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Classics Corner > Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner

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message 1: by Michael (last edited Mar 26, 2010 10:51AM) (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) Hi, everybody. This will be the discussion thread for Go Down, Moses. But --

please DO NOT POST ON THIS THREAD UNTIL APRIL 1 !

That is when discussion is scheduled to begin. I am putting up two items before we get started because it is possible that readers are finding Faulkner's multiple-generation character roster a little confusing. He sure doesn't make it easy, with that offhand way of mentioning his people.

First, some of the names. This gave me a little trouble when I first read this book. Some of the black characters are referred to with possessive names, as in Tennie's Jim. I kind of got that one -- the Jim that is the son of Tennie. But Tomey's Turl had me stuck. He is actually Terrell, the son of Tomasina.

The second item is a genealogy of all the people.

Warning: The link that follows CONTAINS SPOILERS.

It is a genealogy of the Go Down, Moses characters and others mentioned in passing. This is a great genealogy if you've finished the book. It is presented in its development over time. That is, it starts at the earliest generation, and adds to it in new iterations with discussion of what is revealed in each story along the way. For those who haven't finished the book, though, that discussion CONTAINS SPOILERS and, yes, some of them are sure to jump out at you!

What I found is that, as you read the novel, the history gets clearer. So if you're just in the first half, say, you might do better to keep on going and let some of the hazy areas stay that way until more information from Faulkner resolves and clarifies them.

But, if confusion over names and times is causing serious frustration, then this genealogy will help.

So, that said, here is the link for those who might want to be sure they've got it straight. (The extremely attentive, and Faulkner purists, may notice that there is one mistake in the text.)

http://people.virginia.edu/~sfr/FAULK...

Back on April 1.

Go Down Moses


message 2: by Michael (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) Go Down, Moses

When Israel was in Egypt’s land,
Let my people go,
Oppressed so hard they could not stand,
Let my people go.

Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
To let my people go.

Thus spake the Lord, bold Moses said,
Let my people go.
If not I’ll smite your first born dead,
Let my people go.

Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt’s land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
To let my people go.

No more shall they in bondage toil,
Let my people go.
Let them come out with Egypt’s spoil,
Let my people go.

Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
To let my people go.

http://ctl.du.edu/spirituals/Freedom/...


message 3: by Michael (last edited Apr 01, 2010 04:46AM) (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) Hello and welcome to the Go Down Moses discussion. We could approach this 1942 novel in a number of different ways. We can go through the individual stories that make up the book; or we could go to the major themes that connect those stories and seem to me to climax in the last few.

The themes that seem most apparent are the tangled racial relationships in the shadow of slavery; the wilderness and Uncle Ike's coming-of-age; the interplay of inheritance and power; sin; the South, of course; and probably a half-dozen more than I can think of while writing this post.

We could also approach the book through the two parallel and conjoined families, white and mixed, whose stories get told along the way.

Rather than try to set up any special design, I think the best approach is the simplest -- let's leave this discussion as wide open as possible and let people talk about the book as their reading experience dictates.

For the sake of context, below is a Faulkner bibliography, cribbed from Wikipedia, showing where Go Down, Moses fits into his writing. It comes after the most famous novels, which are mostly among the early writings (after the first two clunkers). To me, this particular book has some of his best and maybe a little of his not-best writing (although I find Faulkner's worst still interesting and challenging). Perhaps a couple of those "immemorials" could have been trimmed...!

Bibliography: Novels

Soldiers' Pay (1926)
Father Abraham (written 1926–27, published 1983)
Mosquitoes (1927)
Sartoris/Flags in the Dust (1929/1973)
The Sound and the Fury (1929)
As I Lay Dying (1930)
Sanctuary (1931)
Light in August (1932)
Pylon (1935)
Absalom, Absalom! (1936)
The Unvanquished (1938)
If I Forget Thee Jerusalem (The Wild Palms/Old Man) (1939)
The Hamlet (1940)
Go Down, Moses (1942), episodic novel made up of seven rewritten, previously published stories including "Pantaloon in Black", "The Old People", "The Bear", "Delta Autumn", and the title story
Intruder in the Dust (1948)
Requiem for a Nun (1951)
A Fable (1954)
The Town (1957)
The Mansion (1959)
The Reivers (1962)


message 4: by Denise (new)

