Epic Tears: The Dislocation of Meaning in Faulkner's "The Bear".
[H]e wept tears of blood that fell to the ground, for the sake of his beloved son, whom now Patroklos was presently to kill, by generous Troy and far from the land of his fathers. (ll. 459-61)
A haunting symbol of grief, Zeus's tears of blood offer a dramatic illustration of the unbridgeable divide between the mortal world and the transcendent realm of the Olympian gods. The meaning of the tears' falling to the ground and presumably entering the experiential world of the battle as rain remains forever illegible to the world into which they have crossed. No matter how fraught with pity, sorrow, or love, they possess no material analog, no worldly embodiment to convey their symbolic essence. In his perception of transcendent symbols within his narrow mortality, Isaac McCaslin stands on the opposite side of this boundary but suffers from the same unbridgeable divide. A mortal who gazes briefly and tenuously into a symbolic world, Ike yearns to cross into that space, yet remains unable to escape his own material limitations. Instead, his efforts at bridging this dislocation swerve into parody, much in the way that Uncle Hubert's coffee-pot functions as a failed metaphor of Keats's urn and its transcendent significance. Interpretations of Faulkner's story from Go Down, Moses have repeatedly explored the difficulty of reconciling the narrative's symbolic undercurrent to the individual experiences of its characters. Critics have flamed this dichotomy through a diverse array of contrasts: myth vs. history, bear vs. man, woods vs. commissary, genealogy vs. sex, inviolate vs. tainted. (1) This essay investigates the rhetorical underpinnings of such dislocations, first by noting Faulkner's debt to epic and romance topoi, then by examining the way these elements function in the tale to separate its narrative action from the figures that attempt to ascribe meaning to it. As much an epic narrator as a hero, Ike seeks out a metaphorical space where the timeless and unchanging may touch the uncertain flux of time-bound experience. His inability to reconcile the affirmative images of bear, woods, Lion, and Sam Fathers with the corruption of his industrial present and his familial past represents not simply a personal failure (2) but the larger conditions of symbol and figurative language germane to epic narrative.
Faulkner's familiarity with epic and romance has been the subject of some modest investigation. (3) Harley in particular has singled out Sir Gawain and the Green Knightas an epic/romance touchstone for "The Bear." (4) The motifs of the supernatural woodland setting, the quest narrative, the test of courage, and the threat of corruption personified in feminine figures all serve as common reference points linking each narrative (Harley, "Faulkner's Medievalism," 111). Even more significant, however, is the way in which the works explore the divide between narration and figuration, between the literal action and its heroic metaphors. Both Gawain and "The Bear" explore how figures of heroism and moral rectitude may issue from corrupt, anti-heroic origins. At the conclusion of the medieval poem, for example, Sir Gawain embraces the realization that the girdle he receives from the Green Knight represents not a symbol of chivalry and honor, but one of moral error. This object, a belt first given to him by his host's wife, represents a symbol of earthly temptation that Gawain should renounce, but instead keeps. (5) Taking the girdle as a charm against the certain death that he fears awaits him in his encounter with the Green Knight, Gawain demonstrates cowardice antithetical to both chivalric heroism and Christian virtue. The token's allusion to sexual license--his possession of a married woman's garmentunderscores this shame, even though the knight refrains from any sexual fault. Against the Green Knight's own laudatory offer of the girdle as a gift, Gawain receives the object only with shame:
'Bot your gordel,' quoth Gwayn, '----God yow foryelde!-That wyl I welde with guod wylle, not for the wyrme golde, Ne the saynt, ne the sylk, ne the side pendaundes, For wele ne for worchyp, ne for the wlonk werkkes; Bot in syngne of my surfet I schal se hit ofte, When I ride in renoun remorde to myselven The faut and the fayntyse of the flesche crabbed, How tender hit is to entyse teches of fylthe. And thus, when pryde schal me pryk for prowes of armes, The loke to this luf-lace shcal lethe my hert.' (Sir Gawain, 1970, 134) ['But your girdle,' said Gawain, 'God requite you for it! Not for the glorious gold shall I gladly wear it, Nor for the stuff nor the silk nor the swaying pendants, Nor for its worth, fine workmanship or wonderful honour; But as a sign of my sin I shall see it often, Remembering with remorse, when I am mounted in glory, The fault and faintheartedness of the perverse flesh, How it tends to attract tarnishing sin. So when pride shall prick me for my prowess in arms, One look at this love-lace will make lowly my heart.'] (Sir Gawain, 1974, 111-12)
Extraordinary in Gawain's self-condemnation is its unswerving finality, its preemptive rejection of both social praise and individual pride. Rather than read the girdle as a heroic symbol of his overall journey and survival of the Green Knight's axe, Gawain is determined to remember only its specific origins in his sin and cowardice, "[r]emembering with remorse, when I am mounted in glory, / The fault and faintheartedness of the perverse flesh." This literal focus on the girdle's meaning operates in tension with the views of the Green Knight, who regards Gawain as "absolved of [his] sin and ... stainless" (Sir Gawain, 1974, 110) and with King Arthur and the court as well, who are similarly forgiving of the knight's imperfections. While Gawain offers the girdle as a badge of "sin" and "debasement" upon his return to Camelot, Arthur and the court adopt the object as a badge of honor:
'Lo! Lorde,' quoth the leude, and the lace hondeled, 'This is the bende of this blame I bere in my nek. This is the lithe and the losse that I light have Of couardise and covetyse, that I haf caght thare; This is the token of untrawthe that I am tan inne. And I mot nodes hit were wyle I may last; For mon may hyden his harme bot unhap ne may hit, For ther hit ones is tachched twynne wil hit never.' The kyng comfortes the knight, and alle the court als Laghen loude therat and luflyly acorden That lordes and ladis that longed to the Table, Uche burne of the brotherhede, a bauderyk shulde have, A bende abelef hym aboute, of a bright grene, And that, for sake of that segge, in suete to were. For that was accorded the renoun of the Rounde Table And he honoured that hit hade, evermore after. (Sir Gawain, 1970, 138) ['Look, my lord' said Gawain, the lace in his hand. 'This belt confirms the blame I bear on my neck, My bane and debasement, the burden I bear For being caught by cowardice and covetousness. This is the figure of the faithlessness found in me, Which I must needs wear while I live. For man can conceal sin but not dissever from it, So when it is once fixed, it will never be worked loose.' First the King, then all the court, comforted the knight, And all the lords and ladies belonging to the Table Laughed at it loudly, and concluded amiably That each brave man of the brotherhood should bear a baldric A band, obliquely about him, of bright green, Of the same hue as Sir Gawain's and for his sake wear it. So it ranked as renown to the Round Table, And an everlasting honour to him who had it.] (Sir Gawain, 1974, 114-15)
The story's conclusion thus highlights a disjunction between the figurative status of the girdle as heroic and noble against its literal origins in Gawain's moral weakness. We can locate a further disparity between the generic and stylistic features implicit in each side's version of the knight's trial. Gawain's account of the girdle is grounded in the characteristics of moral fable or Christian homily, while Arthur and his knights regard the story more from a perspective of chivalric romance or courtly entertainment. After listening to Gawain's ashamed account of his faulty behavior, Arthur and the court "[laugh] at it loudly and [conclude] amiably / That each brave man of the brotherhood should bear a baldric" in the likeness of the girdle. The object thus acquires its symbolic character only to the extent to which it can erase the shame of Gawain's moral conscience, a condition which the knight continues to feel even after his story's end has been rewritten by the court as a victorious triumph.
