Student Question

How are the characters developed in "The Bear"?

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William Faulkner develops characters through direct characterization in "The Bear." The omniscient narrator is able to access not only the boy protagonist's thoughts, but also even those of nonhuman characters. Through physical description, thoughts, and dialogue, the narrator shapes how readers think about the characters.

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In his 1942 short story "The Bear," William Faulkner utilizes direct characterization to develop the characters. The boy at the center of the first part of the story is unnamed, but it is eventually revealed in subsequent parts of "The Bear" that he is Ike McCaslin. Two techniques of direct characterization, the narrator's descriptions coupled with Ike's own thoughts and actions, mark Ike's development from a boy of ten to fourteen in this rite-of-passage narrative.

Other characters are likewise developed through direct characterization. Sam Fathers hunts alongside Ike, and their relationship is revealed through their conversations as Sam speaks sparingly to the boy. Sam wants the boy to learn to make his own decisions and learn from the outcomes. The narrator describes Sam's ethnicity, his clothing, and his looks, and by reporting what he says to young Ike, he fleshes out his character.

Old Ben, the bear, and the dogs receive direct characterization as well. Ben's actions of showing and not showing himself as well as leaving his unique paw print sketch his character. The fear of the tracking dogs and ferocity of the fyce provide foils for one another, and the fyce's thoughts receive exploration through the omniscience of the narrator.

And finally, Ike's father is characterized mostly through the conversation he has with his son at the end of the story. He speaks to his son through the vehicle of poetry he reads to him, trusting the boy to make the connection to what he needs to know about truth, honor, and courage.

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