Read real teacher answers to our most interesting Go Down, Moses questions.

Motif and Symbolism in “Go Down, Moses”

(This note refers to the final story of the book, Go Down, Moses.

Faulkner’s style is often ripe with symbolic imagery. The story, “Go Down, Moses,” is no exception. Imagery of fire and ashes are used throughout “Go Down, Moses.” These images constitute both a symbol and a motif, gradually creating a metaphor relating to the ways that familial relationships can be seen as a natural narrative.

 “…by appearance she should have owned in that breeze no more of weight and solidity than the intact ash of a scrap of burned paper”

One way to read this motif is as a suggestion that the grandmother has been burned out or exhausted in the task of raising Beauchamp. The grandmother’s repeated references to the Bible also associate her with that book and so, metaphorically, with paper. Her insistence on achieving Beauchamp’s return can be seen in relation to this a figurative amalgam of the familial and the Biblical. Thus, Beauchamp’s relationship to his grandmother, his connection to her; the line that unifies them in a single story is subtly presented in the metaphor of fire and ash.  

On a more obvious level, the desk of Gavin Stevens’ is used to represent normalcy and a world untouched by the somewhat metaphysical manifestations of history that animate much of the story.