At the poem's conclusion only Gawain is unhappy and unsatisfied. Having followed the complex and often contradictory codes of chivalry with predictably imperfect results, Gawain is left with no medium through which to reconcile his idealized reputation with the immoral conduct by which it was attained. Thus he stands in remarkable similarity to Ike, who also stands amid paradoxical codes of honor that he can neither fully embrace nor escape. In striking congruence with Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, "The Bear" exposes a profound divide between the figurative mystique of the hunt and its pedestrian, sometimes corrupted rituals. Repeatedly doubling back upon itself throughout its five sections, Faulkner's narrative continually critiques and reinterprets its idealized vision of the quest, the questing personae, and their objective.
Susanne Wofford's study of epic shows how the heroic mode recurrently produces discontinuities between narrated action and the rhetorical figures that attempt to give it meaning. She argues that such discontinuities reveal that "epic action cannot embody the meaning attributed to it by the narrator through figuration, or that the interpretations of an epic narrator or his Muse are not immanent in the action but represented as something 'other'" (25). Homer's description of the death of Sarpedon in The Iliad exemplifies this argument, juxtaposing through simile the warrior's horrifying death with the affirmative image of a felled tree:
[Sarpedon] fell, as when an oak goes down or a white poplar, or like a towering pine tree which in the mountains the carpenters have hewn down with their whetted axes to make a ship timber. So he lay there felled in front of his horses and chariots Roaring, and clawed with his hands at the bloody dust (XVI, 11. 482-86, emphasis mine)
The startling quality of this simile derives from the way it links the violence of the event with an image of civilization, literal destruction with figurative creation. Sarpedon falls not just like a tree but like many trees, in an episode of creative affirmation where trees are not destroyed but transformed into a precious commodity of daily life in some distant, other world where death and war seem not to exist (Wofford 54). Homer's figure links these pleasant images to the warrior's untimely death, yet given their place "outside" the experience of the narrative action, they are images that neither Sarpedon nor any of the other characters in The Iliad can comprehend. Such a gulf reveals the tragic pathos that typifies both the classical epic and Faulkner's narrative--that however meaningful actions can be made by literary figuration, such meanings remain incomprehensible, unreachable, or unsustainable to the characters involved in them.
McCaslin suggests this conclusion when he compares Old Ben to Keats's "unravished bride of quietness"--that the heart's truth, for all of its enduring power and value, takes place somewhere outside the boundaries of real space and time. Experienced by Ike as an "interminable minute," Old Ben's death confirms this outside experience as well, in a scene of vivid sensation and formal beauty:
It [Boon's knife] fell just once. For an instant they almost resembled a piece of statuary: the clinging dog, the bear, the man stride its back, working and -probing the buried blade.... [Boon] had never released the knife and again the boy saw the almost infinitesimal movement of his arm and shoulder as he probed and sought.... [The bear] didn't collapse, crumple. It fell all of a piece, as a tree falls, so that all three of them, man dog and bear, seemed to bounce once. (231, emphasis mine) (6)
In this "other" space of slowed, almost stopped time, Faulkner produces the same gulf between literal action and figurative meaning as that seen in the Sarpedon passage. (7) Through a metaphor that makes the violent destruction of the bear somehow tenuously beautiful, the passage reinforces how such beauty can take place only at a distance from the brutality of the action and the individuals who must endure it. In addition to the Homeric quality of his fall, Old Ben very specifically stands in the place of "old Priam reft of his old wife and [who] outlived all his sons" (GDM 186). Like Zeus a figure of paternal grief, Priam himself fails to the blade of Pyrrhus in Virgil's Aeneid, a moment reinvoked to powerful effect in Shakespeare's Hamlet. (8)
In his critique of romantic heroism in "The Bear," then, Faulkner does not so much undermine epic conventions as reinvoke their inherent contradictions. Although the story's eulogistic moments obviously evoke an epic grandeur, Faulkner's ironic undercutting of such moments serves only to augment the work's pathos. Even the structure of the tale, as compared with the pair of short stories entitled "The Bear" and "Lion" that Faulkner produced for the Saturday Evening Post, echoes this thematic critique. (9) In contrast to these individuated narratives whose conclusions operate within fixed, and relatively direct, time frames, Faulkner develops a far more complex plot and timeline, altering crucial details that undercut any simple, interpretive closure (having McCaslin instead of his father quote Keats's "Ode," for example). Juxtaposing a romantic fantasy of the Big Woods with a retrospective critique of such mythology, Faulkner exposes the breach between the mystique of the hunt and the commonplace details of place, time, action, and character that repeatedly cancel out and undermine it.
Central to this sense of dislocation is a staging in section four of the antithesis between figurative and literal interpretation--specifically of the Bible. Ike and his cousin McCaslin serve as respective advocates for the figurative and the literal, and their dialogical impasse represents in dramatic form the unresolved relationship between these competing systems. Defending his method of Biblical interpretation against McCaslin's skeptical literalism, Ike asserts that
"There are some things He said in the Book, and some things reported of Him that He did not say. 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.... [T]he men who wrote His Book for Him were writing about truth and there is only one truth and it covers all things that touch the heart.'
'So these men who transcribed His Book for Him were sometimes liars.' and he 'Yes' (249)
Ike concedes McCaslin's point only in the sense that any earthly transcription of truth necessarily becomes imperfect. Nevertheless, their viewpoints are ultimately incompatible and unyielding: figurative truth is a literal lie and literal truth is a figurative lie. As leverage for his defense of figurative interpretation, Ike posits "the heart" as the final arbiter of truth, itself a universalizing metaphor that attempts to erase subjective constructions of value and moral conscience.
