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The Bear is an usual work because it exists in two main forms. In the simpler form, it is a story of a great bear hunt in which Isaac McCaslin, Sam Fathers, and Old Ben, the bear, are the main characters. The more complex version includes a long and complicated fourth section in which Isaac explains to his older cousin, McCaslin Edmonds, how his experiences hunting in the big woods have led him to refuse the Mississippi plantation of which he is the heir. This is followed by a shorter, concluding fifth section. Even though the longer version was created for and is firmly embedded in the novel, Go Down, Moses (1942), this is the text found in Three Short Novels of William Faulkner, and it often is anthologized. Therefore, this article will discuss the longer text.

Isaac McCaslin is the last and final living heir of his grandfather, Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin, who arrived in Mississippi early in the 19th Century and became the owner of a large and reasonably prosperous plantation and a good number of slaves. During the course of his life, he took one of his slaves as a concubine, and she bore him a daughter, Thomasina or Tomey. When Tomey grew up, he took her as well, and she bore him a son, Terrel or Tomey's Turl. This combination of exploitation and incest revolts Isaac when he learns of it. Therefore, he decides that he must find some positive and powerful way to reject racist and sexist exploitation and prevent it from repeating in future generations. His decision is to refuse to take possession of the land, because he believes the lust for ownership stands behind the sins of his grandfather.

Sam Fathers has a similar history to Tomey's Turl. He was the son of a Chickasaw chief by his mulatto slave. The father abandoned his son by marrying the mother to another slave and then selling them to Isaac's Grandfather. Sam is also similar to Isaac in that he is the last of his people in this region. Sam becomes Isaac's teacher, conveying to him not only the skills necessary for hunting well and honorably in the wild, but also "the old stories" of the Chickasaws. Part of this tradition is the conviction that all of nature flows with a life force that rightly only possesses itself and cannot be possessed by another, though people may succeed in persuading themselves otherwise. From Sam, Isaac learns that neither people nor land can be owned, that it is a violation of a fundamental truth to attempt ownership, that ownership inevitably leads to evils such as his grandfather's incestuous exploitation of his slave daughter.

Old Ben, the bear, is an integral part of Isaac's education. By learning to know the bear over years of tracking him and through various encounters, and then through three years of direct participation in hunting Old Ben, Isaac comes to understand the fierce force of life that flows in the bear and in the wilderness and in himself.

McCaslin Edmonds is Isaac's cousin, grandson of Isaac's aunt and seventeen years older than Isaac. Because he is a significantly older member of the family, he takes over the plantation when Isaac's parents die and becomes a kind of father to Isaac, managing his affairs until he is old enough to take over the plantation himself. Therefore, it is to Cass (McCaslin) that Isaac must explain and justify his decision to refuse his patrimony. Their conversation on this subject makes up the bulk of the fourth part of the novella. In that part, McCaslin...

(This entire section contains 627 words.)

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acts as a sympathetic listener who argues the other side, presenting reasons why Isaac should take over the plantation and continue the best parts of his family's heritage.


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Ash is an African-American servant to Major deSpain. He is described in womanly terms and is relegated to tending to camp. After Ike kills his first buck, Ash airs his resentment at not being allowed to hunt. When Major deSpain allows him to go out the next day, Ash shows himself to be an untrained and inept hunter.

Hub Beauchamp
See Hubert Beauchamp

Hubert Beauchamp
Hubert Beauchamp is Ike's uncle. Hubert promised Ike a silver cup full of gold coins as an inheritance; however, he gradually replaced the coins and then the cup with IOU's. Ike rejects his own inheritance on the assumption that the gift from Uncle Hubert would be enough to live on. The worthless inheritance epitomizes the fruitless expectations of many Southern plantation families, most of whom lost their family fortunes in the Civil War.

Uncle Buck
See Theophilus McCaslin

Uncle Buddy
See Amodeus McCaslin

See McCaslin Edmonds

General Compson
General Compson is a close friend of the McCaslin's and Major deSpain. Compson respects Ike for his woodsmanship and gives him his compass and his silver hunting horn. He also offers to house Ike after Ike leaves the family farm.

Major deSpain
Major deSpain owns the land on which the men hunt. A former officer in the Civil War, Major deSpain now works in a bank and eventually sells off most of the hunting grounds to a logging company.

