Summary: Symbolism in Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner

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‘The Bear’ is a passage from ‘Go Down, Moses’ a short story by William Faulkner composed first in The Saturday Evening Host in 1942. ‘Go Down, Moses’ is viewed as the full gathering of Faulkner’s best short stories. ‘The Bear’ includes symbolism that directly relates to Ike’s life on a persoanl level. Ike learns to trust others, make hard decisions, and how to become his own man. These attributes all come from his adventures with his hunting group, and their search for Old Ben. Old Ben, is an image for Ike’s youth going by him and his old hunting grounds being developed for land. The prey is nature itself, spoken to by a bear, while the hunters are men, simply selfish land developers looking for their own gains. “Ike’s concept of the bear, communicates the possibility of imagery in connection to the future loss of his hunting grounds and the representation of his own friends and family preying on him.”

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Upon his first experience with the woods, Ike is lost in ponder, it has been his fantasy for whatever length of time that he could make sure to join the men on the chase and investigate the enormous woods. What separates Ike from the other men, be that as it may, is his ponder of the wild, of its size as well as of what puzzles it contains. When he arrives, he feels the need “to earn for himself from the wilderness the name and state of hunter provided him in his term were humble and enduring enough.”  Ike doesn’t desire the approval of any of the other hunter, his cousin, or even his wise mentor Sam Fathers. Instead he knows that the right to claim the name of hunter lies in earning the approval “from the wilderness” and to do so he must be “humble and enduring.” Those words don’t appear to fit with the violence of the other hunters; to them the capacity to shoot and kill is all that truly matters, henceforth the situation of Walter Ewell as a veteran hunter. By utilizing delicate words Faulkner expresses that there is something else entirely to hunting, what Ike wants and looks to desires is having a place with nature, to feel it through him. Without this feeling of endorsement and having a place from the woods, Ike feels he is dishonorable to end the life of a creature and to utilize what he has picked up from death to profit himself. “I could say I don’t know why I must do it but that I do know I have got to because I have got myself to have to live with for the rest of my life and all I want is peace to do it in.” 

The story continues with the hunt for Old Ben heating up. James Merriweather best described this story by saying, ‘Faulkner’s villains do not respect nature and their fear of it has nothing in common with the fear of the Lord or with awe in the presence of the divine.’  In the story, we find a bear that has learned to outwit and survive hunters for years.“The Bear” immediately introduces readers to numerous time periods simultaneously. “There was a man and a dog too this time,” The story continues with Ike again as he sets out upon his 6th year on a yearly hunting trek and the encounters he experiences amid his two weeks in the hunting camp. The account weaves between various years throughout Ike’s life, from his first hunting excursion at age ten to the present year. As Ike ages, the elements of the trip that seemed to remain the same. Malcolm Cowley explains this citing “the men Isaac travels with in “The Bear, Major de Spain, General Compson, McCaslin Edmonds, Uncle Ash, Sam Fathers, and Walter Ewell all have an positive impact on his life, whether it be teaching moments, or hunting skills the trips Isaac take help craft him into a man”. Old Ben, the “big old bear with one trap-ruined foot” whom the hunters track throughout the short story plays an important role as well. After this initial setting of the scene, the narration returns to Ike’s first hunting trip, where Sam Fathers teach Ike the code of the wilderness. In one exercise, Sam forces Ike to watch game animals pass in front of him without firing at them. He begins to gradually learn more about the wilderness because of Fathers teachings. “If Sam Fathers has been his mentor and the backyard rabbits and squirrels his kindergarten, then the wilderness the old bear ran was his college and the old male bear itself, so long unwifed and childless as to have become its own ungendered progenitor, was his alma mater.” One day when he ranges through the woods without a gun, a watch, or a compass, he finally catches a glimpse of Old Ben. They quickly discover that Old Ben has learned to outwit and survive hunters for years, and they’ll be in for a challenge. The bear began to fly in and out of the ten year old Ike’s mind nonstop. “He realized for the first time that the bear which had run in his listening and loomed in his dreams since before he could remember” .

The last section of this story begins three years later. Ike is thirteen and has now killed his first buck and his first bear. “By now, he was a better woodsman than most grown men,”.During the hunting trip described in this section, the hunters lose one of their colts to a wild animal. Colts are types of hunting dogs used to retrieve and attack prey. General Compson is sure that the predator is a panther, but Sam Fathers is unsure of this. The party traps the animal only to find that it is a fyce, or a wild mongrel dog. Sam decides to keep the dog, whom he names “Lion,” in order to help their hunting party corner and kill Old Ben. Throughout the fight, however Sam is struck down with a seizure and dies shortly after. While, Lion dies just days later from his wounds.

Ike returns to his former home, a farm near Jefferson, Georgia. Ike turns twenty-one making him eligible to claim the property previously owned by his family. But he declines giving it to his cousin McCaslin Edmonds, a father figure to him. Ike has an extensive argument with McCaslin in which Ike declares his belief that the land cannot be owned, that the curse of God’s Earth is man’s attempt to own the land, and that curse has led to slavery and the destruction of the South. Literary critic Olga Vickery explains Ike’s path to independence from his family. “After refusing the inheritance, Ike moves back into his hometown and becomes a carpenter, eschewing his old material possessions.” Over the course of his life Ike experienced loss of loved ones, betrayal from his remaining family and the embarrassment of the lies his family hid from him. All these affecting him for the better, and allowing him to understand he’s never truly tied to something. Ike becomes able to trust others, make some of the toughest decisions of his life, and setting him up on the path to becoming his own man and then seeing it through. 

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