As each character turns exclusively to his own strategy of representation, Ike and McCaslin emphasize the disjunctive relationship between narrative action and its figurative "meaning." Ike's explicit erasure of literal interpretation, for example, underlies his misrecognition of McCaslin's exasperated cries to Fonsiba's future husband. Ike recalls a similarity between McCaslin's curt pronouncements toward the strong-willed black man and God's final pronouncement over an unjust Southern culture:
Until one day He said what you told Fonsiba's husband that afternoon here in this room: This will do. This is enough: not in exasperation or rage or even just sick to death as you were sick that day: just This is enough and looked about for one last time, for one time more since He had created them, upon this land this South. (271)
Identifying McCaslin's words with those of God, Ike's contention is conspicuously incorrect. What McCaslin literally speaks to Fonsiba's husband are the phrases "That will do!" and "That's enough":
'--I inform you, notify you in advance as chief of her family. No man of honor could do less. Beside, you have, in your way, according to your lights and upbringing--'
'That's enough, I said,' McCaslin said. 'Be off this place by full dark. Go.' (263-64)
Ike acknowledges that what McCaslin speaks in outrage, God speaks with a kind of reverent finality. Still, he elides the important distinctions between the "this" and "that" spoken in each interchange. In their respective contexts one implies connection and intimacy, the other disconnection and otherness--implicitly, God's responsibility for the errors of his mortal creation vs. McCaslin's rejection of the husband's attempt to face him as an equal. In truth, it is the husband himself, speaking about his strong, prideful words to McCaslin who says, "But no matter. You are right. This is enough" (264). Ironically, and quite explicitly, the words of Fonsiba's husband evoke God's reconciliation to error and loss. Doubtless Ike relies upon the "heart" for his interpretation of God's word, against which there exists no reliable mortal gainsaying. Yet it is noteworthy how this reliance upon the heart's truth draws him into a fantasy of McCaslin's speech, even as he pretends to engage in direct quotation. (10)
Turning to similar contrasts between narration and figuration in "The Bear," we find that the antithetical poetics of transcendental myth and local chronicle merely synthesize the story's pervasive contradictions. At its beginning, for example, Faulkner opens with a highly dramatic and detailed description of the hunters' camp, concluding with an amplified description of the ritualistic role of alcohol:
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. Thus it seemed to him on this December morning not only natural but actually fitting that this should have begun with whisky. (184)
This virtuoso passage possesses the full weight of an epic tableau, and its tangle of figures evokes the qualities that will characterize the romance of the hunt throughout the tale: power, intelligence, freedom, Christian humility, and natural force. Among its collection of tropes are metonymy ("a bottle"), metaphor ("the fine fierce instants of heart and brain"), paraphrasis ("that brown liquor"), and personification] synechdoche ("some condensation of that wild immortal spirit"). Faulkner's Latinate suspension of the literal term "whisky" until the end of the paragraph positions it ironically in a reduced, almost eclipsed manner against the intensity of the preceding rhetorical display. By refusing to point referentially to the material object of whiskey until the last word, Faulkner opens up a space of deferral in which to situate the mystical properties of drinking.
The narrative subjects this mystification to explicitly material critique, however, when Ike and Boon journey to Memphis to secure more of the liquor. In the course of this curious narrative break from the hunt, Ike is pulled away from the hermetic and seemingly self-sustaining atmosphere of the woodland camp. As a consequence, the whiskey which earlier seemed to the boy a distillation of masculine spirit now appears as a starkly material commodity: "Because of ... unforeseen additional days which they had had to pass waiting on the weather, with nothing to do but play poker, the whisky had given out and he and Boon were being sent to Memphis with a suitcase and a note from Major de Spain to Mr. Semmes, the distiller, to get more" (217). Instead of associating the brown liquor with the labor and abilities of the hunting community, Faulkner here reveals that whiskey-drinking serves primarily as a diversion in a period of idleness from the hunt. The literal images that function in this passage all point away from the mystique of camp life: Memphis, Mr. Semmes, the suitcase, even the note, which functions as a rare instance of writing in the woodland setting. Once Boon and Ike arrive in Memphis, they discover the alienating effects of the whiskey's origins:
But in Memphis it was not all right. It was as if the high buildings and the hard pavements, the fine carriages and the horse cars and the men in starched collars and neckties made their boots and khaki look a little rougher and a little muddier and made Boon's beard look worse and more unshaven and his face look more and more like he should never have brought it out of the woods at all. (221)
Rather than the figurative bond that cements the connections between the Mississippi hunters, whiskey alienates Ike and Boon. With subversive effect it dislocates the pair from the stability and community of the camp into the foreign landscape of Tennessee buildings and pavements, fine horse carriages instead of the old one-eyed mule, and a polished, groomed, effeminate circle of men who ironically possess a greater access to the whiskey than do any of the hunters. The effect of this extended scene outside the boundaries of the woods seems calculated to show how small the hunters really are in comparison to city life. The whiskey's literal origin thus contradicts its earlier figurative mystique, just as the journey itself undermines and distracts attention from the hunt. The experience also prefigures Major de Spain's selling of the forest to the Memphis logging company only a few years later (302). A further discontinuity between these perspectives is their temporal proximity vs. their positions in the narrative. Although the trip to Memphis takes place much later in the narration, in section 3, it occurs chronologically just before the scene of the story's opening, when Ike is sixteen years old. In strict chronological terms, then, Faulkner's opening tableau on whiskey has been critiqued and undercut even before it occurs, though the narration will only reveal this fact pages later.
The story divorces figurative meaning from narrative action in other moments as well. Another obvious example is the role of the dog Lion as a catalyst in finally killing Old Ben. Ike and Sam Fathers explicitly deny the possibility of "taming" the independent Lion, for it is ostensibly his natural fierceness that is needed to subdue the bear. As Sam Fathers explains to Major de Spain: "'I don't want him tame,' Sam said; again the boy watched his nostrils and the fierce milky light in his eyes. 'But I almost rather he be tame than scared, of me or any man or any thing. But he wont be neither, of nothing' " (208). As Ben's foil, Lion emerges from the same harsh woodland environment and in the same manner. Just as Ben invades the territory of the local woodsmen to feed on livestock, so does Lion appear first as the mysterious killer of a young colt at Major de Spain's farm. In the narrative, then, Lion functions initially as a counterpart to Old Ben, not an opposite. Major de Spain, for example, at first cannot think of any creature capable of killing the colt besides Old Ben (205).