McCaslin Edmonds
Cousin and guardian of Ike McCaslin, Cass attempts to convince his ward to accept his inheritance. Their complex dialog in part four of the story indicates that he and Ike do share a special bond that allows them to anticipate each other's thoughts, though he is nowhere as near to Dee as is Sam Fathers. While he understands Ike's position in regard to the family's history, Cass views events with a more practical eye. He acknowledges the scandalous role his family has played in Southern history, but is content to let go the burdens of his past.

Sam Fathers
Sam Fathers is part Native American and part African American. Descendant of a Chickasaw chief named Hckemotubbe, Sam teaches Isaac McCaslin to hunt the former lands of his ancestors. He is struck down mysteriously when Old Ben dies and shortly thereafter asks Boon to kill him and bury him according to Chickasaw tradition. It is Sam Fathers's love of the land and respect for the hunt that make him an important role model for young Ike. Because he is the descendent of both chiefs and slaves, Sam represents a unique aspect of the human condition; his nobility is checked by the servile role he is given in society.

A descendant of Carothers McCaslin through her father, Terrel, Fonsiba is entitled to a one-thousand dollar inheritance. She is also a product of his incest with her grandmother, Tomey.

Boon Hogganbeck
Like Sam Fathers in that he is part Native American, Boon possesses none of Sam's nobility, intelligence or hunting skill. Instead, Boon relies on brute strength to kill Old Ben.

Uncle Hubert
See Hubert Beauchamp

See Isaac McCaslin

Uncle Ike
See Isaac McCaslin

First captured and subdued by Sam Fathers, Lion is a fearless mongrel hunting dog. Ike and the others know that only Lion is capable of baying an animal as strong and as smart as Old Ben. In finally doing so, Lion inadvertently ends the hunting trips.

Amodeus McCaslin
Ike first learns of his grandfather's sins through a farm ledger in which Uncle Buddy insists that the slave Eunice drowned herself. Uncle Buddy, a lifelong bachelor, cooked and did the housekeeping for himself and his brother Buck until Buck's marriage to Sophonsiba and then subsequent move back into the big house.

Carothers McCaslin
Ike's grandfather, Carothers McCaslin, owned a plantation and several slaves. His most important actions as they affect Ike are his adulterous relationship with his slave, Eunice, and his incestuous relationship with their daughter, Tomasina. It is Carothers's role in the family's history, and in the history of the South, to which Ike objects.

Isaac McCaslin
Isaac McCaslin, also known as Ike and Uncle Ike, is the central figure of "The Bear" as well as the larger work, Go Down, Moses. The son of Uncle Buck McCaslin and Sophonsiba Beauchamp McCaslin, Ike is the sole heir to the McCaslin plantation. Orphaned at an early age, Ike is raised primarily by his cousin, McCaslin "Cass" Edmonds. Nevertheless, he considers the part Native-American, part African-American Sam Fathers his "spiritual father." Ike identifies strongly with Sam, whose woodsmanship and hunting skill he eagerly learns. Because of the lessons he learns from Sam Fathers in the woods, Ike chooses to reject his tainted inheritance and live instead the purer life of a carpenter. His business-minded cousin, McCaslin, tries to dissuade him, but Ike will not change his mind. His stubbornness, however, accomplishes little in the way of social progress; his own material deprivation is his longest-lasting achievement. For Ike, that is enough.

Sophonsiba Beauchamp McCaslin
As Buck's wife and Ike's mother, Sophonsiba tries valiantly to maintain her brother's estate as well as restore her husband's plantation. Her attempts to preserve delusions of grandeur contrast with the McCaslins' lack of concern for elegant appearances.

Theophilus McCaslin
Ike's father, Uncle Buck, lost a card game to Hubert Beauchamp and as a result had to marry Hubert's spinster sister, Sophonsiba. Ike is their only child. Along with his twin brother, Uncle Buddy, Uncle Buck lives in a log cabin on the family's plantation and allows his slaves to live in the plantation house. After their marriage, Sophonsiba urges him to restore the house for their own use.

Old Ben
Old Ben, a bear who has eluded pursuers for years, is hunted every year by the hunting club on the final day of their trip. Boon Hogganbeck, with the help of Lion, finally kills him. His death symbolizes the death of the wilderness itself due to the encroachment of civilization and progress. Once he is dead, the group of hunters stops returning to the area.

Daughter of the slave Eunice and Carothers McCaslin, Tomey also bears her father a child, the son named Turl (Terrel).

See Tomasina

See Tomasina




Critical Essays