Rannie's Reviews > Go Down, Moses

Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner
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's review
Apr 25, 10

bookshelves: fiction, us-south, classic-1900s
Read from March 19 to April 25, 2010

(contains spoilers)
This collection of short stories combines to form a novel about Isaac McCaslin, taking the reader from the mid 1800's to the 1930s on a Mississippi plantation.
The orphaned son of the plantation, Isaac is raised by his cousin and his father's former slaves, especially Sam, the mixed blood son of an Indian chief. He is raised to be one with the land, attuned to the virgin forest, understanding the wildlife from squirrel to elusive bear. He is annoited in the blood of the great stag, symbolizing his inheritance of the role of Master, Captain, Patron, Leader. At last his moment comes, and having his chance to shoot the bear, Isaac balks, leaving that task to a lesser man, who is unable to do it cleanly with a rifle, but must resort to a brutal battle using a knife. In the process, Lion, the archetypal dog, and Sam, the spirit of the woods are mortally injured as well.
Isaac awakes cast from this Garden when he learns of the sins of his
grandfather, sleeping first with a slave and then with his daughter by that slave. His response is renunciation of that inheritance. But in a feudal system, the master's seat must be filled. And if the strong, ethical son of the plantation abdicates, then those under his protection become victims of the weaker and less ethical stand-in.
Faulkner's generation of Southern men wrestled with this dilemma. Some,
like Ross, continued to use and abuse those who worked their land. Others used their privilaged positions to ensure that the children and grandchildren of former slaves were educated or apprenticed, giving them the building blocks for a future of their own making.
Isaac's balk in the bear hunt foreshadowed this shirking of his responsibilities in adult life. By turning his back on his inheritance, Isaac failed those who needed him and went on to live a barron, impotent life.
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