Denise | 389 comments I've got a ways to go yet; I just started "The Bear." So far I'm enjoying it.


message 5: by Rosana (new)

Rosana | 599 comments I also will be joining later. I feel guilty about it, but life has been too busy.


message 6: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 178 comments I'm in the third story right now, so it may take a while. I'm enjoying this, though. I especially liked the second story. I thought Lucas was a very interesting (and fun) character.

Sharon


message 7: by Carol (new)

Carol | 7206 comments Lucas looking for the money reminded me of Erskine Caldwell's God's Little Acre, where the family dig up the whole yard looking for treasure. I found out later Erskine wrote his book first.


message 8: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments Just a quick note to say I'm Going Down with Moses and am enjoying the trip. I haven't read any Faulkner in years. My schedule has been a little crazy, so It'll probably be a week or so before I finish up the book. Looking forward to the discussion.


message 9: by Carol (new)

Carol | 7206 comments Yes I am waiting before I get into full discussion mode.


message 10: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments Michael: I was intrigued to discover in your note that GO DOWN is composed of rewritten, previously published stories. Do you know if this book is the only time Faulkner used that technique to make a novel?


message 11: by Carol (new)

Carol | 7206 comments Dale It appears this was the only episodic novel he ever wrote. This is what makes me think they were originally several short stories with a common theme. I think it works well as a novel, once you understand the flow of the format. Don't you think each section would work by its self? He adamantly stated he wrote it as a novel.

The Hound-1930
The Fox Hunt-1931
The Bear Hunt-1934
Pantaloon In Black-1940

These were all short stories which were a prelude to the novel. These were not exactly like the book , but they are close enough.


message 12: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments Yeah, I seem to recall that "The Bear," in particular, often appears alone in anthologies as a long story or short novella. And to say that it stands alone well is an understatement.


message 13: by Felix (new)

Felix (felix_g_miller) | 58 comments There is a long passage within The Bear as published in the novel, mostly a discussion between Ike McCaslin and his cousin Edmonds. In response to a student's question at the University of Virginia, Faulkner said that when published separately, he would leave that passage out of the narrative.


message 14: by Michael (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) Dale wrote: "Yeah, I seem to recall that "The Bear," in particular, often appears alone in anthologies as a long story or short novella. And to say that it stands alone well is an understatement."

Yes, you are right, Dale. "The Bear" does appear in story anthologies as a coming-of-age story, set in the deep woods of old Mississippi. In the anthologies, the fourth section of the story as Faulkner wrote it for Go Down, Moses does not appear, however. This is the long "debate" between Isaac McCaslin and his elder cousin, McCaslin Edmonds, over the slave-holding and other inheritance coming to Isaac from the estate of his grandfather Carothers McCaslin.

The debate arises out of Isaac's look into a farm business log kept by two brothers -- a log which details, among other things, the idiosyncrasies of the brothers and the individual slaves with whom they dealt. These entries are full of humor, and it makes one wonder about the recent discovery that Faulkner was drawn to a similar business log kept by the family of one of his friends. (There is another thread about that log, in the "Salon" section, for those interested.)

SPOILERS

And there is no way to discuss the book without getting into spoilers, so stop right here and now if you are still reading it or will do so soon.


That debate, which explains at least part of Isaac's singular rejection of the inheritance, also segues into a history of the South from the slaveholding days, through Reconstruction, and up into the 1930s when Faulkner was probably writing most of this material. I find it tremendously powerful and maybe the richest part of the best story in this very rich novel. JMO.... : ) But, compared to some of the more famous novels, Go Down, Moses has more breadth, more humanity, and more humor. It is more ambitious in telling the story of that "little postage-stamp piece of earth" that was Faulkner's Oxford-area world than The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, or the others. Those are intense books, but also a little pitiless. This one is different; an exceedingly worthy and enjoyable book to read, I find, and probably the most fun of any of Faulkner's works while still exploring major themes.


message 15: by Michael (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) Much of that debate in "The Bear" is prefigured in the first story, "Was." The first lines introduce us to Isaac, aka Uncle Ike, as an old man though he is not directly involved in the action of this intricately plotted story at all.

