Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 357
Intruder in the Dust, published in 1948, has many different layers. It appears in some ways to be a whodunit, as Lucas Beauchamp, a black man in Mississippi, is accused of having murdered a white man. However, as the protagonist, Chick Mallison (a white teenager), unravels the murder and exonerates Lucas, the novel turns out to be far more than just a mystery; it is a commentary on the state of race relations in the mid-twentieth century in the deep South, and a story of Chick's gradual maturity.
Chick's growth is symbolic of that of the South during a time of great racial upheaval and change. At the beginning of the novel, he is in Lucas's debt; Lucas helped him after Chick nearly drowned in a creek four years before the action of the novel takes place. This debt bothers Lucas and chafes at him, as he feels that it makes Lucas his equal. He wishes desperately to be able to pay Lucas back and to restore Lucas to a position of inferiority and submission in their relationship.
This is why Chick embarks on the project of trying to clear Lucas's name. However, as the novel goes on, it is clear that Chick has changed, as he no longer simply wants to clear Lucas's name but also to bring about racial justice and equality. His transformation is a precursor to the racial struggles that occurred in the South as a whole during the Civil Rights era—which took place shortly after the book's publication.
Lucas Beauchamp, in wanting to be equal to the white people around him, was a revolutionary kind of African American character in a book written by a white man during this period. He is not violent or subservient but is instead a proud man who insists that others treat him with decency. At the end of the novel, he asks Chick's uncle, Gavin Stevens, for a bill for having represented him, and he then asks for a receipt. Faulkner's creation of a black man who is dignified and proud was almost unheard-of at the time, particularly in Southern literature written by a white man.