Saturday, April 27, 2013

Blood of the Fathers

“With the gun which was too big for him, the breech-loader which did not even belong to him but to Major de Spain and which he had fired only once, at a stump on the first day to learn the recoil and how to reload it with the paper shells, he stood against a big gum tree beside a little bayou whose black still water crept without motion out of a cane-brake, across a small clearing and into the cane again, where, invisible, a bird, the big woodpecker called Lord-to-God by negroes, clattered at a dead trunk. It was a stand like any other stand, dissimilar only in incidentals to the one where he had stood each morning for two weeks; a territory new to him yet no less familiar than that other one which after two weeks he had come to believe he knew a little--the same solitude, the same loneliness through which frail and timorous man had merely passed without altering it, leaving no mark nor scar, which looked exactly as it must have looked when the first ancestor of Sam fathers' Chickasaw predecessors crept into it and looked about him, club or stone axe or bone arrow drawn and ready, different only because, squatting at the edge of the kitchen, he had smelled the dogs huddled and cringing beneath it and saw the raked ear and side of the bitch that, as Sam had said, had to be brave once in order to keep on calling herself a dog, and saw yesterday in the earth beside the gutted log, the print of the living foot. He heard no dogs at all. He never did certainly hear them. He only heard the drumming of the woodpecker stop short off, and knew that the bear was looking at him. he did not move, holding the useless gun which he knew now he would never fire at it, now or ever, tasting in his saliva that taint of brass which he had smelled in the huddled dogs when he peered under the kitchen.”  ― William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses

Go Down, Moses

Go Down, Moses 

by William Faulkner

Go Down, Moses marks the end of William Faulkner's period of greatest creativity. In this novel built out of interconnected stories he addresses themes that connect with and overlap those in other of his works of this period, particularly The Hamlet. The idea of time - past, present and future - is connected throughout the novel by blood; the bloodlines of the family. Faulkner's book of stories is named for the last one in the book.  There are only seven of which one, "The Fire and the Heart", extends to novella length. Previously published in popular magazines, like Harper's and the Atlantic Monthly these stories are more accessible than some of Faulkner's more intense novels.

"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 in these stories are also important for 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 bred into them like DNA in their genes. 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" (this last story has resonance all the way back to The Odyssey of Homer in which Odysseus undergoes a not dissimilar experience). There is also the theme of man versus nature through the contrast of the natural man with the social man of civilization. I also sensed a resonance with the 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. Ultimately, we see in Go Down, Moses Faulkner's mythic world of Yoknapatawpha County that we first met in Sartoris as it once more presents its people, their land, and their ghosts. How they relate to our world today is up to the reader to decide.

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