To capture Lion, to prevent him from re-entering the woods, and to direct his energy toward the defeat of Old Ben without "taming" him are acts that must be filtered through the transformative work of figuration to resolve them of inconsistency. Lion as an untamed spirit both "taintless and incorruptible" functions as the antithesis of the ineffectual fyce whom he follows in the narrative of the second section. Before Lion's arrival, Sam repeatedly mentions that the hunters do not have the right dog yet, and speaks to the fyce as if it had been offered specifically for the purpose of the hunt: "You's almost the one we wants.... You just aint big enough" (203). Having established the need for a dog to keep the bear at bay, the fyce serves as the authority by which Sam redirects Lion's antagonistic force away from civilization and toward Old Ben. Rather than a dangerous creature who shares Old Ben's destructive identity, Lion appears providentially as the superior replacement of the little fyce who lacked the strength to contend with the bear. Even so, the story provides much detail about Lion that exposes the violence of Sam's discipline, despite explicit denials that the animal is being tamed. With the dog locked up in Sam's corncrib, food becomes the primary instrument in securing the animal's obedience. Ike's description of the process ironically links the creature's brutal subjugation with his own affirmative fantasy of an animal "taintless and incorruptible":
We don't want him tame. We want him like he is. We just want him to find out at last that the only way he can get out of that crib and stay out of it is to do what Sam or somebody tells him to do. He's the dog that's going to stop Old Ben and hold him. We've already named him. His name is Lion. (210)
Ike and Sam make Lion "fit" into the environment of the hunt, even as aspects of the story resist this unified interpretation of the dog's role. Appropriate in this paradoxical context is the dog's name, derived from a feline species. As "Lion," assuming a monarchical role over beasts as does "The Bear," the wild Airedale is positioned as a "mighty opposite" to Old Ben's untoppled reign over the woods.
Powerfully at odds in Faulkner's novel are the figurative constructions of femininity in the hunt versus the real women who occupy the space outside of it. Ike's initiation into the yearly ritual of the bear hunt resembles the tentative and fearful adolescent gestures toward sexual initiation: "Because he recognised ... fear as a boy, a youth, recognises the existence of love and passion and experience which is his heritage but not yet his patrimony, from entering by chance the presence or perhaps even merely the bedroom of a woman who has loved and been loved by many men. So I will have to see him, he thought" (195). The figure of the prostitute to which the bear is compared sets forth the tone of aggression and antagonism with which Faulkner represents women in the story. Like the bear, the prostitute occupies a space of male pursuit, excluding the domesticated propriety of marriage and its civilized trappings. The comparison of a female figure to an object of the hunt also sets up an antagonism between male and female experience that recurs throughout the story's problematic fourth section. In the context of the hunt, however, such references to gender attempt to position a space for the feminine while excluding real women. (11) For example, Boon's comic adoption of a feminine persona in relation to Lion sets up an erotic context intended to direct attention away from mating rituals to the less urgent, less potentially castrative sphere of homosocial community. As objects of erotic quests that threaten to place men in awkward subservience, women appear to be easily effaced in favor of the more vulnerable beastly prey of the hunt.
Ike unconsciously projects this erasure in his shocked awareness of Carothers McCaslin's presumed incest. Linking the $1,000 left to Terrel with the dates of Tomasina's fatal childbirth and Eunice's suicide, Ike concludes,
So I reckon that was cheaper than saying My son to a nigger he thought. Even if My son wasn "t but just two words. But there must have been love, he thought. Some sort of love. Even what he would have called love." not just an afternoon's or a night's spittoon. (258)
Ike scorns Carothers's monetary gift to Terrel since it represents the "cheaper" alternative to acknowledging his blood ties to a black man. But if Ike acknowledges what Carothers cannot--the paternity of a black son--he remains unable to apply the same resentful sympathy toward Terrel's mother, Tomasina. Ike never imagines, for example, that Carothers's legacy represents a payment for his crime of incest. He never considers the reverse statement, "So I reckon that was cheaper than saying My daughter to a nigger." (12) Instead Ike attempts to cleanse his grandfather's violation of Tomasina by constructing an elaborate fantasy of desire and love of the old man toward the girl, finally retreating into feeble, repetitive denial: "His own daughter His own daughter. No No Not even him" (259).
Tomasina and Eunice function as vanishing points for Ike, exposing the limits of his insight beyond which he cannot (or dare not) look. Tellingly, they reveal his equally fantastical conceptions of both female and black experience. Ike's mythologizing of black character to McCaslin hearkens back to the story's opening eulogy of the hunt. He finds blacks superior to whites because he sees their defects as learned rather than innate:
They will outlast us because they are.... Because they will endure. They are better than we are. Stronger than we are. Their vices are vices aped from white men or that white men and bondage have taught them. (281)
Behind Ike's loose framing of blacks in terms of the noble savage stands the more quotidian history of his black relatives in the commissary account books, much of which directly contradicts his fanciful images of black strength. (13) The most basic contradiction they present to Ike is his conception of blacks as alien ("they ... we .... Their ... them"). If any literal truth has been confirmed to Ike by his research, it is the inescapable sameness between his black and white relations, one which Carothers's will repeatedly forces him to confront, if not recognize. (14) Nor does Ike's myth of black endurance stand up to empirical observation. At the time of his twenty-first birthday, Ike's black relatives stand amidst destruction and tragedy. Eunice is dead, possibly by suicide, Tomasina has died in childbirth, Terrel is dead, Fonsiba lives in Arkansas on the edge of subsistence, and James Beauchamp has disappeared--hardly the examples of strength and endurance that Ike imagines.
Even sadder is the story of Percival Brownlee (tellingly named after the knight of the grail in Chretien de Troyes's romance), who briefly finds his "true niche" conducting revival meetings at the plantation, only to later become the prostitute of an Army paymaster, then finally a proprietor of a New Orleans brothel (279-80). Percival's sometimes comic, sometimes tragic story often reads like an addendum to part four, yet it in fact brings the narrative of the section full circle, back to New Orleans, where Carothers first purchased Eunice in 1807, perhaps to be his concubine. Far from being an antithesis to the members of the McCaslin family, Percival in fact typifies how these individuals deal (or fail to deal) with the South's crippling racial injustice. Beginning as a slave and prostitute, Brownlee eventually attains the dubious status of the McCaslins themselves, as an owner and seller of human commodities.
