Go Down, Moses

William Faulkner

1942

(Vivid tales from the deeply rooted McCaslin family of Mississippi explore the human desire to dominate others.)

BoydSaundersEtchingCropCrop of an etching by Boyd Saunders illustrating Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.  Courtesy of HottyToddy.com

 

Faulkner raises a novel, especially Go Down, Moses, like a mountain range.  A small peak here, another one some indefinite distance to the side but nearer to the viewer, another apparently between them but actually much further in the distance.  The slopes are irregular in grade, no shape is symmetrical, no sequence predictable.  The greatest of the mountains has flanking foothills—here at least is order and intelligibility!  One is prepared for the most gigantic landforms.  Actually all of them, though apparently haphazardly arranged, are obviously part of a single landscape, each part depending on those around it for its qualities and significance.  The suggestion that each mountain be viewed as an isolated individual, despite distinctions of personality and structure, is ridiculous.  One best realizes this, perhaps, by receding somewhat from the view.  For when close to it, when stumbling over craggy outcrops and struggling to circumvent gorges, the scene seems hopelessly chaotic and fragmented.  Such is Go Down, Moses, a challenging and awesome range of tales. 

GoDownMoses_1stedTwo questions come to mind when the... novel, or collection.... is seen in this way.  The first is, what is the thematic connection, the thread that unites the whole into a landscape?  What is it about Go Down, Moses that makes it a single work instead of just a collection of stories?  Of course, the writing style, setting, and sympathies are similar in the stories—they have a family resemblance, one might say.  Among the strongest aspects of this resemblance are:  (1) the plight of the slaves and their descendents in the American South in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the interactions between them and white Southerners; (2) the mystery and spiritual depth of the wilderness (see especially the end of ch.1 in “The Old People” and ch.1 of The Bear), and the various human personalities or approaches to this wilderness (e.g., compare the description of Sam Fathers in “The Old People” with Boon in ch.3 of The Bear); and (3) the pervasive sense of time as it pertains to family:  the concept of relatedness and the deeply rooted ancestor-descendent connections that are so often summed up as blood (as in the near-beginning of “The Old People”).  As affecting as these motifs are, I find another one to be of primary weight, one that unifies those three themes and renders their coexistence explicable, and leaves the reader with a deep impression of a particular facet of human nature.  This is the tendency of man to dominate.

How can a comic yarn like “Was” fit with the dark violence of “Pantaloon in Black”?  Many facets of the family resemblance are there, but first among them I think is the different perspectives of the notion of human domination that we get in the two styles of story.  In “Was”, at the very beginning of the collection, Faulkner confronts us with the levity with which we (and so how much more his initial readers) can be made to perceive a hunt for an escaped slave, and then the amusement with which we can watch a poker game where the chips represent human beings.  In fact this assessment is too simple, as Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy are actually trying to extricate themselves from the system of slavery and oppression.  Still, the message is there, and perhaps all the more poignant since the slaveowners are not demonic, easily vilified and thus unchallenging Simon Legrees (of Uncle Tom’s Cabin).  In this light, the relation of “Was” to later stories with more serious presentations is more easily seen.  In the starkly tragic punch of “Pantaloon in Black”, for instance, the title alone eerily alludes to comedy, and the theme of white domination of the blacks again returns.  The difference in the two stories’ main characters—a despised and misunderstood black man versus a comfortable white—partially accounts for the difference in style.

As the comparison of those two stories suggests, slavery and the informal economic servitude that followed it represent perhaps the most striking and disturbing form of man’s desire for exploitation and domination.  The book's title is that of a Negro spiritual, whose words hauntingly view the enslaved African in America as mystically united with the enslaved Israelites in Egypt.  Imagine a slaveowner happening to walk by a filthy, overcrowded barn where strong voices chant pleas to God for a Moses to come and rescue them from their enemies, from the enemies of God.  I would expect trembling anxiety to be an appropriate response, much as district attorney Gavin Stevens responded in “Go Down, Moses” (though he was doing his best to mitigate some of the racial inequities).  The Bear’s chapter 4 is where the issue of slavery, and of white oppression of blacks more generally, comes most explicitly forward, as Faulkner uses Isaac as his mouthpiece in an extended discussion on these and related matters.  Isaac feels, for instance, that God planned the freedom of the slaves and used whites to lift their own curse on the land; that the Bible should be interpreted with the heart and seen in its essence to oppose slavery; that the economy of the country binds the negro after 1865 just as much as slavery did before; and that much of the vice we observe among the slaves’ descendents is because of the oppression they have endured for so long (Isaac exclaims that all of their vices are so attributable, but after all none of us are without vice-- we can perhaps excuse his “noble savage” exaggeration for the sake of the bigger point).  Many teachers assign an abridged version of The Bear that does not include this chapter, and several critics and commentators feel that it is an intrusion into the story.  Although it does intrude stylistically and plotwise (in fact slams it to a halt), opinions that the chapter doesn’t belong, or is dispensable from the story, miss the greatest point of The Bear.  Those marvelous events during the hunt of chapters 1-3 instill in Isaac a realization that man’s attempt to dominate the land, its creatures, and our fellow humans is a source of our misery, a self-inflicted curse.  To do his part to raise the curse, Isaac responds by repudiating his “right” to own the McCaslin plantation.  To him it would be hypocritical to own land that others work, whose McCaslin blood ought to mean that they too own it, but instead their other lines of descent from Africa bar them from ever being able to embrace such rights.  He relinquishes his inherited power to dominate—why?  Because of lessons he learned from Sam Fathers and the wilderness. 