I was reading it again on a plane last night, coming back from a trip down South, coincidentally. And it was amazing to see just how much WAS prefigured in this story. While Faulkner must have gone back to the original story and added this introduction onto it, it becomes clear reading "Was" that the complex genealogy of two families was already well set in Faulkner's mind. The reference to Tomey's Turl as "that damn white half-McCaslin" that Hubert Beauchamp doesn't want on his farm sets up the key fact that gets fleshed out in later stories -- that the old man, the progenitor of both families, Carothers McCaslin, freely miscegenated and thus created these two separate but inter-bred lines: his white family, and then his half-white family.

Hubert calls Tomey's Turl "white", which is interesting in itself, and saves the "half" part for the family connection -- Turl, or Terrel, is a half-McCaslin. An interesting statement of the priorities of social rank, perhaps. Terrel is, in fact, three-quarters white, we learn somewhere along the way -- another part of the old man's ugly legacy.

Other elements Faulkner introduces immediately: the woods; Ike's belief that there was no true property or ownership of land; and, as that first section of "Was" concludes, the evocation of time as it obsesses these characters (and their creator), detailing how Ike's "own father being near seventy when Isaac, an only child, was born, [making his cousin:] rather his brother than cousin and rather his father than either, out of the old time, the old days"

And then off we go into the comical quest for Tomey's Turl who has run off to Hubert Beauchamp's farm to be with his sweetheart, Tennie. It is written like a foxhunt, in which they hope to "bay" Turl before he fords the creek onto Hubert's farm and can "den." But this hunt, in its comic and maybe, to readers, a few grotesque qualities, sets us up for the serious hunt that is told later in "The Bear."

They use a "fyce" to pursue Turl -- a feist (as in feisty), that is, a small, yapping dog that hunts with total disregard of its own safety. Even the language with which this story is told prefigures scenes from "The Bear." We are told of Uncle Buck making the mistake of standing outside the door of Tennie's cabin, from which Turl explodes as he tries again to avoid capture, when the fyce "gave a shriek and whirled and Tomey's Turl was right behind it" and runs "clean over" Uncle Buck. Something about it made me think of Ike's first sighting of old Ben, the bear, later on, and how Ben, too, dispenses with a mere fyce and runs over all obstacles attempting to catch, harness, or shoot him.

But is part of Faulkner's craft that this vivid hunt is a mere dodge for yet another hunt -- that of Hubert's sister Sophonsiba to capture Buck and get married. So, even while Turl is eluding all his would-be captors, he is loitering around the main house at times and talking freely with young Cass, a pursuer. And he delivers one of those quintessential lines of Faulkner's country wisdom: "I gonter tell you something to remember: anytime you wants to git something done, from hoeing out a crop to getting married, just get the womenfolks to working at it. Then all you needs to do is set down and wait. You member that."


message 16: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments Michael: Great, and enlightening, stuff. Until I get further in the book I've only got one trivia fact to add to the discussion. I had the good fortune to tour Faulkner's home/museum several years ago and the guide told us a fact I'd never heard before. Faulkner was not generally liked by his fellow Oxford, MS residents because (a) he had no "regular" job, (b) was not fond of manual labor, and (c) often wore a suit into town on errands. His detractors' nickname for him was "Count No-Account."


message 17: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments "Just get the womenfolks to working on it." What a line. Reminds me of the "womenfolks," particularly the bedridden grandmother, in the great film version of Wharton's "Age of Innocence."


message 18: by Carol (new)

Carol | 7206 comments That is what we wimmenfolk do well, Making sure the menfolk just get on with it and stop wasting time.

