“Why?” Mr. Binford said. “You don’t like it or you can’t get it?”
“No sir,” I said. “I’m not old enough yet.”
“Whiskey, than?” Mr. Binford said.
“No sir,” I said. “I don’t drink anything. I promised my Mother I wouldn’t unless Father or Boss invited me.”
“But your mother’s not here now,” he said. “You’re on a tear with Boon now. Eighty – is it? – miles away.”
“No sir,” I said. “I promised her.”
It is the quiet resolve of the young boy that causes Corrie to rethink her life. Orphaned and forced into prostitution at a young age, she now realizes that she can choose to change, and does. Her transformation and Lucius’s fearless defense of her against grown men, even against the man who loves her, form one of the very serious and inspiring themes of this novel. Another is its portrayal of blacks and whites in the deep South. Ned McCaslin is a wonderful character: the natural descendant of a white plantation owner and a black slave, he has a unique perspective on the delicate racial balance of the South. He has no rights, yet he has the respect of his white overseers, and forms a tenuous friendship with Sam, the white railroad worker who assists them, based on their shared interests. Foremost among the black characters, however, is old Uncle Parsham, a mirror image in his black family of the revered Boss Priest. Lucius chooses to stay with Uncle Parsham rather than with a white family, and Faulkner’s account of the family meal says, with characteristic subtlety, that all good people are alike:
“Bow your head,” and we did so and he said grace, briefly, courteously but with dignity, without abasement or cringing: one man of decency and intelligence to another: notifying Heaven that we were about to eat and thanking It for the privilege, but at the same time reminding It that It had had some help too; that if someone…hadn’t sweated some, the acknowledgment would have graced mainly empty dishes, and said Amen and unfolded his napkin and stuck the corner in his collar exactly as Grandfather did, and we ate.”
Faulkner’s life spanned the Jim Crow years of segregation in the South, and the novel, set in 1905, reflects the rampant prejudice of the time. Against this backdrop Faulkner creates a world of equals. His black and white characters are equally complex, neither all good nor all bad, and this respect for the humanity of the black man was revolutionary in its time. Though this is a novel about a child, it is not for children. The bad people use bad language (though not nearly as bad as it would be today) and the subject matter is adult. This is a fearlessly moral novel, however, fierce in its assertion that goodness is worth preserving and defending, and that every soul is of value. Lucius Priest is a young man worth knowing, and the final scene where he confesses all to his grandfather will move you to tears. The transformation of the harlot Corrie is a pure example of what Jesus was trying to say, that those who believe, and are willing to repent, will find the kingdom of heaven.
William Faulkner’s famed acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize is a profound commentary on the meaning of literature and offers a fitting summation for The Reivers:
“The human heart in conflict with itself…alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat…leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and the truths of the heart, the universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice…[Man] is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart…”
The Reivers is a great favorite of mine, and provides a door into the works of a great author. I’ll be interested to know if you find it as funny, touching and inspiring as I did. The Reivers is the October selection for the Best Books Club, an informal gathering of readers who enjoy the classics together. Our selection for November is Dombey and Son, by Charles Dickens, or any Dickens that you’ve been meaning to read! Long winter nights seem made for a good thick book, and there are no better than Dickens’s novels. If you’d like to receive a monthly email about our selection, write me at email@example.com">firstname.lastname@example.org, or log onto my website at www.jadefalconpress.com. I look forward to sharing your comments with the group.
Readers comment on past selections of the Best Books Club:
The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay
We read The Power of One for our book club a few months ago. I was struck by how, although the boy himself was extraordinary, it was through the influence and mentoring of others that he reached his potential. And as he reached his potential, he used all of his learning, power and feelings to help others. Throughout the book he is always "serving" the "underdog". The author had a wonderful way of really helping the reader feel as if they were there--describing the locations as well as the political struggles.
What many in the group found difficult was the foul language that was used throughout the book. Many did not read the book for this reason.
I look forward to reading your review. Thank you for your time. Danelle Hall
This is one of my favorite books of all times. Having visited South Africa several times and sending my daughter there as a missionary made a rereading even more powerful. I have wanted my younger sons to read the book but a few parts are too graphic. I tried to get the children's version but it seemed to be available only in Australia. Do you know a good source for the youth version?
Thanks for your great reviews.