In William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses, a great deal of Part 4 of “The Bear” takes place in the McCaslin plantation’s commissary as described on pp. 244 -245 (or the second and third...

In William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses, a great deal of Part 4 of “The Bear” takes place in the McCaslin plantation’s commissary as described on pp. 244 -245 (or the second and third paragraphs).

Explain the significance of that setting for the conversation Ike has with his cousin Cass.

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mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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It is in the commissary that Ike reads the ledger of his Uncle Buddy and his father, twins whose handwriting and spelling is even identical. From this ledger he gleans details of his family history.  Interestingly, this setting is metaphoric as the ledger records the buying and selling of merchandise and slaves and even one's morality in the listing of details that point to miscegenation and incest. The truths that this ledger records as though they are either purchases or debits points to the significance of the hunt for Old Ben as a representative of nature. In "Nature Myth in Faulkner's The Bear" in Myth and Literature: Contemporary Theory and Practice, John Lydenberg writes,

Their [the McCaslins] original sins have alienated them irrevocably from nature. Thus, their conquest of Old Ben becomes a rape. What might in other circumstances have been right, is now a violation of the wilderness and the Southern land.

Ike's conversation with his cousin centers around their opposing ideas about land ownership--Ike disagrees that land can truly be purchased--and the message of the Bible as words of the heart and not those as interpreted by translators,

"There are some things He said in the Book, and some things reported of Him that He did not say."

Thus, the scene in the commissary underscores Ike's argument that no one can truly own land, no more than one can own people or possess anything in nature. Instead, one only exploits. Having learned this truth in the commissary by reading the ledger, Ike relinquishes his inheritance and, in a sense, records the last ledger.

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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William Faulkner wrote The Bear, arguably as part of a novel, Go Down, Moses. It was published however as a series of short stories but with a powerful thread. Ike, has been tracking the bear with his family since the age of ten and no one has ever succeeded in killing this powerful symbol of nature. It is finally killed when Ike is sixteen and, by age 21, when Ike inherits the land from his grandfather, his character is conflicted by his rights to the land and ancient rights together with his belief that the land belongs to no one, that man is weak and that the only way to free himself from his family's "curse" is to refuse to be a part of it.  

Part IV has a different structure from the rest of The Bear and so the setting is significant because Faulkner wishes to create an awareness that time, for all its significance in Ike's maturing and his sense of awe in "feeling" or meeting Old Ben, actually acts as a continuum. This then allows for an acceptance of time's endless nature and the real extremes which confront Ike. He never really comes to terms with the fact that man controls land and in controlling land man thinks he controls nature. Man overlooks, however, "The wilderness which was bigger and older than any recorded deed."

The land is the source of the problem or "curse" which Ike is trying so hard to deny and which he finds so hard to reconcile with, having discovered the ledgers that reveal some shocking truths to him. The setting includes the historical and geographic elements which were introduced in the first three sections. This allows the reader to sympathize with Ike's situation and either agree or disagree with his understanding. As the conversation with Cass is a turning point, it is important that the mood is established and that confusion is removed, all of which add to the reasons why Faulkner chooses this setting. Ike's wish to "repudiate" any claim and hand over to Cass sets this section apart from the otherwise traditional story of hunting and a boy's maturity.

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