The Bear, and its two flanking foothills “The Old People” and “Delta Autumn”, show that although slavery is a central theme, the real issue is deeper and broader than that.  It is not only racial domination, and not only a white man’s vice, but it is domination in general, that is the cause of suffering and sorrow throughout Go Down, Moses.  In “The Old People”, it is Sam Fathers’ way of seeing the great buck as having intrinsic value (to put it in philosophical terms), rather than just as a target to take down, that makes him the great man he is.  It is this virtue that Sam teaches Isaac, and this makes Isaac the great man he too eventually becomes.  Note that Isaac wanted to be worthy of hunting, and it was Sam’s anointing him with the blood of the buck that symbolized and initiated his worthiness.  Part of the worthiness was a restraint of the wish to squash and dominate nature.  The connection between restraining the wish to dominate nature, and restraining the wish to dominate other humans, is the connection that Isaac makes between the first and second halves of The Bear.  It is the reason why The Bear is a cohesive whole.  In the final chapter of The Bear Isaac is able to return to Sam Fathers’ burial place, and call a rattlesnake “Chief” and “Grandfather”, just as Sam had named the great buck, precisely because of the virtue Isaac showed in attempting to remove himself from the vicious cycle of oppression over his fellow man in the previous chapter.  Isaac has attempted to get rid of his domineering attitude towards the bear, then the land, then the descendents of the slaves.  I say “attempted”, because “Delta Autumn” shows that even Isaac retains part of the old mentality from which he is trying to extricate himself.  He is shocked at the interracial relationship of his cousin Roth with the descendent of the slave Tomy’s Turl, and allows her to wander away with no place to go.

The Fire and the Hearth is a straightforward portrayal of the unfortunate consequences of an obsession with exploiting others.  This time it is a black man, Lucas Beauchamp, who tries to climb to power by whatever means at his disposal, heedless of the consequences or the wisdom of his actions.  Lucas wants independence.  He has all the money he needs, but he still strives for elusive buried treasure, thinking that this will make him free.  He seeks money for its power over others.  He attempts to dominate Zack Edmonds, even trying to kill him.  He dominates his own wife (“I will be the man of this house”, he growls), and exploits a machine salesman by dragging him around the countryside looking for the buried money.  Even as the story opens he is obsessed with the attempt of George Wilkins to compete with him in their production of illegal alcohol.

