Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 357

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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.

Places Discussed

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 536

Yoknapatawpha County

Yoknapatawpha County (YOK-nuh-puh-TAW-fuh). Fictional county in northern Mississippi, modeled on the region in which William Faulkner lived most of his life—a region that constitutes the fictional world of most of his novels and stories. A representation of the South from its earliest settling to modern times, Yoknapatawpha serves as a repository of southern history, legends, and communal memories. Against this backdrop, Chick Mallison confronts his long-held attitudes, becoming, himself, an intruder in the dust.

Jefferson

Jefferson. Fictional seat of Yoknapatawpha County, based on Faulkner’s hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. Jefferson is the home of Chick, who is horrified to see the throngs of people converging there to witness the impending lynching of Lucas Beauchamp that is expected to be carried out by the Gowries. The town assumes a holiday atmosphere; music blares; people, including families with children, arrive, eat, joke with one another, and gather outside the jail. Chick’s lawyer uncle, Gavin Stevens, digresses endlessly about the South, while presuming Lucas’s guilt and awaiting the inevitable.

Beat Four

Beat Four. Hilly region of Yoknapatawpha County that is inhabited by the Gowries and other poor white families. Living in unpainted one-room cabins, these independent, uncompromising, and clannish people pursue illegal whiskey making, bootlegging, and crimes of passion. Violent and vindictive, they want no black inhabitants near them, preferring instead their own community, religion, and code of values.

Chick stealthily enters the forbidding area of Beat Four with his black servant and friend, Aleck Sander, and feisty Miss Habersham. Together they sneak into the Gowrie cemetery at Caledonia Chapel to dig up Vinson Gowrie’s body in order to determine what kind of bullet killed him. Beyond providing evidence that eventually clears Lucas of Vinson’s murder, the trek to Beat Four inspires in Chick a realization of the essential humanity of the Gowries. The development of the novel hinges upon Chick’s widening sympathies with other human beings, accomplished to a large extent through his association with the Gowries and his foray into the Gowrie cemetery.

Lucas’s farm

Lucas’s farm. Site where, several years before the main narrative of the novel begins, Chick fell into a creek while hunting with Aleck Sander, and was rescued by Lucas. Taken to Lucas’s house to recuperate from his harrowing ordeal, Chick was so tainted by his belief in his own racial superiority that he failed to understand he was a guest in Lucas’s house and attempted to force payment on him. Lucas resisted and continued to foil Chick’s efforts to pay him back. The debt that was never repaid becomes the basis for Lucas’s request for Gavin Stevens to represent him and for Chick to exhume Vinson’s body.

The fact that Lucas owns his own land—ten acres that he inherited from his grandfather—is one of the reasons why he refuses to act as white people expect him to act, as a black man. Proud, strong, and individualistic, Lucas behaves in a free and nonsubservient manner similar to that of white persons. Angry white people consequently believe that Vinson’s murder has something to do with Lucas’s arrogant behavior and resolve to teach Lucas a lesson.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 293

Bassett, John, ed. William Faulkner: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975. Ninety-four critical reviews and essays on Faulkner, including six on Intruder in the Dust. Bibliography.

Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. Contains a chapter on Intruder in the Dust. Description of plot and comparisons of the characters and the subtexts of the works. One of the most helpful and accessible books for information on Faulkner.

Howe, Irving. William Faulkner: A Critical Study. New York: Vintage Books, 1962. Focuses on the Southern myth and memory. Finds Intruder in the Dust to be the novel in which Faulkner frees himself from the Southern tradition of racism and stereotypes that are normally inherent to Southern life.

Jehlen, Myra. Class and Character in Faulkner’s South. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976. Finds class distinctions to be the central theme in Faulkner’s novels, including Intruder in the Dust. Considers treatment of characters relative to their classes.

Karl, Frederick R. William Faulkner: American Writer. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.

Lytle, Andrew. “Regeneration for the Man.” In Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Penn Warren. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966.

Powers, Lyall H. Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha Comedy. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980. Emphasizes Faulkner’s vision of good versus evil and his dark optimism. Draws a comparison between Go Down, Moses and Intruder in the Dust, using the character Chick Mallison.

Vickery, Olga W. “Initiation and Identity: Go Down, Moses and Intruder in the Dust.” In The Novels of William Faulkner: A Critical Interpretation. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.

Wilson, Edmund. “William Faulkner’s Reply to the Civil-Rights Program.” In Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950.

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