Dale I did not know that about Faulkner, I will have parley that trivia to a friend who is not fond of Faulkner. He will love it.


message 19: by Felix (new)

Felix (felix_g_miller) | 58 comments The long dialogue between Isaac McCaslin and his cousin Edmonds also involves a reading by Ike of ledgers kept by his father and uncle regarding the slaves they owned. Much of the relationship between the McCaslins and their slaves is revealed through this scanning of the ledgers.

Recently a story in the New York Times reported on the discovery of similar ledgers kept by a Mississippi family one of whose descendants was a friend of Faulkner's. Faulkner often visited the plantations and made "copious notes" of the entries. Interesting insight on Faulkner's use of historical sources.

NYT link


message 20: by Carol (new)

Carol | 7206 comments Sally Wolff King is the scholar at Emory University ,it would be interesting if she could join us. Felix thanks for the link.


message 21: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments One more trivia fact, validated by many interviews. Faulkner worked briefly as a clerk at the main Oxford, MS post office. When asked why he quit the job voluntarily, he replied, "I just could not stand being beholden to every son of a bitch in the state of Mississippi who had a nickel for a goddamn stamp."


message 22: by Michael (last edited Apr 04, 2010 06:50AM) (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) A quick check on The Unvanquished shows it consisted of seven stories, most published separately prior to the novel coming out in 1938. I remember really liking that one when I read it many years ago -- about the Sartoris family, set during the Civil War. I don't know how much they were rewritten for the novel, but somehow I am thinking not much.

Also, Dale, the first book of the Snopes trilogy,The Hamlet, originated with several short stories that Faulkner wrote over several years and only then got the novel written. He told this to Malcolm Cowley when Cowley was putting together the exceptional The Portable Faulkner, still a great introduction to his work for anyone who has struggled with Faulkner or never read any of the books. A famous Snopes story that appears in The Hamlet is "Spotted Horses," but the version in the novel is three times as long as the version that appeared in one of the magazines years before. So rewriting and re-formulating the material seems to have been one part of Faulkner's approach to getting a complete novelistic conception down on paper.

Faulkner said once that he felt every story had its own best way of being told, and that a big part of his job as a writer was figuring out what that was, for the particular story that was brewing in his imagination. He was discussing his supposedly "experimental" techniques; and he said he didn't understand how a writer could tell different stories in exactly the same way each time -- same format, same narration, etc. I think he mentioned Hemingway as an example of that (and may even have apologized to Hemingway years later; my memory very uncertain on that last detail).


Dale wrote: "Michael: I was intrigued to discover in your note that GO DOWN is composed of rewritten, previously published stories. Do you know if this book is the only time Faulkner used that technique to make..."


message 23: by Michael (last edited Apr 04, 2010 07:41AM) (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) Denise wrote: "I've got a ways to go yet; I just started "The Bear." So far I'm enjoying it."

It's my own favorite, Denise, and it read better to me this time around than ever. And, to Sharon, I agree that Lucas is a fascinating character -- the focal point of "The Fire and the Hearth," just to keep our bearings here. That's also the story with the devastating scene of Roth Edmonds, devoted playmate of Lucas's son Henry, "discovering" their racial difference despite being essentially foster-brothers who slept in the same pallet bed together and were both raised by Lucas's wife Molly. At age 7, "the old curse of his fathers, the old haughty ancestral pride... stemmed not from courage and honor, but from wrong and shame, descended to him" and Roth betrays Henry's friendship.

A killer of a scene, for me.


message 24: by Michael (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) Felix, what role do you think the real-life ledgers played in those entries Faulkner put into that section of "The Bear"?

Felix wrote: "The long dialogue between Isaac McCaslin and his cousin Edmonds also involves a reading by Ike of ledgers kept by his father and uncle regarding the slaves they owned. Much of the relationship betw... ... discovery of similar ledgers kept by a Mississippi family one of whose descendants was a friend of Faulkner's. Faulkner often visited the plantations and made "copious notes" of the entries. Interesting insight on Faulkner's use of historical sources."


message 25: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments Michael: I've got the Portable Faulkner and it's indeed a masterpiece of editing. Great to dip into, now and then.