All of these points about the theme of domination relate only to the first thought that comes to my mind when I think of Go Down, Moses in terms of a range of mountains.  The second thought is a question:  Why does Faulkner have to make reading his work so difficult?  Why do the mountains have to be craggy, with vertical faces and treacherous slides?  Why does he tell us stories out of order, give us sentences the length of high tension wires, omit the names of key people until we forget who he is talking about, give several people such similar names that we cannot keep them straight, fail to provide complete arguments or thoughts in much of the dialogue, allow the characters to run from one subject to another without apparent purpose, and in general just partially let us in on what is going on?!  Is it simply a failure on Faulkner’s part?  Certainly many think it is a drawback of his “stream of consciousness” technique that it is often difficult to follow.  I do suspect that a major reason why Steinbeck is read today more than Faulkner is because of the challenging nature of the latter’s prose.  I cannot believe it is a failure, however.  Faulkner is much too smart for that, as reading any of his novels will readily reveal.  At the same time, I cannot accept that it is coincidence—that the author who happens to write in notorious, unpunctuated run-ons also just happens to keep us wondering what century we’re in until we are several pages into a story.  I don’t think so.  I think, strange to say, that Faulkner intentionally makes things difficult for his readers.  Books are ordinarily ripped through like pizza at a birthday party.  One can flip the pages of the Rubaiyat or Jane Eyre like there’s nothing on them (and in the case of the Rubaiyat there is practically nothing on them), and still get to the end with a reasonable understanding of what went on.  Omar Khayyam or Brontë intended to draw the reader in to stay awhile, either by poetry or plot, but in reading books it is always the reader who controls the pace.  I have no evidence beyond Faulkner novels themselves, but I have a hunch that Faulkner’s perceptiveness and ingenuity led him to realize and then successfully rebel against this domination of the author by the reader!  “If you want to read this,” I can imagine the aging Faulkner saying to a prospective reader, just as Sam Fathers says to Isaac about seeing the bear, “you must respect it!”  Skimming this book will get you nowhere, just like tromping through the woods with gun cocked and wild eyes straining for a hulking target will not get you to Old Ben.  Ease, instant gratification, orderly chronology, pithy sentences, pocket-sized paragraphs—these are so many compasses and watches that must be jettisoned in order to receive the spiritual reward.  You cannot read and appreciate a novel like Go Down, Moses unless you have invested in it.  It separates the wheat from the chaff in the readership.  Only those who deserve the gratification will receive it.  The truly interested reader gets to know the land and the people in a remarkably real way.  Perhaps the reason why it is so remarkably real is because it is the same way one gets to know an actual land and an actual people: through fragmentary stories and bits of information, achronological and irregular in distribution, often confusing and in need of piecing together.  Only in novels does one get a whole setting and all its people scrubbed and predigested and laid out in meticulous order so a perfect stranger can sum the whole thing up at a glance.  Not in Faulkner novels, though.

 
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CHAPTER / STORY SUMMARIES

Go Down, Moses is a collection of seven pieces (five short stories and two novellas) that are related in theme, characters, and setting.  Each can be read on its own (indeed The Bear or an authorial abridgement called “The Lion” often occurs in anthologies, and “Pantaloon in Black” recently appeared in a collection of Faulkner’s stories).  However, Faulkner himself arranged Go Down, Moses and the whole work does have a subtle unity, and a mutually reinforcing and explanatory power, that are lost unless the pieces are read together and in sequence.

I spent hours trying to figure out who the heck everybody was.  The fact that there is a Carothers McCaslin, McCaslin Edmonds, and Carothers Edmonds, and that everybody has nicknames, does not help matters, nor does Faulkner’s writing style, but I will not complain (much).  Instead, I present an instant antidote to frustration: a partial genealogy including the book’s main characters (except nonrelatives like Sam Fathers).  If some believe that knowing where everyone sits from the start removes a little of the historical mythic feel of the work, I salute the brave reader and invite such a one to ignore the table!  My opinion is that having this tool, far from detracting from the experience, removes the mundane and frustrating distraction of constantly wondering who people are or how they are related.  This having been said, I do understand, I think, Faulkner’s point in making this difficult for us-- as I said above, I do think it's deliberate.

McCaslinGenogram(Click on figure to enlarge)

“Was”

A comic tale of a half-hearted hunt for an escaped slave by owners who don’t even believe in slavery.  Uncle Buddy, son of old Carothers McCaslin who bought their land from the Indians, pursues “Tomy’s Turl” to the Beauchamp residence to which he often escapes to see his sweetheart Tennie.  Uncle Buddy gains Tennie in a poker game, and all return home satisfied.

The Fire and the Hearth

Almost a century after “Was”, Lucas Beauchamp, grandson of old Carothers McCaslin by a black lover, has all the money he needs in the bank, more even than the white Roth Edmonds who has inherited the plantation on which Lucas lives and works.  Nevertheless, an obsession with buried money takes hold of Lucas until he does little else but roam the plantation with a metal detector in the hopes of finding it.  His wife Mollie recognizes his fall from integrity and, despite their advanced age, decides to divorce him.  This prospect ultimately makes him realize that he is too old now to get in life what he should have started taking when he was a lot younger.  He asks Roth to take away the metal detector and not ever to tell him where it is.

