Intruder in the Dust

by William Faulkner

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

There still remained the dead monstrous heatless disc which hung nightly in the black abyss of the rage and impotence: If he would just be a nigger first, just for one second, one little infinitesimal second.

Chick Mallison, a white teenager, feels indebted to Lucas Beauchamp, a black man, because Lucas helped him four years before when Chick nearly drowned in a creek. Chick feels deeply uncomfortable being indebted to a black man, and he describes this discomfort as a heavy kind of weight around his neck. Chick tries to pay Lucas back for his help in several ways. Chick even sends Lucas's wife, Molly, an imitation silk dress, but then Lucas sends Chick back some sorghum molasses. It bothers Chick that he has to feel indebted to Lucas, because it erases his superiority to Lucas. He would feel more comfortable if Lucas were in an inferior position to him.

Both suckled at Molly's mother’s breast and grown up together almost inextricably like sisters, like twins, sleeping in the same room, the white girl in the bed, the Negro girl on a cot at the foot of it almost until Molly and Lucas married, and Miss Habersham had stood up the Negro church as godmother to Molly's first child.

Miss Habersham, an older white woman, is the only white person who helps Chick exonerate Lucas by digging up the body of the white victim to prove that Lucas did not kill him. Miss Habersham and Molly, Lucas's now-deceased wife, grew up together. The image of both of them suckling as infants at Molly's mother's breast symbolizes their closeness and the lifelong ties that bind them. The passage is about the way black people and white people grow up together but become separated over time by racism. However, Miss Habersham feels a connection to Molly that lasts even past Molly's death and that motivates her to help Lucas.

So (moving: he had not stopped since the first second’s fraction while he closed the office door) he flung himself bodily with one heave into a kind of deadly reasonableness of enraged calculation, a calm sagacious and desperate rationability not of pros and cons because there were no pros: the reason he was going out there was that somebody had to and nobody else would.

Chick feels motivated to help Lucas, and there is no doubt that he will dig up the victim's grave. He does not even stop to consider the pros and cons of doing so; instead, he is motivated to erase some of the debt he feels to Lucas, and he also believes in Lucas's innocence.

That's what we are really defending: the privilege of setting him free ourselves: which we will have to do for the reason that nobody else can since going on a century ago now the North tried it and have been admitting for seventy-five years now that they failed. So it will have to be us. Soon now this sort of thing won't even threaten anymore. It shouldn't now. It should never have.

Chick's uncle, Gavin Stevens, speaks to Chick about how the South has to free its black citizens and can't leave it up to the North. A theme of Faulkner's book is that the South must effect its own racial change and cannot allow the federal government to do so. Chick's uncle says that making blacks equal should not threaten the South and that they must take care of it on their own.

"Now what?" his uncle said. "What are you waiting for now?"

"My receipt," Lucas said.

At the end of the book, Lucas, who is exonerated, insists on paying for his defense, and he pays Gavin Stevens, his lawyer, two dollars. The book ends with his request for a receipt, which symbolizes the way in which Lucas expects to be treated as an equal to whites. He doesn't expect favors, nor does he act with submissiveness. Instead, he wants to be on an equal footing with whites. The receipt he asks for is symbolic of his request for equality and respect as a black man.

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