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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Go Down, Moses and Faulkner's moral vision Dahlie, Hallvard


The purpose of this thesis is to discuss the importance of Go Down, Moses in the working out of Faulkner's moral vision. By and large, critics have considered this book to be a central or pivotal work in this process, seeing Ike McCaslin's renunciation as a meaningful response to the curses of slavery and miscegenation which have beset the South for so many generations. Furthermore, some of them point out that Ike's initiation into the primitive simplicity of the wilderness world of Sam Fathers represents a solution for modern man in his own troubled world: somehow to effect a reversion to a simpler world with its concomitant virtues of innocence, humility, and self-sufficiency. On the whole, these critics have concentrated mainly on "The Bear" section of Go Down, Moses, and to a lesser extent on "Delta Autumn" and "The Old People," the three stories in which Ike directly appears. Consequently, their conclusions about Faulkner's moral vision stem almost entirely from their interpretation of Ike's responses to his two legacies, the wilderness world and the plantation world, with relatively little attention being paid to the responses of the other inheritors of the McCaslin curse. Thus, Go Down, Moses as a thematically unified work has been largely neglected, and the experiences of Ike McCaslin have been emphasized at the expense of those of the other inhabitants of the plantation world. This thesis will pursue the argument that the above interpretation is misleading on several counts, and hence that it is necessary to see the centrality of Go Down, Moses in a different perspective. First of all, by examining the nature of the plantation world, we will see that what Ike really repudiated was not just a legal inheritance, but a very real world in which the constituents of a full and meaningful life were everywhere evident. Secondly, it becomes evident in the analysis of Ike’s renunciation that his decision meant in effect that he was abdicating his responsibility for developing sound moral and ethical relationships within the world he was born into, and that his obsession with the values of the wilderness world represented living in terms of ritual rather than of reality. In the third place, the responses of the other inhabitants of the plantation world reflect a far more meaningful grasp of both the past and the present than does Ike, and in the perspective of these people, he suffers a significantly reduced stature. It becomes clear, then, that Faulkner uses Ike's responses to illustrate the futility of the static idealist rather than the sacrifice of a dedicated and determined reformer. And finally, the evidence in such later novels as Intruder in the Dust, A Fable, and The Reivers, as well as in Faulkner's own public utterances in the Nobel Prize Speech, at the University of Virginia, and at Nagano, indicates clearly how far man must progress beyond the idealism of the Ike McCaslins of the world in order to make an effective contribution to the moral and ethical status of his society. This thesis does not dispute the fact that "The Bear" is the key work in Go Down, Moses, nor that Ike is a central figure, but it does maintain that their significance can be, determined only by a close examination of the work as a whole. Such an examination will clearly reveal Faulkner's larger concern: that man must respond to his world as he finds it, whether that world is the wilderness, the plantation, or the modern world, and that the decisions he makes must be based on the realities of the world he has inherited. Within this perspective, it is evident that the responses of the Edmondses, the Beauchamps, and the miscellaneous inhabitants of the McCaslin plantation world must be carefully analyzed, for only against the tangible exigencies of the day-to-day lives of these people can the actions of Ike be properly assessed.

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