“Pantaloon in Black”

A nephew of Lucas, Rider, loses his beloved wife Mannie.  He goes to work but is devastated and cannot function properly.  His sorrow and frustration explode in an almost suicidal show of strength in hurling logs, but this outlet is insufficient.  He departs abruptly and gets drunk.  Returning to the job site at night, he finds the men at their usual gaming table, the white foreman cheating them out of their money as usual.  Rider waits until the man attempts to cheat again, and catches him in it.  The foreman tries to pull his gun, but Rider is quicker with his razor, and kills the foreman in one swipe to the neck.  Rider is imprisoned and eventually lynched.  Meanwhile the populace, particularly a deputy, misunderstand everything about the situation because they misunderstand black people (partly intentionally and partly unintentionally).  The deputy views Rider as an unfeeling brute who failed to mourn his wife and inexplicably murdered his foreman.

“The Old People”

Going back to older days, Isaac McCaslin, the central figure of the novel as a whole, is in this story a young boy.  Isaac’s world-view is shaped by the guidance he receives from Sam Fathers, son of a slave woman and an Indian chief.  Sam helps Isaac kill his first buck, and anoints the boy with its blood.  Isaac then sees a giant buck that Sam calls “Grandfather”.

The Bear

chs.1-3: The young Isaac McCaslin (16 at the beginning of the story) attends an annual hunt with Sam Fathers and a few other adults, and has in the years following his first kill become (under Sam Fathers’ tutelage) very familiar with the ways of the wilderness.  Each year a legend persists of a great, unkillable bear Old Ben that roams the endless woods where the hunters spend their two weeks.  Whereas the seasoned hunters are unable to find it, Isaac has eventually learned enough from Sam Fathers to be able (after shedding vestiges of civilization, right down to his compass and watch) to meet the bear face-to-face, and return to camp.  Sam Fathers assures him that until they find the right dog, hunting the bear will be fruitless.  Eventually they find this dog—Lion, whose name sums up his temperament and ferocity.  Sam does not want to tame him, but to tap his wild energy in order to hunt the bear.  The next year, they take Lion out and he finds the bear.  Old Ben is notoriously indifferent to bullets, but the wildest of the hunters (Boon) leaps on its back and stabs it, seeking for the heart with his long hunting knife.  He succeeds in killing the bear, and the party drags it back to camp.  Sam falls ill (he is an old man and had plunged heedlessly into freezing water during the chase), and Lion dies of wounds Old Ben inflicted.  Soon Sam too dies. One of the hunters, General Compson, praises the young Isaac’s resourcefulness and woodsmanship with great respect.

ch.4: At 21, Isaac, much affected by the foregoing events, decides that his claim to the McCaslin land is corrupt because it is based on exploitation of the slaves, and that he must relinquish it.  He yields his inheritance to his cousin McCaslin Edmonds, and explains to him the reasoning behind his repudiation, not of old Carothers McCaslin himself, nor of his sons Buddy and Buck who tried in their own way to make things better, but of the entire system that was responsible for his having the land in the first place.  His experiences in nature made him realize the absurdity of believing that our human sense of “owning” and “selling” land corresponds to an actual ownership and transfer of ownership of land, since no human being can own a piece of nature, much less sell it for profit.  The notion of enslaving humans, from this perspective, is even more unspeakable; and domination of former slaves has continued despite their legal freedom, because of the economic shackles that keep them bound to working the land for others.  Isaac presents an emotional case as much as an argument, in fragmentary images, half-articulated thoughts, and reflections on a journal of the McCaslin commercial dealings over the past decades.  He dwells especially on a sequence of events associated with the McCaslin family’s attempt to bestow a sum of inheritance money on each of three offspring of Tomy’s Turl, who was the result of relations between old Carothers McCaslin and one of his slaves.  Because of Isaac’s selfless decision, which he refuses to change even to please his new young wife, she gives him only a single chance to produce a son with her (which fails), and determines to treat him coldly from then onward.

ch.5: Isaac returns to the site of the hunt, and walks alone to the place where Sam Fathers was buried.  He almost steps on a rattlesnake, and regarding it the way Sam regarded the great buck, calls it “Chief”, “Grandfather”.  Then he follows strange sounds to where, sitting crazed under a gum tree full of squirrels, is old Boon, who screams at the approaching Isaac that the rodents are all Boons and that Isaac should not touch any of them!

