Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Mythic World

Go Down, Moses

"No wonder the ruined woods I used to know dont cry for retribution! he thought: The people who have destroyed it will accomplish its revenge."
- William Faulkner, Delta Autumn, p. 347

Go Down, Moses marks the end of William Faulkner's period of greatest creativity. The themes he addresses in this novel built out of interconnected stories connect with and overlap those addressed in other of his works of this period, notably The Hamlet. Throughout the book the presence of time - past, present and future - is connected by the blood; the bloodlines of the family.

to the boy those old times would cease to be old times and would become a part of the boy's present, not only as if they had happened yesterday but as if they were still happening, (p. 165)

The blood of the fathers, their 'curse', becomes one of the themes in the first three stories: Was, The Fire and the Hearth, and Pantaloon in Black.

Then one day the old curse of his fathers, the old haughty ancestral pride based not on any value but on an accident of geography, stemmed not from courage and honor but from wrong and shame, descended to him. (p. 107)

The relations between the races and the nature of the family are presented here by Faulkner. The hearth suggests connections with the Anglo-Irish culture from which the McCaslins originated. After all the McCaslin's heritage is one of tension and guilt. The initiation of the young into this culture is presented in The Old People when Ike becomes a man, and is repeated in The Bear. There is also the theme of man versus nature through the contrast of the natural man with the social man of civilization. I sensed resonance with a Rousseau-like view of the world in the emphasis on getting away from civilization in The Bear. This can also be read in the tradition of Twain's Huckleberry Finn. The image above is of the original book published by Random House in 1942. In spite of the title on the front cover Faulkner himself considered this a novel and objected to the idea that it was a collection of stories.
Ultimately, we see in Go Down, Moses Faulkner's mythic world of Yoknapatawpha County once more with its people, their land, and their ghosts. How they relate to our world today is up to the reader to decide.

Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner. Vintage International Editions, 1990. (1942)

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