Friday, May 27, 2011

A Picaresque Tale

The Reivers
The Reivers

"I was just eleven, remember.  There are things, circumstances, conditions in the world which should not be there but are, and you can't escape them and indeed, you would not escape them even if you had the choice, since they too are a part of Motion, of participating in life, of being alive.  But they should arrive with grace, decency.  I was having to learn too much too fast, unassisted;  I had nowhere to put it, no receptacle, pigeonhole prepared yet to accept it without pain and lacerations."(p 155)

The Reivers, written at the end of William Faulkner's life, is a picaresque tale of a young boy's coming of age. There is a certain resemblance to aspects of Huckleberry Finn in the adventures and friendships of young Lucius Priest. Lucius, an eleven year old boy is sensitive and intelligent, but innocent of the rougher side of life and ready for adventure when Boon Hogganbeck, a simple man, and Ned William McCaslin Jefferson Missippi (a Negro referred to as Ned) steal Lucius' grandfather's car and head off for Memphis with Lucius in tow.  The presence of cars in this early twentieth-century tale suggests the many changes in society that would occur later in the century.  This story seems to be suspended in time, sometimes a time that feels like it never was, except in someone's imagination.
The encounters Lucius has over the next few days are as exciting as those of Huck and they lead him to meditate on his own innocence and its loss. Early on he recognizes this thinking, "You see? I was doing the best I could. My trouble was, the tools I had to use. the innocence and the ignorance: I not only didn't have strength and knowledge, I didn't even have time enough."(p 55) Later in their adventures, after Ned has traded the stolen car for a race horse, Lucius reflects further, "It was too late. Maybe yesterday, while I was still a child, but not now. I knew too much, had seen too much. I was a child no longer now; innocence and childhood were forever lost, forever gone from me."(p 175)

The novel is not all serious moments of reflection like these;  for there is the excitement of the horse races, Lucius' friendship with the Corrie, the prostitute, and his experience with the negro old Possum and his family.  The adventures, while real for Lucius, seem to exist in a fairy tale world as the fun overshadows any sense of danger. Through it all there are just enough ties to Faulkner's earlier work through genealogy and character (Ned was present in several tales of Go Down, Moses) to make this a fitting bookend to his career. In it you see a mature author brilliantly developing yet another view of a young boy's coming of age.

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