Summary of Part I
The story begins with a description of Captain Bogard, an American who is "not tall. His face was thin, a little aquiline; the eyes intelligent and a little tired." He is with an American lieutenant, McGinnis, and they have encountered an American military policeman, who is holding up a very drunk Claude Hope. Hope, a British naval officer, looks "like a masquerading girl" and cannot stand on his own. The three sober men discuss how the British naval officers spend their nights drunk on the town, since they put their boats under the wharfs at night. They mock them, and the lieutenant speculates that they use the boats "to fetch hot water from one ship to another. Or buns. Or maybe to go back and forth fast when they forget napkins or something."
A British military policeman joins them, and asks the American military policeman what is going on. The latter reports that Hope was lying in the street blocking traffic, claiming that the street was his and the trucks needed to go around. The American military policeman is mocking Hope, calling him an "egg," and Bogard dismisses him. The British military policeman suggests finding Hope a pub in which to sleep for the night. The captain responds, "Would you mind stepping across there and asking for Captain Bogard's driver? I'll take care of Mr. Hope."
Summary of Part II
Hope falls asleep in the car ride to the mess hall, then awakes when they arrive and immediately says, "Jolly. Whisky, what?" and goes right to the bar. Five men are seated at a card table, one of whom is Jerry. Captain Bogard tells them what happened, and they begin to make fun of the English midshipmen, suggesting that all they do is ride around all day. Bogard defends Hope briefly, and then Hope returns. Jerry begins to make fun of him, asking him falsely sincere questions and urging Hope to embarrass himself with stories of the games he and Ronnie play at sea. He describes the game thus: when he or Ronnie sees a ship with a basket mast, they earn a beaver. They had mistaken that of the Ergenstrasse, a German tramp steamer, for a basket mast, but realized it was not and no longer count her.
Bogard ushers Jerry away for a moment, and scold him, "Lay off of him. I mean it, now. He's just a kid." Jerry retorts that Americans are spending money in a war that is not even theirs, and is outraged that Hope seems to take it so lightly. Bogard responds that he plans to take Hope along with them in the plane that morning, and let him handle the Lewis gun. They return to the table, and Hope is still talking about the games he and Ronnie play.
Summary of Part III
In the early morning, Hope is still chattering away while the pilots begin to get dressed in their gear. Bogard leads him from the mess across the aerodome to Bogard's quarters. There, McGinnis is putting on his flying boots. Hope gets into his flying suit while McGinnis teases him for his naivety, saying "Go on. You're kidding me." But Bogard continues to defend the boy, saying, "Shut your trap, Mac." They go outside to the plane, and Bogard explains to Hope what to do if he gets sick: take a swig of alcohol. McGinnis leads Hope into the front pit, and Hope notices that the Lewis gun is already loaded. He fires a round, scaring everyone else, but announces that he pointed it west first to be safe.
Summary of Part IV
As they reach the objective and dive, Bogard notices that Hope is successfully firing the Lewis. He wonders how he is firing straight, and assumes, "Maybe he read about it somewhere." McGinnis and Bogard notice the forward pit is empty, and swear when they see Hope leaning far overside, since they have told him not to. Hope comes back to them, and shrieks, "Bomb! All right?" McGinnis thinks he is scared by the bombs being fired at them, and yells that he needs to go back to the gun. In the office, McGinnis and Bogard notice there is something strange about the right wing, but don't know what it is and don't think much of it.
Summary of Part V
At eight o'clock in the morning they are flying over the Channel, and the Americans notice that Hope is still leaning over the right side of the cockpit, "looking backward and downward at something beneath the right wing, his face rapt, with utter and childlike interest." When they land, he begins to rave about the bomb, saying "It was splendid!" The Americans are confused until they look beneath the right wing and see that the bomb has been hanging by its tail. Hope declares, "Frightened, myself. Tried to tell you. But realized you knew your business better than I. Skill. Marvelous. Oh, I say, I shan't forget it."
Summary of Part VI
Now Bogard is fulfilling his end of the deal, which is to go out with Hope on his sea mission. From the wharf, he examines the vessel, noticing how it is built and that it is made of steel. An orderly approaches him and hands him a bundle from Lieutenant McGinnis; it is a yellow silk sofa cushion, a Japanese parasol, a comb and a roll of toilet paper. The note suggests they are meant to be jeering, suggestions for ways to pass the idle time on what McGinnis assumes is a joke of a mission. Bogard tosses them into the sea.
