Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

One of America’s greatest fiction writers, William Faulkner was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature, receiving the award in 1950. Go Down, Moses addresses an important theme in American literature—the relationships between blacks and whites in the South through several generations. The novel narrates events between 1859 and 1941 and also presents in retrospect events dealing with the McCaslin plantation from its founding by Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin near the beginning of the nineteenth century. The seven stories that compose the novel are linked geographically and thematically. All the events take place on or near the McCaslin land in Mississippi and all but one deal with members of the McCaslin family. The family includes the McCaslins, descendants from the male line; the Edmondses, descendants from the female line; and the Beauchamps, descendants through Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin’s relations with his slaves. Themes that link the stories are family, love, and race relationships and the ritual of the hunt. Stylistic devices such as repetition with variations and a complicated chronology also link the stories. By repeating with variations many events of the novel, Faulkner provides for multiple views and voices. By avoiding a strict chronology of events and by reiterating events already narrated, Faulkner leaves the impression of oral history, of a family history being recovered or discovered by different members at different times.

Each of the seven stories includes a hunt, but the type of hunt and its connotations vary widely. Treated humorously are Sophonsiba’s husband-hunting in “Was” and Lucas’s hunt for buried treasure in “The Fire and the Hearth.” Most of the hunts in the novel are more serious. Manhunts occur in “Was,” “Pantaloon in Black,” and “Go Down, Moses.” “Was” treats the pursuit of Turl humorously, but the reader discovers in “The Bear” that Buck is hunting his half brother. “Pantaloon in Black” relates Rider’s death by a white lynch mob, and “Go Down, Moses” shows Gavin Stevens’s search for Samuel Worsham Beauchamp, who has already been hunted down by the law and sentenced to be executed. These manhunts suggest both repetition and variation. Turl is hunted down and brought back to the McCaslin plantation in 1859, while about eighty years later the same is done to his...

(The entire section is 975 words.)