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William Faulkner (1897—1962) American novelist


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Novelette by Faulkner, published in Go Down, Moses in (1942). Early versions of parts of the work are “Lion” (Harper's, Dec. 1935) and “The Bear” (Saturday Evening Post, May 9, 1942), and an abbreviated form, without section 4, which treats of Isaac's dispossessing himself of his lands, appeared in Big Woods (1955).

One December day in the 1880s the 16-year-old Isaac McCaslin, heir of one of the good old families of Yoknapatawpha County, is taken to hunt the great bear Old Ben so that the boy may show his courage and be initiated into the ranks of men. Since the age of ten he has learned the woods and the ways of hunters on annual autumnal outings with other McCaslins, Major de Spain, General Compson, and men of Indian blood, like Boon Hogganbeck and Sam Fathers. When Ike was 13 Sam Fathers “had marked his face with the hot blood” of the first buck he had killed, and “in the next November he killed a bear.” Now he faces more dangerous game, for Old Ben, who has killed dogs, a fawn, and a colt, is the prime subject of an annual quest by mature men. For this purpose Sam Fathers has trained a huge, almost wild dog, Lion, to hold the beast, but in their first encounter both the bear and the dog are killed. Boon too is ripped by the bear, but he survives to act on Sam's unspoken request, killing the exhausted man, who has lost his will to live. Five years later, when he is 21 and married, Ike makes clear the great meaningfulness of this experience as he tells his older cousin, McCaslin Edmonds, that he plans to give up the plantation he has inherited so as to free himself from the ownership of property, further cursed because it was dubiously acquired and was the site of his grandfather's incestuous relations with his slaves. Ike has come to love the wild beauty of nature, represented by Old Ben. This sacramental feeling he has learned from Sam, rather than from the land, which is only the object of human possession and is now typically despoiled by men.

Subjects: Literature.

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