William Faulkner is generally regarded as the most important writer to be produced by the American South. A native of Mississippi, Faulkner wrote about the land where he lived for most of his life. The great majority of Faulkner’s work is set in the fictional Mississippi county of Yoknapatawpha (which, in turn, is based on the actual Lafayette County, home to the city of Oxford and the University of Mississippi). The influence of the past, the relationships between men, and the difficulties brought about by change are all recurrent themes in Faulkner’s novels and stories. “The Bear” is a good example of a story that embodies all of these themes.
“The Bear” was originally published in 1935. In 1942, Faulkner revised it and included it in his book Go Down, Moses. Later, he insisted that’ ‘The Bear” could not be fully understood unless it was read with the other stories in Go Down, Moses as a segment of a novel. In its . . . Read More
Though the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, their economic conditions were dire, as inequalities kept them from many jobs and educational opportunities. Southern states, bitter upon losing their bid for secession, attempted to deal with emancipated slaves by passing laws known as the “Black Codes.” These laws, effectively perpetuating the racial segregation and degradation formerly applied to slaves, kept the ex-slaves from achieving economic opportunity and fair judicial process almost as thoroughly as before Emancipation. Congress, however, refused re-admittance to the Union to those states who would not ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed civil liberties to all citizens. By 1877, the plans for Reconstruction were completed. Rather than integrate African Americans into society, however, the South erected a system of segregation that supposedly . . . Read More
Point of View
While ‘ ‘The Bear” is a third-person narrative, it is told from the point of view of Ike McCaslin. Yet not all that Ike knows is told. For example, neither Ike nor the narrator ever actually confirms that Boon killed Sam. McCaslin makes this assumption, and Ike, the only witness, lets his statement remain uncontested. Even more complicated are the conjectures of Ike and McCaslin about Eunice’s suicide. It is here that the narrator is demonstrated to be not omniscient (all-knowing), but a more limited, and experimental, version of the traditional third person narrator.
Set in Faulkner’s fictitious Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, “The Bear” covers different time periods during Ike McCaslin’s youth. Although the first section begins while Ike is age sixteen, most of the section covers Ike’s first hunting trips during the fall of 1877 . . . Read More
Rites of Passage
“The Bear” describes several important rites of passage for Ike McCaslin. The first rites of passage that readers encounter are the hunting rituals marking the various stages of his growth as a hunter. His first hunting trip at age ten, killing his first deer at age twelve, and other important landmarks in his hunting experience are described in the narrative. Ike is well acquainted with the normal progression of the hunter’s apprenticeship, and is able to anticipate his experiences before they occur: ‘ ‘It seemed to him that at the age of ten he was witnessing his own birth. It was not even strange to him. He had experienced it all before, and not merely in dreams.” Ike is prepared to follow the procedures of his apprenticeship: taking the worst hunting stand on his first trip; Sam marking his face and hands with blood after he kills his first deer; and the long evenings of storytelling. Camping and . . . Read More
Ash is an African-American servant to Major deSpain. He is described in womanly terms and is relegated to tending to camp. After Ike kills his first buck, Ash airs his resentment at not being allowed to hunt. When Major deSpain allows him to go out the next day, Ash shows himself to be an untrained and inept hunter.
See Hubert Beauchamp
Hubert Beauchamp is Ike’s uncle. Hubert promised Ike a silver cup full of gold coins as an inheritance; however, he gradually replaced the coins and then the cup with lOU’s. Ike rejects his own inheritance on the assumption that the gift from Uncle Hubert would be enough to live on. The worthless inheritance epitomizes the fruitless expectations of many Southern plantation families, most of whom lost their family fortunes in the Civil War.
Uncle . . . Read More
“The Bear” immediately introduces readers to numerous time periods simultaneously.’ ‘There was a man and a dog too this time,” Faulkner writes, and readers are alerted that at least two time periods are being described in the narrative. The story follows sixteen-year-old Ike McCaslin as he embarks upon his sixth year of an annual hunting trip and the experiences he undergoes during his two weeks in the hunting camp. The narrative weaves between a number of years in Ike’s life, from his first hunting trip at age ten to the current year. As Ike ages, the elements of the trip that remain constant are the men he travels with—Major de Spain (owner of the land on which they hunt), General Compson, McCaslin Edmonds, Uncle Ash, Sam Fathers, Boon Hogganbeck, and Walter Ewell—and Old Ben, the ‘ ‘big old bear with one trap-ruined foot” whom the hunters track. After this initial setting of scene, the narration returns to Ike’s . . . Read More
William Faulkner was a legendary drinker in two senses: He could consume truly enormous amounts of alcohol, and some contended that he needed alcohol as a kind of potion that gave him creativity and inspiration as an artist. However, common sense states that no one could have produced novels as complex as he did while under the influence of alcohol. This becomes especially clear when considering the almost unbelievably complex family trees that Faulkner constructed for his imaginary families in Yoknapatawpha County. A number of prominent families in the county appear in novel after novel, and Faulkner would follow the history of each clan backward and forward in time, keeping the relationships, birth dates, and death dates of each member in mind as he constructed their stories (and further mixing the families together in any given story or novel; again, no one could have accomplished this feat while as inebriated as the legends say he was).
Of the prominent Yoknapatawpha . . . Read More
The Antebellum, or Pre– Civil War, South
Events in the South during Faulkner’s life cannot be understood without knowing something of the American Civil War (1861–1865). The essence of the situation is that the northern and southern sections of the United States had, over the course of the last two centuries before the Civil War, followed different paths. The North had become, by 1860, an industrial powerhouse, a full participant in the Industrial Revolution that was then sweeping across the advanced nations of the world. The South had remained agrarian, growing cotton, sugar, and rice. After the invention of the cotton gin, a device that separated cotton from its seeds with high efficiency, the South became the Cotton Kingdom, exporting vast quantities to Great Britain, where the cotton was spun into cloth. The entire system, unfortunately, rested on the backs of millions of slaves, who grew the cotton and kept the gins running.
Because they . . . Read More
Debt and Payment
The incident at the start of William Faulkner’s novel, when Beauchamp refuses the seventy-cent tip from Chick, is in fact complex. On one level, the young and thoughtless Chick regards it as an insult to his race. More is happening here, however. The incident swells in his mind in part because he feels he owes an unpaid debt to Beauchamp, and he continually tries to repay it. In the end, he succeeds. He goes against the common sense of his time and place, opens the Gowrie grave, and finds the first piece of evidence that will save Beauchamp’s life and set him free. The debt, however, operates at a symbolic level, too. Chick owes Beauchamp seventy cents, but he owes him much more, because his society had enslaved Beauchamp’s ancestors, and presently keeps them in a new bondage that takes the form of strict segregation and poverty Chick’s debt symbolizes something much bigger: all of the South owes a debt to Beauchamp and his race, and . . . Read More
Lucas Beauchamp is one of the central characters in the novel, the man accused of murdering Vinson Gowrie. Although still vigorous, he is in his seventies as the story takes place. The black owner of a small cabin and farm on the Edmonds estate, Beauchamp is in fact a direct descendent of Carothers McCaslin, who founded the estate long ago. Beauchamp is self-assured to the point that he seems contemptuous of all who meet him. This is a dangerous trait for a black man in the South of the 1940s. Faulkner describes his face as ‘‘not arrogant, not even scornful: just intractable and composed.’’ For years, the county, it seems, has been waiting to teach him a lesson and put him in his place as a subordinate within this segregated culture. This may be one reason the white residents of Beat Four are so eager to lynch him, and even seem intent on burning him alive (hence, the frequent references Faulkner makes to the lynch mobs carrying . . . Read More