One quick aside...my favorite Faulkner short story is not very well-known. The title is "Two Soldiers," and I think the Saturday Evening Post published it during World War II. As I recall, it's very "conventional"--in the sense of language, i.e. one would not recognize the style as Faulkner's--but it consistently breaks my heart. I highly recommend it, particularly to new readers of Faulkner.


message 26: by Felix (new)

Felix (felix_g_miller) | 58 comments As far as the ledgers in the Times article, not a lot of detail is given as to their content, apart from the names of the slaves, many of which Faulkner used in his fictional world - Caruthers, Toney, Isaac and others. I was struck by Faulkner's use of the ledgers in Go Down, Moses to provide Isaac a window into his grandfather's life and the miscegenation and incest with his slaves, along with Buck and Buddy's concern with that history.

You remarked above, Michael, on the double incest that resulted in Tomey's Turl being three-quarters McCaslin. That fact, and the suicide of one of the slave women involved, had a profound effect on the brothers, and on Isaac, once he figured out from the ledgers what had happened.

I liked your comments on the power and breadth of Faulkner's writing in Isaac's summary of Southern history from early settlers through the Civil War and on into the 1930s. I agree with you that Go Down, Moses deals more completely than the more famous books with the whole range of Faulkner's core concerns - the 'original sins' of destructive ownership of land and human beings. From the Chickasaw chiefs through the McCaslins, Sutpen and right on to the Snopeses, Faulkner's South is portrayed as betrayed and ravaged.

This is a wonderful choice for a book discussion, especially for Southerners like me.


message 27: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments Felix, as in Felix Miller? Have mercy. Great to reconnect with you here after all these years!


message 28: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments Felix, as in Felix Miller? Have mercy. Great to reconnect with you here after all these years!


message 29: by Carol (new)

Carol | 7206 comments It's nice to see old friends reconnect in the unlikeliest places.


message 30: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments I've actually got video here, somewhere, of Constant Readers (including Felix and Thom, I'm pretty sure) walking through New Orleans at that year's convention. I figure it's about two layers of video sediment farther down from what I discovered this week.


message 31: by Carol (new)

Carol | 7206 comments Hopefully you two can connect in person also.

So far this discussion has enlightened me. I know I like Faulkner's work, but I did not know much about the man. I find his writing appealing ,as I do most southern writers. I like how he sits you down and talks to you, as well as telling you a story.


message 32: by Felix (new)

Felix (felix_g_miller) | 58 comments Hello, Dale, long time since I/we have been in touch. Glad to see you here.

Video of me would be even more rare, and I miss Thom. Enjoying this discussion of Faulkner.


message 33: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7912 comments This took me longer to read than I thought it would, because I kept re-reading huge chunks. I was determined to keep track of things (and without the family tree, I would have been unable to do that). When I was reading, it felt like I was on a fast horse (and I don't ride horses). I had to hold on tight and concentrate with all my mind. If I got off the horse, I had a hard time catching the damn thing again. But I loved it. It gave my mind a workout, and it gave my heart a few tugs. So much rich imagery. So much lost. I grew up in the South (but not that south) and so much of the story resonated with me.


message 34: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments Sherry: My hat is off to you, for riding that fast horse and keeping track of what was happening. Myself, I have probably the least analytical mind a person can have and still be able to walk around and buy groceries and stuff. The only way I can ever read Faulkner is to just let the sounds of it wash over me, like hearing people "speaking in tongues" at a Pentecostal revival, and glean what few nuggets of meaning I can. Still, it's beautiful writing.


message 35: by Mary Anne (new)

Mary Anne | 1545 comments Well, I have finished, but I'm not sure I am capable of discussing this book. I found it to be very densely written, or perhaps this reader is the dense one. But often, I would put the book down, and not really know what I had just read, feeling that my reading comprehension was amiss. That being the case, I do appreciate all of the instructive posts here about geneology and ownership issues.
With regard to the chapters, I am thinking of a set of transparencies, each with a certain piece of the final picture. The individual transparancy, taken alone, reflects a small amount of the big picture. But when all of the transparencies are layered together, the overall picture comes into view.
This is how Go Down, Moses comes into view for me. Reading something in a later chapter makes an impression left in an earlier chapter have meaning. I do feel the need to re-read large portions of the book, but I'm daunted by the prospect right now.


message 36: by Carol (new)

Carol | 7206 comments Dale that is exactly how I feel when reading Faulkner. I just let the words flow around me. It is like floating in a water of words and the sun bathing me in dappled light.


message 37: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments Beautifully said, Carol.