“Delta Autumn”

More than a half century after the bear is killed, Isaac McCaslin is an old man, but still accompanies the sons of his old friends on their annual hunt.  Traveling out of civilization towards the receding wilderness is like going back in time.  They have to travel much further now to get to unbroken forest, and the wildlife is much less plentiful.  Roth Edmonds, the grandson of McCaslin Edmonds, is a cynical man with little care for Isaac’s perspective or concerns.  He and Isaac debate about whether we humans are basically good, or good just because we are watched; and about what God is, and how He relates to such ethical matters.  Although belittled by Roth, Isaac is clearly the sage now, much as Sam Fathers was.  One of the points he raises, which the men do not particularly like, is that love instigates an approximation to Godhood, or an escape of law and custom.  Eventually the hunters go to bed for a while and then leave in the morning for the hunt without Isaac.  While they are gone, a young woman arrives with a baby.  She is a girlfriend of Roth’s, and Roth has given Isaac instructions to give her money and turn her away.  Isaac is horrified to learn that she is part black, although (like her boyfriend Roth) a descendent herself of old Carothers McCaslin.  Maybe a thousand years from now, Isaac thinks, but not in today’s America!  Old Carothers’ blood, after journeying for a while in five generations of blacks, now makes the return journey into the more fortunate lineage in the little boy the woman holds protectively.  Isaac dismisses her and contemplates the fact that man so often accomplishes the suitable consequences for his deeds, consequencess that can extend across generations.

“Go Down, Moses”

Samuel “Butch” Beauchamp, grandson of Lucas of The Fire and the Hearth, is arrested, convicted, and executed.  His grandmother Mollie would like his body to be brought back home, and a local district attorney Gavin Stevens is able, with a little sacrifice, to procure the body and arrange for a local funeral.  Visiting the family, Gavin is struck with anxiety when Mollie sorrowfully chants the refrain of the negro spiritual “Go Down, Moses” in his presence.  Later the editor of the local paper tells him the surprising fact that Mollie has requested that the whole truth of the circumstances of her grandson’s death be printed in the paper.

Back to Section Head

TIDBITS OF SIGNIFICANCE

And as he talked about those old times and those dead and vanished men of another race from either that the boy knew, gradually to the boy those old times would cease to be old times and would become part of the boy’s present, not only as if they had happened yesterday but as if they were still happening, the men who walked through them actually walking in breath and air and casting an actual shadow on the earth they had not quitted.  And more: as if some of them had not happened yet but would occur tomorrow, until at last it would seem to the boy that he himself had not come into existence yet, that none of his race nor the other subject race which his people had brought with them into the land had come here yet; that although it had been his grandfather’s and then his father’s and uncle’s and was now his cousin’s and someday would be his own land which he and Sam hunted over, their hold upon it actually was as trivial and without reality as the now faded and archaic script in the chancery book in Jefferson which allocated it to them and that it was he, the boy, who was the guest here and Sam Father’s voice the mouthpiece of the host.

-of Isaac McCaslin, “The Old People”, 1.

 

...he waited to go back, having brought with him, even from his brief first sojourn, an unforgettable sense of the big woods-- not a quality dangerous or particularly inimical, but profound, sentient, gigantic and brooding, amid which he had been permitted to go to and fro at will, unscathed, why he knew not, but dwarfed and, until he had drawn honorably blood worthy of being drawn, alien.

-of Isaac McCaslin, “The Old People”, 1.

 

...perhaps only a country-bred one could understand loving the life he spills.

-“The Old People”, 2.

 

...the wilderness, the big woods, bigger and older than any recorded document:—of white man fatuous enough to believe he had bought any fragment of it, of Indian ruthless enough to pretend that any fragment of it had been his to convey...

-The Bear, 1.

 

There was always a bottle present, so that it would seem to him that those fine fierce instants of heart and brain and courage and wiliness and speed were concentrated and distilled into that brown liquor which not women, not boys and children, but only hunters drank, drinking not of the blood they spilled but some condensation of the wild immortal spirit, drinking it moderately, humbly even, not with the pagan’s base and baseless hope of acquiring thereby the virtues of cunning and strength and speed but in salute to them.

-The Bear, 1.

 

“Be scared.  You can’t help that.  But dont be afraid.   A bear or a deer has got to be scared of a coward the same as a brave man has got to be.”

-Sam Fathers to Isaac McCaslin, The Bear, 1.

 

...talking quietly of hunting, of the game and the dogs which ran it, of hounds and bear and deer and men of yesterday vanished from the earth...

-The Bear, 3.

 

“...long before you damned Sartorises and Edmondses invented farms and banks to keep yourselves from having to find out what this boy was born knowing and fearing too maybe but without being afraid, that could go ten miles on a compass because he wanted to look at a bear none of us had ever got near enough to put a bullet in and looked at the bear and came the ten miles back on the compass in the dark...”

-General Compson in awe of young Isaac McCaslin, to the other hunters, The Bear, 3.

