Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 644
McCaslin plantation. Located seventeen miles from Jefferson, this plantation was established by Carothers McCaslin near the end of the eighteenth century. The land’s passage through the generations of McCaslins and Edmonds tells the story of the McCaslin family. The land is handed down through the white side of the family, but worked chiefly by the family’s black side—the illegitimate descendants of the plantation’s founder through miscegenation with his slave Eunice and his incest with Thomasina—his own daughter by Eunice. The story titled “Was” reveals that by 1859, Carothers McCaslin’s twin sons, Uncle Buddy and Uncle Buck, have moved into a log cabin they have built and moved their slaves into the unfinished big house, turning the world upside down. Uncle Buck’s son, Isaac, repudiates his inheritance, so the plantation that was his birthright passes through the female line of the family to his cousin Carothers McCaslin Edmonds (“Cass”), then to his son Zack and his grandson Roth.
No further miscegenation is recorded until 1940, when Roth fathers a son by an unnamed black woman who is, like Roth, a great-great-great grandchild of the family patriarch, Carothers McCaslin. Like much of the agrarian South, the McCaslin plantation is a dark and bloody ground, on which black and white coexist uneasily, each group suffering the consequences of McCaslin family history as the sins of the father are continually visited upon the sons. “Was” begins on the McCaslin plantation, while nearly all of “The Fire and the Hearth” takes place there.
*Tallahatchie River. Mississippi river whose alluvial “big bottom” region (also called “the woods”) contains Major de Spain’s hunting camp. Here Sam Fathers teaches the young Ike McCaslin to shoot and here the yearly hunts for Old Ben take place. Later, Uncle Ike, Roth Edmonds and the others go hunting in what is left of the big bottom in 1940. For Ike, the center of consciousness as a boy in “The Old People” and “The Bear,” and as an old man in “Delta Autumn,” the big bottom represents the wanton destruction of the land, its game, and its people. In the woods, Ike learns a deep and abiding love for all three.
Jefferson. Seat of Yoknapatawpha County, located approximately seventy-five miles southeast of the real city of Memphis, Tennessee. Modeled after the real town of Oxford, Faulkner’s home, Jefferson appears in many of Faulkner’s works. Parts of “The Fire and the Hearth” and all of “Go Down, Moses,” the final story in this episodic novel, are set in Jefferson, where Gavin Stephens maintains his office, and where he takes up a collection to return the body of Molly and Lucas Beauchamp’s grandson, Samuel Worsham (“Butch”) Beauchamp, home for burial after Butch is executed for murder in Illinois in 1940. Jefferson represents modern law, or rather, its inadequacy. The authorities in Jefferson cannot untangle the stories of Lucas Beauchamp and his son-in-law, George Wilkins, during their comic trial for bootlegging. Here, too, attorney Gavin Stephens does what he can to right the wrongs of the past. What he can do seems little enough: Unlike Moses, he cannot save Butch Beauchamp but can only retrieve his corpse.
Warwick. Plantation owned by Hubert Beauchamp and his spinster sister, Sophonsiba, approximately twenty miles from the McCaslin farm. Most of the comic action of “Was” takes place at Warwick, so called because Sophonsiba (“Sibbey”) believes her brother is the rightful earl of Warwick, England. Sophonsiba stations a slave boy at the gate to blow a fox horn when guests arrive, and her pretentiousness regarding the plantation satirizes the aspirations of frontier society and the comical attempts of southern men to adhere to an aristocratic code, while providing an appropriate setting for the comical “foxhunt” that occurs as Uncle Buck hunts his escaped slave—and half brother—Tomey’s Turl.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 181
Beck, Warren. Faulkner: Essays. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976. Contains a 248-page essay that discusses each story in the novel.
Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. Deals with Faulkner’s novels set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County; chapter on Go Down, Moses discusses each of the seven stories in the novel.
Early, James. The Making of “Go Down, Moses.” Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1972. Book length study of how the novel was made from a series of stories; discusses Faulkner’s themes, characterization, and narrative techniques; includes the words of the spiritual “Go Down, Moses” and a McCaslin genealogy.
Kinney, Arthur F., ed. Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The McCaslin Family. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1990. Provides a McCaslin genealogy, a chronology for the action of Go Down, Moses, character descriptions, and a number of essays on Go Down, Moses and on Southern history and culture.
Muste, John M. “The Failure of Love in Go Down, Moses.” Modern Fiction Studies 10, no. 4 (Winter, 1964-1965): 366-378. Theme of the white characters’ inability to love unifies the novel.