The Contrasting Themes and Structure of William Faulkner's The Bear

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The Contrasting Themes and Structure of William Faulkner's The Bear

At first, William Faulkner's The Bear, seems to be a story about the decline of an old bear and the wilderness he represented. Oddly, it is possible to omit the fourth chapter of The Bear and still have a complete and less confusing story. Although sandwiched in between the third and fifth chapters, the fourth chapter is almost wholly independent. For the purpose of this analysis, I will refer to chapters one, two, three, and five as being one half of the story, while chapter four solely comprises the other half.

At first, it seems that these two sections have little in common, but that exactly is Faulkner's intention. He has deliberately pitted these two halves of the story against each other in order to compare and contrast wilderness to civilization. He does this by creating two separate and independent plots, containing each almost solely in the environment dictated by their theme, contrasting two martyr-like characters-each central to the plot, and giving the two sections different narrative styles and chronology. To complicate things, the fourth chapter is placed in the midst of the rest of the story.

Faulkner uses contrasting plots to separate the two sections of The Bear at the lowest possible level. The first half of the story (chapters 1,2,3, and 5) contains a fully contained plot about a bear hunt and the decline of the wilderness, while the other half (chapter 4) is also self sufficient in its plot, depending only on the other half for introducing the main characters. The first half of the story tells a bittersweet tale of a boy

who wished to learn humility and pride in order to become skillful and worthy in the woods but...

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...the wilderness, but abandoned it along with the wilderness. Faulkner illustrates these differences with representative parts in the story and communicates his feelings towards each in what he chooses to write and how he writes it. Yet by melding the two parts into one and tying them inseparably together, he effectively communicates the duality of grief felt by the boy, one of that last who understood humility and pride.

Works Cited

Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978.

Evans, David H. "Taking the Place of Nature: 'The Bear' and the Incarnation of America." Faulkner and the Natural World: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1996. Ed. Donald M. Kartiganer and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999.

Faulkner, William. “The Bear.” Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner. Vintage: 1997.
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