 

“Relinquish,” McCaslin said.  “Relinquish.  You, the direct male descendant of him who saw the opportunity and took it, bought the land, took the land... whose legacy and monument you think you can repudiate.” and he

“I cant repudiate it.  It was never mine to repudiate.  It was never Father’s and Uncle Buddy’s to bequeath me to repudiate because it was never old Ikkemotubbe’s to sell to Grandfather for bequeathment and repudiation.  Because it was never Ikkemotubbe’s fathers’ fathers’ to bequeath Ikkemotubbe to sell to Grandfather or any man because on the instant when Ikkemotubbe discovered, realised, that he could sell it for money, on that instant it ceased to have been his forever, father to father to father, and the man who bought it bought nothing.”

“Bought nothing?” and he

“Bought nothing.  Because He told in the Book how He created the earth, made it and looked at it and said it was all right, and then He made man.  He made the earth first and peopled it with dumb creatures, and then He created man to be His overseer on the earth and to hold suzerainty over the earth and the animals on it in His name, not to hold for himself and his descendants inviolable title forever, generation after generation, to the oblongs and squares of the earth, but to hold the earth mutual and intact in the communal anonymity of brotherhood, and all the fee He asked was pity and humility and sufferance and endurance and the sweat of his face for bread.”

-McCaslin Edmonds and Isaac McCaslin, on the occasion of Isaac’s forfeiting his ownership of his family’s land, The Bear, 4.

 

“And I know what you will say now: That if truth is one thing to me and another thing to you, how will we choose which is truth?  You don’t need to choose.  The heart already knows.”

-Isaac McCaslin to McCaslin Edmonds, The Bear, 4.

 

...no man is ever free and probably could not bear it if he were...

-The Bear, 4.

 

Apparently there is a wisdom beyond even that learned through suffering necessary for a man to distinguish between liberty and license...

-The Bear, 4.

 

...the old reasons for which man (not the generals and politicians but man) has always fought and died in wars:  to preserve a status quo or to establish a better future one to endure for his children.

-the reasons Southerners fought the Civil War, The Bear, 4.

 

...a pariah about the face of the Western earth which twenty centuries later was still taking revenge on him for the fairy tale with which he had conquered it.

-of the Jew, The Bear, 4.

 

“...what the heart holds to becomes truth, as far as we know truth.”

-McCaslin Edmonds to Isaac McCaslin, The Bear, 4.

 

Old Sam Fathers was alive then, born in slavery, son of a Negro slave and a Chickasaw chief, who had taught him how to shoot, not only when to shoot but when not to; such a November dawn as tomorrow would be and the old man led him straight down to the great cypress and he had known the buck would pass exactly there because there was something running in Sam Fathers’ veins which ran in the veins of the buck too, and they stood there against the tremendous trunk, the old man of seventy and the boy of twelve, and there was nothing save the dawn until suddenly the buck was there, smoke-colored out of nothing, magnificent with speed: and Sam Fathers said, “Now.  Shoot quick and shoot slow:” and the gun levelled rapidly without haste and crashed and he walked to the buck lying still intact and still in the shape of that magnificent speed and bled it with Sam’s knife and Sam dipped his hands into the hot blood and marked his face forever while he stood trying not to tremble, humbly and with pride too though the boy of twelve had been unable to phrase it then:  I slew you; my bearing must not shame your quitting life.  My conduct forever onward must become your death.

-“Delta Autumn”

 
Back to Section Head

READ THIS WHEN...

 ...you are patient, imaginative, and prepared to descend slowly into a profound and complex atmosphere, to become intimately acquainted with several generations of a venerable southern family, and gradually to appreciate the interactions of race, nature, and the human urge to exploit.

 

IF YOU LIKED THIS, YOU'D ALSO LIKE: 

(for the contemplator of racial interactions and tension in America:)

  • Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin  (1852)
  • Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson  (1894)
  • Richard Wright, Native Son  (1940)
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved  (1987)

 (for the wayfarer in Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi:)

  • William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury  (1929)
  • William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying  (1930)
  • William Faulkner, A Light in August  (1932)
  • William Faulkner, Absolom, Absolom!  (1936)
  • William Faulkner, The Hamlet  (1940)

FIND THIS BOOK:

Hardcover

For a new hardcover nowadays you will have to put up with multiple novels in one volume.  The Library of America does a great job, though, and surprisingly portable for the contents. 

Paperback

Thanks to Vintage for keeping all of Faulkner's novels in print... 

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