Hope approaches him with Ronnie, who doesn't speak but shakes Bogard's hand. The men jump down into the boat, and Bogard perches on the cylindrical ridge running along the bottom of the boat. He assumes it is filled with air to make the boat float and skim along the top of the water easily. Bogard asks how far they will go, and Hope says that he and Ronnie would like to impress the American captain by taking him all the way to Kiel.
Bogard is surprised at this answer, and then asks what the boat is for. He realizes that it is not air in the cylinder, it is a torpedo. He asks how it is fired, and the boy explains that they aim it, fire it, then turn the boat out of the way. This knowledge is very troubling to Bogard, but he tries to keep his voice calm. Hope senses that he is nervous, and tells Ronnie that they should not go all the way to Kiel. He offers Bogard a drink, but refuses to share it himself, saying, "Never touch it on duty."
Summary of Part VII
Now the boat is about to engage in battle. As it flies toward a freighter, Ronnie has his hand lifted to signal the release of the torpedo; it seems to Bogard the hand will never drop. As the boat skids in a turn around the freighter, Bogard assumes it has missed its target. However, Hope explains that the torpedo didn't release that time, due to an engineering flaw, and that things like that are "always happening." Now they again charge the freighter "with locomotive speed," and fire again. As the boat spins around, Bogard is sick.
Summary of Part VIII
Bogard comes in and out of sleep, and Hope offers him another swig of the drink to warm him up. Bogard asks if it often happens that the torpedo fails to fire, and Hope explains that it does. Then Ronnie notices the Ergenstrasse and calls "Beaver;" but he is wrong, since, as Hope has explained, the Ergenstrasse's mast only looks like a basket mast. Hope gloats that he is now only one point down in their game.
Summary of Part IX
Captain Bogard orders a case of Scotch for "a child about six feet long," who the reader knows is Hope.
Summary of Part X
A month later, in the English Gazette, it is reported that Hope's torpedo boat went missing. Shortly after, the American Air Service headquarters' bulletin announces that Bogard has successfully completed a mission which, if it had failed, would have earned him a court-martial. He had acted like Hope and Ronnie in the boat, diving at the chateau where the generals ate lunch, not signaling to release the bomb until "he could discern separately the slate tiles of the roof."
By describing Claude Hope as girlish, and commenting how "once in the car, he went to sleep immediately with the peaceful suddenness of babies," Faulkner makes him seem even more childlike than his age suggests he is. When Bogard orders the Scotch for him in Part IX, his directions are that it is for "a child about six feet long." This description is fitting with the boy's tendency to turn battle into a game, in which he must score points. It is a commentary on what a shame it is that a young boy is doing this military duty rather than playing at school, where he belongs. It makes Hope's bravery even more admirable.
The juxtaposition of the game of "Beaver" with the boat's attack of the freighter also points to the inappropriate youth of Hope and Ronnie. Perhaps they don't understand the gravity of their actions, but it is more likely that they simply distract themselves from the danger they are in by resorting to a game, something they can be excited about in a playful way.
Captain Bogard is characterized as strong and solid from the beginning, in Faulkner's description of him. Throughout the story, his words and actions are testament to this honorable description. He is characterized by his defense of Hope to Jerry, when he points out that Hope is just a boy. Later, when he is sick on the floor of the boat, it is Hope who helps him by covering him in a pea coat and offering him alcohol to keep him warm.
Bogard becomes cold in accordance with his realizing that the mission he is about to go on with Hope is, in fact, very dangerous and serious. When he notices that the vessel is made of steel, "he drew his trench coat about him and buttoned it, as though he were getting cold." Then, when he is actually in the boat sitting on the missile, Hope notices that he might be getting cold and offers him his oilskin. After the torpedo fails to fire the first time, Bogard "was hot inside, but his outside was cold. He could feel all his flesh jerking with cold..."
The dialogue of the characters mirrors Faulkner's own style: short and precise, to the point. It is a fitting style for this adventure story, and lends it the tone of an action movie. This type of dialogue is necessary for the men to use when they are shouting at each other, either in the plane with the loud engine, or in the boat as it whizzes through the water.
"Turnabout" was published in Saturday Evening Post on March 5, 1932 as "Turn About." Of Faulkner's seven short stories focusing on World War I, "Turnabout" is the only one not based in France.
"Turnabout" was the inspiration for Howard Hawks' 1933 film Today We Live. When Hawks proposed the idea to Faulkner, Faulkner took five days to write the film himself. Irving Thalberg, the vice-president of MGM studios at the time, insisted that Joan Crawford be written into the script. So Faulkner created the role of Ann, Ronnie's sister, involved in a love triangle.