can only be one winner, the
pragmatist is victorious. When Bayard\'s father is killed, and Bayard denies
Drusilla the satisfaction of vengeance, Drusilla\'s idealistic beliefs are
shattered, and she is forced to leave, thus ending the war. The Southern Code
becomes nothing, because one person refuses to obey it.
When Faulkner wrote The Unvanquished, the Civil War appeared to be the
main event, but hidden behind was another war: a war of beliefs. It appears that
the South lost two great wars during that time period, one for lack of manpower,
and the other for lack of reason. Perhaps things would have been different if
the South had won the Civil War. Maybe Bayard would not have had the opportunity
to decide the fate of the Southern Code all alone.

Category: English