In each of these episodes, Faulkner presents the unharmonized conflict between what is envisioned and what is actually experienced. Ike specifically requires a myth of black character as separate and superior because he seeks redemption for the curse of the South caused by whites. As he points out to Fonsiba's husband,
'Don't you see?' he cried. 'Don't you see? This whole land, the whole South, is cursed, and all of us who derive from it, whom it ever suckled, white and black both, lie under the curse? Granted that my people brought the curse onto the land: maybe for that reason their descendants alone can--not resist it, not combat it--maybe just endure and outlast it until the curse is lifted. Then your peoples' turn will come because we have forfeited ours. But not now. Not yet. Don't you see?' (266)
Ike can sustain this fantasy for only a moment, however, before he condemns the idle, derelict household that Fonsiba's husband has created:
[I]t all seemed to stand there about them, intact and complete and visible in the drafty, damp, heatless, negro-stale negro-rank sorry room--the empty fields without plow or seed to work them, fenceless against the stock which did not exist within or without the walled stable which likewise was not there. (267)
Ike finds hope in the idea of a black redemption of the white curse in the South. However, he finds little positive evidence to support the hope that blacks will one day hold a better or more enduring stewardship over the land than that of his family. In truth, despite his romantic view of the future of black people in general, his outlook toward the black contemporaries of his actual acquaintance is shallow and mean-spirited.
Ike's relationship to women is profoundly ambivalent, characterized by a guilt and stasis representative of a suspended adolescence. The hunting camp appears to be the basis of this view, inculcating in the boy homosocial values that universally exclude women. The narrator of"The Bear" informs us of Ike's educational heritage early in section two:
If Sam Fathers had been his mentor and the backyard rabbits and squirrels his kindergarten, then the wilderness the old bear ran was his college and the old male bear itself, so long unwifed and childless as to have become its own ungendered progenitor, was his alma mater. (201-02)
Had Ike possessed a literal father and mother during his maturation, perhaps he would not be so subject to the figures of paternity and maternity throughout his adolescence. As it stands, however, the metaphorical erasure of the boy's literal origins represents a compelling fantasy of self-generation to the ten-year old orphan. These parental metaphors take the place of a naturalistic, biological definition of gender while effacing Ike's origins within a sexual union. Such a fluid definition of gender permits Ike to fashion a world that denies his connections to an actual heritage and the painful losses he has already experienced within it. The hermaphroditic bear, both potently "male" and an "alma mater," figuratively stands in for Ike's lost parents, but its ungendered status presents no literal example from which Ike can adopt a sexual identity or social role.
Sam Fathers's persona as surrogate father also fills a literal void for the orphaned child, but with serious consequences for Ike's self-image and social relationships. Sam's age and Indian ancestry produce an aura of ungendered generation similar to that of the bear. From Sam, Ike learns the skills of the hunt and the heroic qualities of strength and endurance that represent Indian and black experience to the young man. Sam's intimate relationship with the bear, however, confirmed by his simultaneous (and inexplicable) collapse with that of Old Ben, maintains an unbridgeable distance from his foster son that underlines the absence of a real father for Ike. (15) The effect of the bear and Sam as sacrificial figures anticipates Ike's later adoption of a Christ persona, eclipsing a conventional sex role in the purified figure of Jesus. Transcending sexual union through the virgin birth, his chastity, and his resurrection, Christ stands as an asexual model of freedom that avoids fleshly corruption. (16) The pattern of Ike's life links the model of Christ with the taintless and incorruptible figures of Old Ben and Sam, each of which excludes women from the continuity of the male quest. Ike's marriage, however, underscores the futility of reconciling a life bound to time and change with models of timeless perfection.
The functions of the figural and the literal intersect so freely in Ike's analysis of himself and the world that he cannot seem to tell the difference between them. When he tells McCaslin, "I am Free" in the novel's complex fourth section, he confuses figure and fact in a way that renders him more imprisoned than ever. Just before that moment, he recalls when McCaslin confronts his inability to shoot the bear, which Ike can explain neither to his cousin nor to himself: "Why didn't you shoot [the Bear] when you had the gun?" McCaslin answers this question by comparing the bear to Keats's "unravished bride" in "Ode on a Grecian Urn," but Ike cannot grasp the distinction between literal and figural at the core of his cousin's point:
"He's talking about a girl," he said.
"He had to talk about something, "McCaslin said. Then he said, "He was talking about truth. Truth is one. It doesn't change. It covers all things which touch the heart--honor and pride and pity and justice and courage and love. Do you see now?"
He didn't know. Somehow it had seemed simpler than that, simpler than somebody talking in a book about a young man and a girl he would never need to grieve over because he could never approach any nearer and would never have to get any further away. He had heard about an old bear and finally got big enough to hunt it and he hunted it four years and at last met it with a gun in his hands and he didn't shoot. Because a little dog--But he could have shot long before the fyce covered the twenty yards to where the bear waited, and Sam Fathers could have shot at any time during the interminable minute while Old Ben stood on his hind legs over them.... He ceased. (GDM283-84)
Ike realizes that his excuse of saving the fyce is a cover; the dog wouldn't have needed any rescue if either he or Sam Fathers had pulled the trigger. Yet Ike is unable to reason beyond this false excuse. The ellipses that signal his doubt at the end of the passage and the abrupt closure which he imposes upon that perplexity ("He ceased") show that Ike has not understood--nor wishes to understand--the Bear's status as a symbol. (17)
The paradox that would explain why Ike did not shoot the Bear would tell him only that the Bear could not be shot in the first place. As McCaslin explains to Ike, "Truth is one. It doesn't change." To Ike and Sam Fathers, for whom the pursuit of Old Ben is an all-important principle of heroic identity, the destruction of the bear represents nothing less than their own destruction. To maintain strict fidelity to that truth, to maintain the permanence of the Bear at all costs, they must re-enact the scenario of Keats's "Grecian Urn" ode, pursuing the Bear without attaining him. (18) But the literal animal finally fails to embody his role as the "taintless and incorruptible" Old Ben, despite the efforts of Ike and Sam to project him as such. Appropriately enough, he succumbs to the attack of Boon Hogganbeck, whose "plebeian" strain of Indian blood, and whose grounding in the literal realties of time, loss, and physical decay, place him well below Sam Fathers's knowledge and wisdom.