I am *so* logic-impaired, in fact, that even when I read my most favorite mystery novelist, Scott Turow, and at the end of a court case I come to a section of dialogue that says (e.g.), "Tell me, Frances. How did you figure out, all those years ago, that so-and-so might have been lying about so-and-so?" And Frances says, "Well, there were only three people in the house the night of the murder, and each one of them could only have had two motivations, based on what Cecil told me the day before about what Emily had said..."

At that point, I could read the following few pages five times, 10 times, 20 times, could draw charts and diagrams, and I still would not have a clue as to what they were talking about. When I reach "that" part of a mystery, I skip ahead to the next chapter and start anew with the personality profiles and human interaction and trust the author on what has gone before.

The love of my life, Jo Lynn, on the other hand, has an amazingly analytical mind, and can instantly sift through a train-load of bull manure (including my own arguments, unfortunately) and point out the three exact contradictions therein. If JL ever got tired of being a medical magazine editor, I believe she could moonlight as a detective. Kind of scary.


message 38: by Mike (new)

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments I just finished last night. I gave it four stars. I almost gave it five but I'm pretty stingy with the fives. I enjoyed the layered stories and was impressed by the scope and ambition of the novel - the mythology and records of single family as a microcosm for something much greater. The language and structure forced me to remain actively engaged while reading as well.

As I read, I found myself thinking of One Hundred Years of Solitude - large family, fictional town, repeated names, mythologizing narrative, engagement with social issues, etc. Faulkner's influence on Garcia Marquez is clear to me.

Although there is a lot to talk about, I think I'll let my thoughts settle a little before I try to comment on anything more specific.


message 39: by Carol (new)

Carol | 7206 comments That book never crossed my mind. Comparing Solitude with Moses. Nope can't see it in my mind. Maybe it is the latitude throwing me off. I'm like Dale, not very analytical. So you will have to guide me in detail Caeliban.


message 40: by Michael (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) That is a terrific metaphor for the experience, Sherry -- and I'm glad to read you liked the book. Glad to read you liked it, period, but also after it sounded like it was frustrating you in one of those other comments in the other thread.

Both you and Felix commented on how being southerners made this book more powerful to you. How do you think that is, exactly?


Sherry wrote: "This took me longer to read than I thought it would, because I kept re-reading huge chunks. I was determined to keep track of things (and without the family tree, I would have been unable to do that). When I was reading, it felt like I was on a fast horse (and I don't ride horses). I had to hold on tight and concentrate with all my mind. If I got off the horse, I had a hard time catching the damn thing again. But I loved it. It gave my mind a workout, and it gave my heart a few tugs. So much rich imagery. So much lost. I grew up in the South (but not that south) and so much of the story resonated with me...."


message 41: by Michael (last edited Apr 06, 2010 10:56AM) (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) MAP wrote: "... With regard to the chapters, I am thinking of a set of transparencies, each with a certain piece of the final picture. The individual transparancy, taken alone, reflects a small amount of the big picture. But when all of the transparencies are layered together, the overall picture comes into view...."

That analogy seems quite apt to me, also, MAP. Faulkner takes his own sweet time letting you see the relationships clearly. Maybe it's a touch of that post office attitude of his -- can't be beholden to every sonofabitch with two cents for a stamp -- or maybe he wants the work to reveal itself deliberately over time, and only when he chooses. Or maybe it was just how he saw things himself -- especially if he already had all those biographies in his head.

