Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo

by

George Saunders

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Elson Farwell Character Analysis

A former slave who now exists in the Bardo. Throughout his life, Elson went out of his way to educate himself using whatever resources he could find. His master’s family treated him relatively well, compared to most master-slave relationships, but he soon discovered that no amount of intelligence would get them to hold him in higher esteem. One day, while traveling with the family, he fell on the side of a trail and was unable to get up. Despite his cries, the family moved on. When one of the sons walked by—having lagged behind the group—he promised to send help for Elson. Much later, though, it became clear that the boy had forgotten, a fact that now enrages Elson. As such, he remains in the Bardo because he yearns to return to the living world and exact his revenge upon his master’s family, scorning the years of uncontested servility he showed them. When Willie reveals to the Bardo-dwellers that they’re all dead, the news does nothing to convince Elson to depart. Instead, he decides to stay because somebody—anybody, it seems—must pay for all the horrible things he had to put up with throughout his lifetime. As such, he starts fighting the racist Lieutenant Cecil Stone, tirelessly battling him in a physical match that seems as if it’ll last for the rest of eternity.

Elson Farwell Quotes in Lincoln in the Bardo

The Lincoln in the Bardo quotes below are all either spoken by Elson Farwell or refer to Elson Farwell . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Unity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of Lincoln in the Bardo published in 2018.
Chapter 66 Quotes

Of course, there was always a moment, just as an order was given, when a small, resistant voice would make itself known in the back of my mind. Then the necessary job was to ignore that voice. It was not a defiant or angry voice, particularly, just that little human voice, saying, you know: I wish to do what I wish to do, and not what you are telling me to do.

And I must say, that voice was never quite silenced.

Although it did grow rather quiet over the years.

Related Characters: Thomas Havens (speaker), Willie Lincoln, Elson Farwell
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Lincoln in the Bardo LitChart as a printable PDF.
Lincoln in the Bardo PDF

Elson Farwell Character Timeline in Lincoln in the Bardo

The timeline below shows where the character Elson Farwell appears in Lincoln in the Bardo. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 66
Unity Theme Icon
Vice and Virtue Theme Icon
Empathy and Equality Theme Icon
The first black soul to speak is Elson Farwell, who begins by saying, “I did always try, in all my aspects, to hew... (full context)
Unity Theme Icon
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Empathy and Equality Theme Icon
As Elson lay on the trail, he realized that had been “sorely tricked,” and that his master’s... (full context)
Chapter 77
Unity Theme Icon
Empathy and Equality Theme Icon
...thanks to Mrs. Hodge for speaking for her, during all those mute and lonely years,” Elson Farwell notes. Despite these wonderful transformations, though, Lincoln keeps walking—in fact, he even speeds up,... (full context)
Chapter 97
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Empathy and Equality Theme Icon
...news that they’re dead, and both of them resolve to depart. When Mrs. Hodge asks Elson Farwell if he’ll come with them, he says he intends to stay, for “if such... (full context)
Chapter 100-101
Unity Theme Icon
Transition and Impermanence Theme Icon
Empathy and Equality Theme Icon
...Amidst the chaos, Vollman and Bevins rush out of the chapel, passing Lieutenant Stone and Elson Farwell, who are in the midst of a seemingly never-ending fight, one that threatens to... (full context)