Ike ultimately fails to grasp that there are two bears which he has mistaken for a single entity. The Bear that is "true" is unassailable and timeless, like the imaginary figures upon the urn. Within this truth, in an incorruptible "other" space, minutes can be interminable and death can almost be immortalized like a statue or a monument. Both Ike and Sam mistake Old Ben for that immortal image. They forget that the "interminable minute" that Ike recalls is only timeless within the purview of the "heart" and its mystical utopia (its "no place") that by definition cannot be translated into simple actions or mere words. (19) Literal clues are provided for them to discern this realization: the mangled paw constantly marking the Bear's fragility upon the terrain, as well as the tick that sucks his blood precisely at the point when Ike and Sam cannot take his life. Nevertheless, they equate Old Ben with this image of permanence and immutability, a transcendence belied by the animal's vulnerability and death. Thus Old Ben dies, and, since Ike never recognizes the difference between the material creature and his idealized vision, truth dies for him with Old Ben. Sam, Ike's foster father and spiritual teacher, instantly "gives up" as soon as the Bear is killed, leaving Ike fatherless for a second time. He is left to seek out his far more literal, far more contingent and corrupt paternal heritage in the yellowed notebooks of his household. (20) His renunciation of the land, despite its well-intended basis, inevitably turns to hypocrisy, for his livelihood can never escape the land and its income, through which he will continue to draw support, mediated though it may be through McCaslin. Ike searches for truth in both his memories of the bear and his research into the past, always hoping for a real world embodiment of the "honor and pride and pity and justice and courage and love" that both he and McCaslin describe as the essence of truth. But to his regret, the real world tells an opposite story--of cruelty, injustice, cowardice, and hatred--perpetrated by no less than the head of his own family line and maintained through the laws and the rules of exchange of land that allow such evils, even protect them.
Ike is overcome by a crisis of guilt over actions he cannot change. He cannot even complete his quest to locate the black descendants of Carothers McCaslin and fulfill the obligations of the bank trust funds due to them. His answer to the guilt of his paternity is not merely the repudiation of his inheritance but a re-enactment of the life of Christ. Ike believes that this casting off of worldly vanity makes him "free." There is a tragic sense to Ike's spirituality, however, that undercuts the nobility of his sacrifice: 1) by existing symbolically, such freedom is always already available to Ike's sensibility without his having to repudiate anything; 2) for all its meaningful effect upon his own thought, his renunciation alters his experiential world in no significant degree. (21) Just as he enacts his own proof to McCaslin that human beings cannot own land, McCaslin also proves that nevertheless men will indeed own it and use it despite the brutalities inherent in such ownership. (22)
If mourning can be defined not merely as the grief over death but change as well, the instability and flux within life, then Ike can be said to be a perpetual mourner, mourning after figures like Old Ben and Sam Fathers with childlike nostalgia, mourning truths that can never be embodied in the material world. But as McCaslin states, "Truth is one. It doesn't change." Unlike lived experience, truth cannot be mourned because, rather than living or dying, it abides within the static, transcendent domains of art and sign. Ike McCaslin's experience, therefore, is unique not in his experience of pain or loss but in his inability to distinguish what he loses from what can never be taken away from him. Ike mourns the figural, mistaking it for the literal, while ultimately missing out on the experience of both.
Adams, Percy G. "Focus on William Faulkner's 'The Bear': Moses and the wilderness. American Dreams, American Nightmares. Ed. David Madden. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1970. 129-35.
Adams, Richard. Faulkner." Myth and Motion. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1968.
Beck, Warren. "Go Down, Moses." Faulkner: Essays. Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1976. 334-582.
Brooks, Cleanth, "The Image of Helen Baird in Faulkner's Early Poetry and Fiction." Sewanee Review 85 (1977): 218-34. --. William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond New Haven: Yale UP, 1978.
Brylowski, Walter. Faulkner's Olympian Laugh: Myth in the Novels. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1968.
Canfield, ]. Douglas. "Faulkner's Grecian Urn and Ike McCaslin's Empty Legacies." Arizona Quarterly 36 (1980): 359-84.
Danner, Bruce. "Speaking Daggers." Shakespeare Quarterly 54 (2003): 29-62.
Davis, Thadious M. Games of Property: Law, Race, Gender, and Faulkner's Go Down, Moses. Durham: Duke UP, 2003.
Faulkner, William. Go Down, Moses. New York: Vintage, 1990. --. Mayday. Notre Dame: U of Notre Dame P, 1978.
Fisher, Shelia. "Taken Men and Token Women in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." Seeking the Woman in Late Medieval and Renaissance Writings: Essays in Feminist Contextual Criticism. Ed. Sheila Fisher and Janet E. Halley. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1989.
Fowler, Doreen and Ann J. Abadie. Faulkner and Women: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1985. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1986,
Godden, Richard, and Noel Polk. "Reading the Ledgers." Mississippi Quarterly 55 (2002): 301-59.
Grimwood, Michael. Heart in Conflict." Faulkner's Struggles with Vocation. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1987.
Hagood, Taylor. "Faulkner's 'Fabulous Immeasurable Camelots': Absalom! Absalom! and Le Morte Darthur." Southern Literary Journal 34 (2002): 45-63.
Harley, Marta Powell. "Faulkner's Medievalism and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight." American Notes and Queries 21 (1983): 111-14. -- "Faulkner's Sartoris and the Legend of Rinaldo and Bayard." American Notes and Queries 18 (1980): 92-93.
Hays, Peter L. "As I Lay Dying and the Odyssey." Classical and Modern Literature 18 (1998): 241-45.
Homer. Iliad. Trans. Richard Lattimore. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1951.
Howe, Irving. William Faulkner: A Critical Study. New York: Random House, 1952.
Hunt, John W. "Morality With Passion: A Study of 'The Bear.'" William Faulkner: Critical Collection. Ed. Leland H. Cox. Detroit: Gale Research, 1982. 394-424.
Justus, James H. "Absalom, Absalom! as an Epic Novel." Readings on William Faulkner. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven, 1998. 149-58.
Kartiganer, Donald M. The Fragile Thread: The Meaning of Form in Faulkner's Novels. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1979.
Kern, Alexander C. "Myth and Symbol in Criticism of Faulkner's 'The Bear.' Myth and Symbol: Critical Approaches and Applications. Ed. Bernice Slote. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1963. 152-161.
King, Richard H. "Working Through: Faulkner's Go Down, Moses." William Faulkner. Ed. Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 193-205.
Kinney, Arthur F. Faulkner s Narrative Poetics: Style a Vision. Amherst: U of Massachusettes P, 1978.
