Study Guide

The Bear

by William Faulkner

The Bear Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

Faulkner's reputation has been largely based on his novels, rather than his short stories. Critics have found that Faulkner's novels are often more experimental and include a larger narrative sweep than his short stories. "The Bear," however, stands in contrast to this general rule. In the fourth section of the story, Faulkner employs a stream-of-consciousness narration to represent Isaac McCaslin's thought patterns. This fragmented narration is an example of the modernist approach Faulkner was using in his writing to portray modern existence in a new way. The story's unusual juxtaposition of episodes from very different points in time is another technique that Faulkner developed. These juxtapositions account for a large time period during which the saga of the McCaslin family unfolds. Finally, it is important to remember that the story is part of a larger work that Faulkner insisted should be read as an integrated novel. Thus, the attributes of Faulkner's fiction that steer admirers toward his novels rather than his short stories can all be found in "The Bear.''

Early readers claimed "The Bear" was a simple hunting story, partly because the versions of the story published in 1935 and 1942 did not include the fourth section on McCaslin Edmonds and his descendants. When read with the fourth section, the tale remains an excellent example of the hunting story genre. Cleanth Brooks points out in his book William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country that today's urban citizens may not understand the depth of the work. Brooks asserts that "The Bear'' portrays a hunter who "loves the game that he pursues, and that his code of sportsmanship embodies—however inadequately and however crudely—a regard for his prey which is probably much deeper than that of those citizens who have no first-hand concern for the animals of the wilderness." "The Bear" is much more than a hunting story in many ways, and criticism tends to focus not on the peculiar relationship of the hunter to his prey, but on Isaac's moral struggle to deal with his ancestors' sins of slavery and incest. In general, critics have found Isaac incapable of his task of making restitution for his family's violations of human...

(The entire section is 897 words.)