Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“The Bear” is Faulkner’s best-known and most highly regarded story; it takes its place among his wilderness narratives, such as Old Man (one of the two novellas that make up The Wild Palms), “Red Leaves” (1930), the best of Faulkner’s Indian stories, and the escape of the black architect in Absalom, Absalom! Its genesis is typical of Faulkner’s writing and publishing career: He used his material to the greatest degree. A short story titled “Lion” appeared in 1934; it was enlarged in 1941 and 1942 as “The Bear,” to be a section of the novel Go Down, Moses.
A shortened form was published in a magazine in 1942; then, two days later, the novel appeared, with what is sometimes called “The Bear II” included. Because this contained section 4, which adds to the novel but detracts from the hunting story, the novel version without section 4 was anthologized in Big Woods in 1955; with section 4, it appeared in Three Famous Short Novels in 1961.
The work symbolizes the destruction of the wilderness. It is also concerned with the mythic initiation of a boy, young Isaac (Ike) McCaslin, into manhood. In the later versions, Quentin Compson as narrator is dropped in favor of omniscient narration, and “the boy” becomes Ike. The magazine and novel versions differ in that the bear is killed only in the latter.
Old Ben is a mythic two-toed bear who has eluded hunters...
(The entire section is 533 words.)
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"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 Dee's first hunting trip, where Sam Fathers teaches Ike the code of the wilderness. In one exercise, Sam forces Ike to watch game animals pass in front of him without shooting. Ike gradually learns more about the wilderness in the rest of the first section. One day when he ranges through the woods without a gun, a watch, or a compass, he finally catches a glimpse of Old Ben.
The second 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...
(The entire section is 964 words.)