Kuyk, Jr., Dirk. Threads Cable-strong: William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses. London: Associated UP, 1983.
Meriwether, James B., and Michael Millgate. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner 1926-1962. New York: Random House, 1968.
Millgate, Michael. The Achievement of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1966.
Morrison, Gail Moore. "'Time, Tide, and Twilight': Mayday and Faulkner's Quest Toward The Sound and the Fury." Mississippi Quarterly 31 (1978): 337-57.
O'Connor, William Van. "The Wilderness Theme in Faulkner's 'The Bear.'" William Faulkner." Three Decades of Criticism. Ed. Frederick J. Hoffman and Olga W. Vickery. East Lansing: Michigan State UP, 1960.
Perluck, Herbert A." 'The Heart's Driving Complexity': An Unromantic Reading of Faulkner's 'The Bear.'" Accent 20 (1960): 23-46.
Phillips, K. J. "Wasteland in Faulkner's Go Down, Moses." International Fiction Review 9 (1982): 114-19.
Poirier, Richard. "The Sound and the Fury and The Bear." William Faulkner. Ed. Harold Bloom. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 49-53.
Roberts, Diane. Faulkner and Southern Womanhood. Athens: U of Georgia P, 1994.
Salda, Michael N. "William Faulkner's Arthurian Tale: Mayday." Arthuriana 4 (1994): 348-75.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Harold Jenkins. New York: Methuen, 1981.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Trans. Brian Stone. London: Penguin, 1974.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Ed. R. A. Waldron. Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1970.
Sykes, John. The Romance of Innocence and the Myth of History: Faulkner's Religious Critique of Southern Culture. Macon, GA: Mercer UP, 1989.
Thornton, Weldon. "Structure and Theme in Faulkner's Go Down, Moses." William Faulkner: Critical Collection. Ed. Leland H. Cox. Detroit: Gale Research, 1982. 328-68.
Vickery, Olga W. The Novels of William Faulkner. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1964.
Volpe, Edmond L. A Reader's Guide to William Faulkner. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1965.
Wofford, Susanne Lindgren. The Choice of Achilles: The Ideology of Figure in the Epic. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1992.
(1) The conflict between Ike's ideal against his actual practice is the most common pattern that critics use to judge his actions. Although critics of "The Bear" in general acknowledge Ike's flawed decisions and consequences, many ascribe ultimate blame to Ike's untenable situation in the corrupt South, rather than to Ike himself. Many of these critics see Ike's embrace of a "natural" ethic of the hunt as admirable but ultimately incompatible with the complexities of civilization. Volpe argues that "[t]he very structure of [Go Down, Moses] reflects the isolated experience that Ike undergoes in the woods: social man and natural man cannot merge" (252). Millgate acknowledges "Ike's essential goodness" and "the quality of his idealism" while concluding that "Ike's life is a failure, primarily because he allows himself to rest in negation, in repudiation, and rejects all opportunities for affirmation" (209; 209; 208-09). Similarly, Kern praises Ike's learning of "the pride and humility, the courage and restraint" from Sam Fathers and Old Ben, while affirming Faulkner's "tragic view of history in which ... the best efforts of the best men are not enough to gain a victory over evil" (161). Percy Adams sees Ike in arrested development, "imprisoned in his own impotence" (129), an "American boy who dreams the American dream" (134) but who cannot outgrow his own innocence. O'Connor also sees the wilderness theme in "The Bear" as a "kind of neurotic dream-an escape from, rather than an attempt to solve, the present injustice" (330). Brylowski acknowledges the virtues Ike learns in the hunting rituals but concludes that "[h]is sacrifice has had no effect within the natural or social order" (162). Vickery argues that Ike retreats from a Miltonic duty to "leave the Garden [of Eden] in order to discover his humanity ... his knowledge stops just short of the paradox of the fortunate fall" (133). In a neutral judgment of Ike's conduct, Sykes argues the essential irony of Faulkner's myth of the woods: "The greatest irony of 'The Bear' arises from the fact that its myth confirms the values of the town as the only ones by which society can function. Property is simply a sophisticated system for expressing the will to subjugate. In the woods this desire takes the form of the lust to kill" (99). In defense of Ike, Richard King usefully compares Ike's open repudiation with the narrow options of political and social resistance in the South between the 1880s and the 1930s, arguing that Ike "confronts ... guilt and responsibility more forthrightly than any of Faulkner's characters and most of Faulkner's contemporaries" (200).
(2) Canfield, 364, exemplifies another strain of criticism which argues that Ike alone bears responsibility for his condition. Kuyk differentiates Ike's superficial imitation of Christ from that of Sam, Old Ben, and Rider, who "all found ways to die; Ike does not" (140). Richard Adams undermines Ike's definition of a South corrupted by miscegenation by noting that Sam Fathers, the fyce, Lion, and Boon are all of mixed ancestry (148). In a well-written examination of "The Bear" that still deserves serious attention, Perluck argues that part IV exposes "weakness and something even sinister" in Ike's indoctrination into the hunting rituals (24), summing up the story as "a parable of man's pride, in his trying to be more than man, and of the evil this pride accomplishes in its condescending ascription of all that man does not want to see in himself to a certain few untouchables, the Boons of the world" (25).
(3) Hays examines Faulkner's liberal borrowing of structural motifs from Book 11 of the Odyssey in As l Lay Dying. Phillips briefly sketches a set of similar motifs between Go Down, Moses (but primarily in "The Bear") and the Arthurian "waste land." Harley (1980) explores the influence of La Chanson de Roland upon Faulkner's Sartoris, possibly mediated through a contemporary edition of Bulfinch's Legends of Charlemagne. Salda and Brooks (1977) explore Faulkner's debts to medieval sources and concepts in his self-produced romance narrative, Mayday. Hagood explores Absalom, Absalom! Against the phenomenon of medieval revival in America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. According to Hagood, "Faulkner, influenced by Malory's work, finds a means to glorify and decry simultaneously the mythic Arthurian-informed Old South" (61). Hagood laments the "surprising paucity of scholarship [that] exists regarding William Faulkner's use of the Arthurian legend" (61). Justus argues that Absalom, Absalom! should be read as epic because its narrative fits the essential characteristics of the genre: "characters of high position engaged in a series of adventures, organic narrative revolving about a central figure of heroic proportions, action important to a nation or a race at a specific point in its development, and a style that is dignified, majestic, and elevated" (149).
