(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story is set on the eve of the 1940 presidential election. As Isaac McCaslin and his fellow hunters drive the two hundred miles it takes to get to the wilderness, he reflects on his sixty years of hunting and of how the land has been radically changed by human habitation. His life seems to draw inward as the wilderness itself draws inward in retreat from human progress.

The first half of the story is told almost exclusively from Isaac’s point of view. He seems noble, selfless, and magnanimous—even in the face of the fact that his beloved wilderness has been virtually destroyed. The other hunters, especially Roth, are extremely cynical about the present. Roth, who is in a foul temper over an affair that is ending badly, taunts Isaac and tries to get him to say that better men hunted the land in the old days. Isaac, however, is serene in his faith in humankind, that human beings are only a little better than their circumstances usually allow them to be.

Isaac’s values have, in fact, isolated him. Although the hunters respect him for his bond with nature, he is as outmoded as the wilderness with which he seems to be coeval. This becomes apparent when he has trouble keeping up with the conversation in which one of the hunters, Legate, taunts Roth about the “doe,” the woman he has been seeing during their hunting trips. Roth seems disgusted with the whole human race, not only with Legate’s barbs, when he scorns Isaac’s romantic view of the congress between men and women as close to God-like. “Then there are some Gods in this world I wouldn’t want to touch, and with a damn long stick,” he retorts.

The point of Roth’s remarks is apparent in the second half of the story. The men have left for the first day’s...

(The entire section is 724 words.)