(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In “Was,” set in the pre-Civil War South, Uncle Buck and Cass set off after Turl, who regularly flees the McCaslin plantation to court Tennie at the neighboring Beauchamp plantation. Uncle Buck wants to catch Turl before he reaches the Beauchamp plantation because Sophonsiba, who lives there, is husband hunting. Uncle Buck fails to do so but bets Hubert Beauchamp that he will be off the plantation before nightfall. Uncle Buck fails at this resolution, too, and at night mistakenly lies down in bed with Sophonsiba. Caught, Buck plays a card game with Hubert to get out of the marriage. Buck loses again and Cass rides home to get Uncle Buddy. In a poker game between Hubert and Buddy, with Turl dealing, Buddy wins Buck’s freedom. Cass, Buck, Buddy, Turl, and, by the complicated bet of the card game, Tennie, return to the McCaslin land.

In “The Fire and the Hearth,” Lucas Beauchamp, while hiding his still, discovers what he thinks is part of a fortune hidden on McCaslin land almost a century ago. Lucas tells Roth Edmonds that George Wilkins is making whiskey on McCaslin land. Roth alerts the police, but Wilkins and Lucas’s daughter Nat place the evidence on Lucas’s porch. Although Wilkins and Lucas are arrested, Lucas keeps them both out of jail by hurriedly marrying Nat and Wilkins so that, as relatives, none of the three can testify against another. A flashback presents Lucas’s memory of Roth’s mother dying in childbirth and Zack, Roth’s father, keeping Mollie, Lucas’s wife, at his house to care for the infant. After six months, Lucas demanded that Zack return Mollie and implied that Zack had been using her sexually as well as domestically. The morning after Mollie returned, Lucas went to Zack’s bedroom to kill him; the gun misfired. A few months after Lucas’s and Wilkins’s arrests, Lucas asks Roth for three hundred dollars to rent a gold-finding machine. When Roth refuses, Lucas talks a salesman into accepting Roth’s mule as collateral. After Roth discovers his mule has been used as collateral, Lucas tricks the salesman into returning the bill of sale for the mule and the machine. Lucas continues to search for gold, so Mollie asks Roth to arrange a divorce between her and Lucas. Another flashback reveals Lucas demanding his patrimony at age twenty-one and Roth’s repudiation of kinship with Lucas’s son Henry when they were seven. Just before Mollie’s divorce is finalized, Lucas gives up the machine and his search.

In “Pantaloon in Black,” Rider, a millworker who rents a house on McCaslin land, puts himself in a number of suicidal positions after burying his wife, Mannie, of only six months. His killing a night watchman who regularly cheats the mill workers at dice brings about his death: He is...

(The entire section is 1126 words.)