(4) Harley ("Faulkner's Medievalism") compares narratives, motifs, and vocabulary of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to Faulkner's Mayday, The Town, and Go Down, Moses, but notes that Faulkner never allows "the ideal" to "subvert his representation of reality" (113). Salda briefly compares Sir Gawain to Gavin Stevens in The Town (366, n. 10).
(5) Faulkner's overtly medieval references to Ike's money belt as a "girdle" allude to the sense of moral taint embedded in Gawain's icon. We can also detect a resonance of Gawain's girdle in the red ribbon from her neck that Miss Sophonsiba gives Uncle Buck.
(6) Harley ("Faulkner's Medievalism" 113) notes the similarities between Boon's attack on Old Ben and Bercilak's attack upon the boar in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
(7) For a discussion on Faulkner's rhetoric of temporal suspension in "The Bear," see Poirier, who argues that Faulkner's "style itself suspends us in time. It saturates us in a medium where objects are confused with the qualities of objects or with the values attached to those objects, so that 'it' can refer to a cluster of impressions about the bear, while the bear itself can be named mostly by various abstractions, legends, and allusions" (52). Kartiganer claims that the "prose [of"The Bear"] has the quality of a learned chant, a litany from which consciousness is absent" (147).
(8) For the player's speech on the death of Priam, see Shakespeare, 2.2. 446514. For an examination of the confusions and dislocations of literal and figurative language in Hamlet, see Danner.
(9) For a study of the relation of "The Bear" to the narrative structure of Faulkner's tale "Lion," see Grimwood 279-82. While O'Connor inaccurately identifies the version of "The Bear" published in Saturday Evening Post as an earlier draft of the chapter from Go Down, Moses, he describes this alternative as "moving, almost hallucinatory in its power to convince us of the existence of a world of no sin, no evil, no injustice.... But Faulkner is not willing, apparently, to allow the implications of the wilderness theme ... to work as a leaven inside the subject or theme of injustice to the Negro" (330).
(10) That Ike cannot acknowledge the similarity of God's words to those of a black man becomes clear from his subsequent disgust with the man's ignorance and work ethic (267).
(11) In her discussion of the erasure of women in the narrative of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Fisher similarly concludes that the male-authored narrative and its male characters elide the primacy of female agency and agents in order to reconstitute them as symbols of femininity that can be more easily displayed and exchanged within the chivalric codes of Arthur's court:
Happy to have Gawain home in one piece, the court makes a magnanimous move that completes the erasure of the Lady and her meaning(s) from the girdle. In order to relieve Gawain of his apparently morbid obsession with a rather small sin, the members of the court agree to wear the girdle, to take it as a collective symbol.... They ... make the private public, as the girdle moves into the domain of public currency and public signification. In this way, the privacy of the Lady and the privateness associated with her are erased, as is her relation to Gawain as the source of his dishonor. (97-98)
(12) On Ike's privileging of male experience over female in this episode, see Roberts, 82.
(13) In a challenging new reading of section IV of "The Bear," Godden and Polk point out that the McCaslin family records are so mediated by Ike's selection and interpretation of details that they cannot provide the "facts" that Ike attributes to them (339). Taken to its most provocative extreme, this reading would suggest that instead of a literal counterpart to Ike's figurative mythology, the ledgers represent only Ike's further regression into a mirage of objectivity. Nevertheless, however unreliable Ike's mediation of the ledgers is, much of the essay's reading undertakes a positivistic retrieval of actual events beyond Ike's capacity to acknowledge, in particular, facts related to a homosexual liaison between Ike's father Buck and Percival Brownlee (302-14). Ultimately Godden and Polk assume, as I do, the existence of other possibilities about the McCaslin family that can be compared with, and contrasted against, Ike's subjective perception of the family records.
(14) On the bald ironies inherent in Ike's conception of white/black difference, see Roberts 83.
(15) By contrast, see Kinney for an account of Sam's positive role model that Ike fails to emulate (218; 227). See also Beck, who argues that "Sam Fathers trains the boy Isaac in more than techniques; he is a guide into natural mysteries and a mentor in conduct" (386-87).
(16) For another account of Ike's imitation of Christ as escapist, see Kuyk 140.
(17) For another examination of "strained punctuation" that signals Ike's efforts to occlude what he does not wish to confront (in this case, Brownlee's homosexuality and its connection to his father), see Godden and Polk 314.
(18) This circle of suspended desire can be connected to Ike's political passivity by reference to his refusal to envision the possibility of marriage between Roth and his mistress in "Delta Autumn": "Maybe in a thousand or two thousand years in America, he thought. But not now! Not now!" (344).
(19) For further discussion of the divide between symbols and their meanings in "The Bear," see Canfield 366.
(20) In an insightful new reading of Go Down, Moses from the perspective of contemporary American legal codes, Davis defines the ledgers as "an index to the codes of the land and the society.... As an index, the ledgers contain the regulations, the rules, the contracts, and the customs of the plantation owners in regard to their property. They are also the record of human expenditures and profits, for debits and credits" (181). She distinguishes the legal right to own and sell property against a conception of extra-legal "natural rights" that Ike embraces as an alternative to ownership and dispossession (153; 180). Davis's distinction of legal rights that are the inscriptions of political and social authorities vs. natural rights that (while they inform legal theory) have no legal effect represents an intriguing, if inexact, parallel to the distinctions of literal and figurative reading that I employ here.
(21) In an interview Faulkner himself suggested that Ike's passive rejection of his land and inheritance represents an inadequate response to his patrimony:
Faukner: And who are your favorite characters? Q(startled): Isaac McCaslin in "The Bear." Faulkner (smiling a little, very quick and direct): Why? Q: Because he underwent a baptism in the forest, because he rejected his inheritance. Faulkner: And do you think it's a good thing for a man to reject an inheritance? O: Yes, in McCaslin's case. He wanted to reject a tainted inheritance. You don't think it's a good thing for him to have done so? Faulkner: Well, I think a man ought to do more than just repudiate. He should have been more affirmative instead of just shunning people. (Meriwether and Millgate 224-25)
For a survey of Faulkner's comments on Ike and his context, see Richard Adams 137-40.
(22) See Davis 168.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Title Annotation:||William Faulkner|
|Publication:||The Mississippi Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 22, 2005|
|Previous Article:||Designs against Tara: Frances Gaither's The Red Cock Crows and other counternarratives to Gone with the Wind.|
|Next Article:||"Into realms of the semi-celestials": from mortal to mythic in The Awakening.|