(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Intruder in the Dust proved to be one of William Faulkner’s most popular novels when it was first published. Set in the late 1940’s, it addresses the issue of civil rights for African Americans. In 1949, the novel was made into a film in Oxford, Mississippi.

Lucas Beauchamp, black descendant of the old slaveowner Carothers McCaslin, refuses to fit into the social pattern of race and position in Jefferson, Mississippi. This proud man of mixed blood, accused of murdering a white man, maintains his dignity by refusing to defend himself. Considered the noblest of Faulkner’s black male characters, Lucas also appears in Go Down, Moses (1942), which details the intertwining lives of the black and the white McCaslins.

Distantly related to Lucas through McCaslin is Chick Mallison, a sixteen-year-old white youth who views the old man with awe and respect. When Lucas sends for lawyer Gavin Stevens, Chick’s uncle, Chick goes with him. Initially Stevens believes that Lucas is guilty. Chick, however, does not. He becomes engaged by Lucas’ refusal to clear himself; he cannot let this man be lynched.

Chick determines to dig up the victim’s body to prove that Lucas is innocent. Miss Eunice Habersham’s participation in this scheme makes it possible. Miss Habersham, who grew up with Lucas Beauchamp’s wife Molly, seems utterly fearless. One of Faulkner’s grand old ladies, she knows who she is: descendant of a respected white family and unafraid to take risks for what she knows is right. She puts herself in jeopardy of the lynch mob because she, like Chick, refuses to stand by and allow Lucas to be taken. Only Chick and Miss Habersham have the courage to act at first. Lawyer Stevens is slower but is finally convinced by his nephew.

In this novel of conscience, Chick discovers what it means to be a man. He must choose between conforming to his society and his moral responsibility to the white and the black inhabitants of Jefferson. The loquacious Stevens is given a number of speeches representing Faulkner’s position on the civil rights issue in the South, namely, that the South must take responsibility for and solve by itself the racial problems that it has created and inherited. Stevens tells Chick: “Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame.”


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

On a cold afternoon in November, Chick Mallison, twelve years old, accompanied by two black boys, goes rabbit hunting on Carothers Edmonds’s place. When he falls through the ice into a creek, an old black man, Lucas Beauchamp, appears and watches while the boy clambers awkwardly ashore. Then Lucas takes the white boy and his companions to his home. There, Chick dries out in front of the fire and eats Lucas’s food. Later, when Chick tries to pay the old man for his hospitality, Lucas spurns his money. Chick throws it down, but Lucas makes one of the other boys pick it up and return it. Chick broods over the incident, ashamed to be indebted to a black man, especially one as arrogant as Lucas. Again trying to repay the old man, he sends Lucas’s wife a mail-order dress bought with money he saved; again refusing to acknowledge payment and thus admit his inferiority, Lucas sends Chick a bucket of sorghum sweetening.

Four years later, when Lucas is accused of shooting Vinson Gowrie in the back, Chick still has not forgotten his unpaid debt to the man. Realizing that Vinson’s poor white family and friends are sure to lynch Lucas, Chick wants to leave town. Yet, when Sheriff Hope Hampton brings Lucas to the jail in Jefferson, Chick, unable to suppress his sense of obligation, is standing on the street where the old man can see him. Lucas asks Chick to bring his uncle, Gavin Stevens, to the jail.

At the jail, Lucas refuses to tell Stevens what happened at the shooting, whereupon the lawyer leaves in disgust; but Lucas does tell Chick that Vinson was not shot with his gun—a forty-one Colt—and he asks the boy to verify this fact by digging up the corpse. Although...

(The entire section is 689 words.)