That genealogy is complex, yet it does seems to have been in full existence in his imagination before any of these stories were written. I don't know which story came first in the writing (guess I could look it up), but that is a pretty complicated genealogy to be working out through one story, then another, then another. And revealing only what had to be said at any one time. Of course, it's possible that he made some changes along the way later on, to "correct" earlier versions; that I don't know. The extent to which the characters may have been inspired by real people, too, I know nothing about.

But what he asks of us as readers -- and sometimes it's a lot -- always seems to enliven the experience and the material, in the end. This is no Finnegan's Wake.


message 42: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7912 comments Michael, you asked how being a southerner made the book more powerful to me. I grew up in the 50s and 60s. I remember Jim Crow laws and segregation and the lack of opportunity for black families. The only jobs open to them were as farm laborers, and those paid nothing. They were looked down on as dirty and sullen by the whites. Who wouldn't be sullen if you had to feed a family on 40 cents an hour wages? (I remember, because that's what I made as a tobacco worker, and the blacks got the same wage---but I was a child!)

In GDM Faulkner showed how the two strains of the same family diverged. How the blacks were treated as slaves, even though they weren't slaves anymore. How the land itself suffered because of this evil.... an evil that generations couldn't seem to escape from.

I admired how Faulkner took on such huge themes. The black vs white theme seems to be just a framework for larger themes, so large, I have a hard time even naming what they are. The way man IS on the earth.


message 43: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments MAP: "A set of transparencies, each with a certain piece of the picture." That blows me away, and is the best description of Faulkner's writing I've ever heard.


message 44: by Dale (new)

Dale Short (Daleinala) | 626 comments Sherry: You mention that Faulkner took on "huge themes." I vaguely remember a literary magazine interview once, with either Hemingway, or Fitzgerald, or both, or maybe even with a few other authors, and they were all asked to choose the greatest author of their own generation. I believe that it was either Fitzgerald or Hemingway who said, "It depends upon whether you judge an author by what they attempt, or what they achieve. If you judge by what they attempt, Faulkner is leagues ahead of all of us, and always will be."


message 45: by Mary Anne (last edited Apr 06, 2010 06:14PM) (new)

Mary Anne | 1545 comments Dale: I blush.

A couple of weeks ago, I heard Audrey Niffenegger speak (The Time Traveler's Wife), and she said something that I have been trying to take to heart, and that is that writing should be 50% the writer and 50% the reader, and that when she writes a gap into her stories, she expects the reader to use his/her imagination about what happens during that gap.

Now maybe that kind of reading comes more naturally to some than others, but it is something I have to work at. And Faulkner strikes me as an author who is expecting that 50% effort from his readers. He doesn't just lay it out in a linear fashion, but takes us on this journey, during which we are constantly asking ourselves whether what just happened...or else throwing the book against the wall in frustration. Believe me, I know smart people who feel that way about Faulkner.

One example from the book that frustrated me was in The Bear. We don't actually learn from that chapter that Sam Fathers has died. Oh yes, we can infer it, from the fact that he has gone into shock, that Isaac wants to stay back and be with Sam, and from the fact that they put two in the same grave. But those two might have also been the bear and the dog. Faulkner finally tells us explicitly about Sam's death in a later chapter. And the point is that we do learn this, and other things, in due time, or when Faulkner wants to tell us.


message 46: by Gail (last edited Apr 07, 2010 07:03PM) (new)

Gail | 295 comments One of the many things that struck me while reading this book was the, in my opinion, similarity between Hemingway and Faulkner. I know their styles are almost completely divergent: Hemingway with his short sentences and spare use of adjectives contrasting with Faulkner's extremely complex prose, including vast stretches of text without periods. However, in the section "The Bear", it seems to me that at least one concept Faulkner is considering is what it means to be a man and what is an appropriate or desirable relationship between man and nature. I think that he and Hemingway express similar ideas using hunting, being independent and brave, and respecting nature (animals particularly) even when you are seeking to subdue them. These seem to be an important measure of a man for both authors. One stylistic similarity between the two authors is the use of repetition to emphasize their points. Did anyone else see this?

edited for clarity


message 47: by Michael (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) Sherry wrote: "...I admired how Faulkner took on such huge themes. The black vs white theme seems to be just a framework for larger themes, so large, I have a hard time even naming what they are. The way man IS on the earth."

