Man’s Interaction with the Environment in Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses

Man’s Interaction with the Environment in Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses

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Man’s Interaction with the Environment in Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses

I found the short stories in Go Down, Moses to be long, boring, and hard to comprehend. As usual Faulkner writes his stories with no regard to punctuation. His run-on sentences are confusing and unnecessary. However, I did notice the theme of man and his interactions with the environment stressed throughout these stories.

“Was” starts us off with ‘Uncle Ike’ McCaslin in his old age and tells the story of his elder cousin (and surrogate father) and his childhood with Uncle Buck and Uncle Buddy. I was not surprised to see the uncles reappear, as Faulkner loves to have characters make come-backs in numerous novels. Like its title, “Was” shows a past experience from McCaslin Edmonds’ childhood. The sentence structure in the beginning of the story confused me a bit. Faulkner uses no periods, choosing instead to start a new paragraph every time one sentence ends and the other begins (granted, these ‘sentences’ are basically paragraphs themselves!). Once the story about Edmonds’ past and the dialog start, Faulkner starts using periods again. Why would Faulkner set the story up like this? What is the significance of leaving out periods in the beginning of the narrative? Perhaps it is to signal that the narrator is speaking in present time, and once the periods are included, that signals that the event occurred in the past. This is a probable explanation, as we saw a similar structure in his other novels, including The Sound and the Fury, where italics were used to signal a change in narrative. Maybe the same thing is happening here.

In “Pantaloon in Black” Faulkner seems to digress from the story of the McCaslin’s and focuses on a black man, Rider, who goes crazy with grief after his wife’s mysterious (to the reader) death, kills a white man he works with, and is executed. This story clearly illustrates the racial discrimination by whites. After the entire ordeal, the sheriff’s deputy tells his wife about the events and in the process allows us to see how racist he is. He compares blacks to a “damn herd of wild buffaloes” when it comes to having feelings (150). Also, when he describes Rider’s actions after his wife’s death, he says that the town “expected him to take the day off since even a nigger couldn’t want no better excuse for a holiday” cruelly suggesting that blacks are lazy and will use any excuse to have a day off of work (151).

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He then goes on to declare that Rider is not respectable because he went to work and did not mourn. It is a no-win situation; if you mourn, you are lazy; if you do not mourn, you are rude and cruel to the dead. I found this portrayal a bit disturbing. At Mannie’s funeral, Rider is depicted as a hulk of a man mechanically shoving dirt on his dead wife even before they are ready to bury her. Whenever someone tries to reason with him, he shrugs them off as if they are leaves on a giant.

“The Old People” takes us back to Isaac McCaslin as he is maturing into a man. His interaction with the environment is very important here. His cousin promised him that when he was 10 he could go hunting with him, a sign that he is becoming a man. In killing an animal, the boy ceases to be a child and becomes a man. One thing that confuses me is the significance of the title. I think this pertains to Isaac’s elders: his cousin and the other men that hunt with them. Isaac is following in the footsteps of the ‘old’ people, or the men him and his cousin hunt with.

In “The Bear” Isaac grows older and becomes more involved in hunting and interacting with the land. His understanding of the age-old tradition of man and his land is cleared. Old Ben, the bear, finally dies, signifying perhaps the end of Isaac’s innocence. It is after his death, and the deaths of Lion and Sam Fathers that Isaac renounces his inheritance to his cousin. Perhaps his understanding of the ways of the world and the brutality of the relationship between man and the environment were too much, or perhaps they opened his eyes and he was able to see that this way of living was dying, much like the way of the South in general died off. Regardless, he becomes a ‘man’ in his own right when he follows his own path instead of the one laid out for him.

Finally, in “Delta Autumn” the story of Isaac is continued. Isaac again returns to hunt with his kin and the offspring of the ‘old’ men he once hunted with. He reunites with the land all over again every year. This time, it is revealed that his grandson (I think) had a child with a black women, and when she comes to the camp, the grandson avoids her and gives her money, while Isaac turns her away and tells her to “marry a black man” saying it’s the “only salvation” she can receive (346). The end of the story was confusing. I was unsure what the significance of the doe dying was. Perhaps the doe signified Isaac’s life and when the doe dies that foreshadows Isaac’s death? Or maybe the doe’s death indicates the death of Isaac’s way of thinking and way of life. Maybe the death of the doe is similar to the death of the old ways of the South.
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