Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The beautiful writing and themes of “Delta Autumn” remain intact when it is read alone, but the story’s larger significance and resonance can be understood only by situating it within the context of Go Down, Moses (1942), the novel for which it was written. Like much of the novel, the story centers on the character of Isaac McCaslin, a veteran hunter who reveres the wilderness, deplores the civilization that is destroying it, and refuses to own or to run the plantation that his forebears helped to build with slavery.

Written on the verge of America’s entry into World War II, “Delta Autumn” explores in the context of a hunting story a country that has gone through momentous changes in the twentieth century and is uncertain of the extent to which its founders’ values remain relevant. Isaac and the hunters debate Roth’s fierce attack on the degradation of the times. Dictators will prevail in a country where men sing “God Bless America in bars at midnight” and wear dime-store flags in their lapels, Roth predicts. Unemployment, welfare, and the centralization of government are all deplored and debated.

This complicated political world is juxtaposed against the grandeur and purity of the wilderness. Very appealing images of nature make human corruption even more intolerable. However, the narrator make clear that to hold to a vanishing wilderness is to become caught in the rigidity that Isaac reveals at the end of the...

(The entire section is 420 words.)