"Skirmish at Sartoris" (Text Key 2083)

short story

"Skirmish at Sartoris" climaxes with Faulkner's third and final telling of how Colonel John Sartoris killed two "carpetbaggers" in Jefferson in order to prevent Yoknapatawpha's emancipated male slaves from voting or running for office. In Flags in the Dust, his first Yoknapatawpha fiction, the story is told by Will Falls, a Confederate veteran who idolizes Sartoris. In Light in August, it is told by Joanna Burden, the granddaughter and half-sister of the men Sartoris kills. Here, the event is recounted by Sartoris' own son, Bayard, who is fifteen years old at the time. The meaning and moral implications of the killing shift with every re-telling. In this story the white population's resistance to Reconstruction is combined with a comic tale about Drusilla Hawk's resistance to the conventional role she is expected to play by her mother and the ladies of Jefferson: election day is also the day she and Sartoris are supposed to marry.

This is one of the eight stories that Bayard narrates. Here, though it seems clear that Bayard does know more about what "Father and the other men" are doing than he claims to, his youth and naivete allow Faulkner to keep the reader's attention focused more on gender politics than racial ones. Faulkner's original title for the story was "Drusilla," and the "skirmish" is presented as part of the eternal battle of the sexes. Drusilla herself will probably strike modern readers as one of Faulkner's most interesting women, but given the fact that blacks were still largely disenfranchised in the South at the time Faulkner wrote, the tale itself may strike them as disingenuous, if not reactionary. The story was published in the April 1935 issue Scribner's Magazine. After making a few excisions, Faulkner included it as the penultimate story in The Unvanquished (1938), seven stories narrated by Bayard describing his coming-of-age as the son of "Colonel Sartoris" during and just after the Civil War. The magazine version was republished by Joseph Blotner in Uncollected Stories, which is the version our edition follows.

Dating the Story: Two specific dates are provided by the text itself, one implicitly (the Battle of Shiloh was fought April 6-8, 1862) and one explicitly (Aunt Louisa's letter to Granny Rosa Millard arrives at the Sartoris plantation in "just before Christmas in 1864"). Our dating of the other events follows from these two points of reference, though there are the usual Faulknerian complications. For example, according to the story, Colonel Sartoris writes his son "from Carolina" in July, 1864, but Mississippi troops would not be fighting in either Carolina until later. The events that the story places "in the spring" and summer of 1865 seem to happen prematurely as well: since Robert E. Lee did not surrender and disband his army in Virginia until mid-April, 1865, John and Drusilla would have had to rush home to be there as early as the story requires, and it seems doubtful that any black candidates for public office would have appeared in Mississippi so quickly after the War.

First Publisher: 
Scribner's Magazine
First Publisher Date: 
April 1935
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Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Humphreys, Kristi, and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's 'Skirmish at Sartoris.'" Added to the project: 2014. Additional editing 2018: John Corrigan, Jennie J. Joiner. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

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