He did write about things that mattered. I wonder if that comes through to readers today, who may know him from the reputation as a regional kind of writer, and difficult. He put it best in that famous Nobel Prize speech in 1950, the best speech no one heard:

"Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.

"He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labors under a curse. He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands."

http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/li...

[That link has an audio of the speech, although it didn't come through for me. Below is a Youtube link with the speech, live, but one warning -- the last few seconds are cut off for some reason.:]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxM0C7...


message 48: by Michael (new)

Michael Canoeist (MichaelCanoeist) Sherry wrote: "...In GDM Faulkner showed how the two strains of the same family diverged. How the blacks were treated as slaves, even though they weren't slaves anymore. How the land itself suffered because of this evil.... an evil that generations couldn't seem to escape from..."

Yes; and yet, one thing the book showed me is how close the races were, despite the huge divide of slavery or, later, of slavery's legacy. We get a glimpse of this even before the novel starts, from his dedication.

Certainly this aspect of closeness is a big part of "The Fire and the Hearth" (words which recur in several of the stories). How the young Roth Edmonds regrets asserting his social superiority to his pal Henry Beauchamp; how he tries to patch over the difference, even though it can never be patched up. How closely they grew up, together.

Also in how Isaac is mentored by Sam Fathers, partly black (and partly Indian). The racial destinies, and unfortunately they were destinies, seem to disappear in the woods, at least. There is a kind of freedom in there that doesn't exist back in society. Sam is a talented woodsman, and his prowess is respected in the woods. That must be part of why he asks to be left alone to go live in the woods, eventually. Isaac learns it, too, and one consequence is that he can never take the notion of private property seriously again.

I was in Charlotte last week, and I was reading Sorting Out the New South City: Race, Class, and Urban Development in Charlotte, 1875-1975. Part of the early history sounded like it probably applied to Oxford, aka Jefferson. And one of the points made is how closely the races lived in the second half of the 1800s and into the 1920s. "In the 1870s there was very little pattern at all to residential location. Business owners and hired hands, manual laborers and white-collared clerks, and black people and white people all lived side by side. ... On any block the finest house might adjoin the most modest cottage." This was also found to be the case in Charleston, S.C., and in Nashville, author Hanchett mentions.

Certainly, Sherry, when blacks moved north in the great migration, they could earn a lot more money in the factories than they made picking tobacco (or cotton). Yet it was instant segregation in the north. Only in the south, it appears, was there that amazing closeness between the races, despite slavery. This comes through in Faulkner and it makes for those painfully touching moments of almost-equality across the still-unbridgeable gulf. As we see in "Delta Autumn," although it appears finally to be breaking down despite Uncle Ike's condemnation.


message 49: by Sherry, Doyenne (new)

Sherry | 7912 comments I have a rather prosaic question, coming on the heels of all this larger important stuff. I read The Bear very carefully, and it was slow going in parts, but I think I pretty much got it. But I don't understand the very last scene where Boon seems to be pounding his gun to pieces and telling Isaac (or somebody, I forget who) to leave all the squirrels in the big tree alone ... they're his. Why is Boon hammering on his gun? Has he gone crazy? What do you make of that last scene, and most of all, why is it the last scene?


message 50: by Mike (new)

Mike Staten (Caeliban) | 422 comments Sherry, I have some difficulty understanding that scene as well.

One idea that I have is that the scene is analagous to the Fall. The giant Gum Tree is reminiscient of the tree of knowledge. Isaac has an encounter with a snake in the previous paragraph. Isaac's reading of the ledgers and conversation with his cousin/brother/father McCaslin is a lose of innocence. The deaths of the Bear, the dog, and Sam represent a lose of innocence for both Sam and Boon I think. The forest is beginning to be exploited by loggers. The Bear feels to me like a story that signals the end of an epoch.

I'm also entertained by the idea that Boon, the guy that could never hit anything when he shot his gun, now resorts to hitting things with the gun itself instead of firing it.


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