The novel's narrator and protagonist. The novel traces his coming of age from the time he is twelve until he is a grown man and the head of his family. Bayard is decent, honorable, courageous and intelligent, a model Southern aristocrat for the post-war era. As a boy, he is occasionally given to impetuousness and rashness. In the course of the novel he matures profoundly, gaining a sense of the tragedy of life and learning to balance the often-violent chivalry of the traditional Southern gentleman with sensitivity and mercy.
A black slave born the same month as Bayard, who is his best friend and constant companion. Ringo (short for Marengo) is the smarter of the two boys, and displays savvy and entrepreneurism as well as a sense of humor that Bayard lacks. He is bold and courageous, and accompanies Bayard on his most dangerous and difficult adventures. Even after the slaves are freed, he continues to serve Bayard with the same unfailing devotion as before.
Bayard's proud and glorious father, the patriarch of the Sartoris family. Colonel Sartoris commands his own regiment on the Virginia front until he is demoted by his troops so he can return home to care for his family; even then, he raises an "irregular" brigade who terrorize the far more numerous Yankees in Mississippi with their dashing assaults. He is a larger-than-life figure, hot- blooded and arrogant but unceasingly heroic, and Bayard worships him. When he dies at the end of the novel, his son begins to assume his grandeur and valor.
Bayard's older cousin, who abandons home to join the Confederate army after her fiancé is killed. She is fierce, violent, militaristic and stubbornly independent, but displays a moving vulnerability when her mother tries to confine her and force her to be feminine. Eventually, she is pressured into marrying Colonel Sartoris after living with him on the front as a common soldier. Drusilla is the book's most tragic figure, confined by a narrow Southern womanhood that almost breaks her spirit. The book seems to hint that she is in love with Bayard, though she only expresses her passion in a few intense moments.
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Bayard's grandmother, Granny Millard a stubborn old woman who becomes the novel's most authentic hero. At first Granny seems difficult to like: she is cold and severe, quick to punish others, insistent on having her own way and rigidly moral, even though her morality does not prevent her from lying and cheating when she has to. In fact, she sets up an audacious mule-stealing scam against the Yankees that lasts for almost a year, which relies on her fragile, elderly appearance and her brilliant cunning. But despite these apparent flaws, Faulkner clearly feels a genuine affection for her, and ultimately portrays her as a tireless crusader for her family and for the poor people of the county, every bit as chivalrous as Bayard or Colonel Sartoris. Her death at the hands of a cowardly bandit is the novel's turning point and its emotional climax.
A practical, devoted slave of the Sartoris family. Louvinia is the equivalent of the family mammy, and like the stereotypical mammy she is ornery but ultimately loyal and affectionate. She has no desire to be free, and angrily criticizes Loosh for turning on the Sartorises, calling him an ingrate and a fool.
A shiftless, lower-class farmer who represents the ugly future of the white South. In other Faulkner novels the Snopes family represents a class of degraded poor whites who eventually rise in power and overwhelm old aristocrats like the Sartorises. Ab Snopes is no exception: he is lazy, greedy and cowardly and betrays Granny Millard twice, first to the Yankees and then to the bandit Grumby. Though he comes across as good-natured at first, he is the novel's most unappealing character, and the fact that he escapes without punishment represents a breach in the moral order.
A brave but undeniably eccentric old man who lives with his brother Uncle Buddy on the outskirts of town. Buck and Buddy (whose real names are Amodeus and Theophilus) are true town characters, who live in a converted slave cabin while their slaves live in the main house. They give their slaves considerable freedom and are beloved by the poor hill people for their generosity and leadership—the polar opposite of the Snopeses. Buck, forced to stay home in Jefferson while his brother is away at the war, accompanies Bayard on his quest for revenge against Grumby.
Drusilla's mother, a weepy, melodramatic woman who is constantly shocked by her daughter's independence. She eventually moves in with Bayard's family to try to rein in Drusilla and force her to conform to feminine expectations. Finally she defeats Drusilla and successfully insists that she marry Colonel Sartoris.
Two respectable ladies of Jefferson who meddle in Drusilla's affairs. Mrs. Habersham is the more aggressive of the two, offering Drusilla unwanted sympathy for her "condition" and gossiping about her relationship with Colonel Sartoris. With Aunt Louisa, they represent the hypocritical, vindictive side of Southern womanhood, more concerned with appearances than with truth or real kindness.
A Union colonel who spares Bayard and Ringo when they shoot a Yankee horse and who issues an order granting Granny more than a hundred mules and slaves. Bayard and the others believe that Yankees are practically a different species, but Colonel Dick represents the humane face of the Northern army—he is humorous and reasonable, and sympathetic to Granny's plight thanks to thoughts of his own children.
A cowardly ex-Confederate soldier whose band of mauraders terrorizes the countryside in the wake of the Yankee occupation. Grumby is the opposite of Colonel Sartoris: he preys on the local population rather than protecting them, and kills a defenseless old woman rather than fighting against the Yankees. By killing him, Bayard achieves more than personal revenge—he sets right the moral order for the entire community.
Colonel Sartoris's business partner-turned-enemy, who murders him and is in turn driven out of Jefferson by Bayard. Redmond is not successful as the Sartorises are, but the other characters stress that he is not a coward. His confrontation with Bayard is honorable to both sides, although he is defeated.
A traitorous slave of the Sartoris family and his helpless wife. Although Loosh's fury at white Southerners seems understandable to the reader, he is portrayed as cruel and deceitful, leading the Yankees to the plantation and stealing Granny's silver. Philadelphy does not share his vengefulness and feels sad and guilty, but she is unable to sway him from his course.
A loyal older slave of the Sartorises, who occasionally feuds with Granny Millard but staunchly remains by the family despite abolition.
An uneducated but kind preacher in Jefferson who delivers the sermon at Granny's funeral. Although he is unpolished, his roughness suits the times, and he is superior to the fancy minister who the respectable ladies of the town originally choose to preach the funeral.
Drusilla's fiance, who was killed at the battle of Shiloh and never appears in the novel. After his death, Drusilla becomes disillusioned with femininity and grows to hate the Yankees, running away from home to join the army.
Two Northern carpetbaggers who try to elect the illiterate ex-slave Cassius Q. Benbow as Marshal of Jefferson. When they dare Colonel Sartoris to stop them, he kills them on election day at the polling place.
Bayard's mentor and landlord at the University of Mississippi. When Bayard receives word of his father's death, Professor Wilkins awkwardly tries to lend him a pistol.
Colonel Sartoris's sister, who comes to live with the colonel and Drusilla after their marriage. She is as wise and understanding as her brother was intolerant. When Bayard is bent on seeking revenge against Redmond, she counsels him to seek peace and compassion over mindless violence.
A former member of Colonel Sartoris's regiment who tries to incite Bayard to violence against Redmond. Wyatt represents an unthinking devotion to the old moral order of the prewar South. When he learns that Bayard has intentionally confronted Redmond unarmed, he is astonished and angry at first but eventually admits that his choice was honorable.