GO DOWN, MOSES by William Faulkner | Review

As my summer of reading Faulkner continues, I’ve found myself continually stumbling upon some under-rated, under-discussed gems that deserve more time in the bookish spotlight. Though a large amount of literary criticism has been written about Faulkner’s works, it’s relatively rare to see his works being discussed beyond the usual classroom studies of As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom!, etc. But what about the rest of his novels and short stories? Why is no one talking about these thought-provoking, masterfully crafted works of literature?

Well, I’m here to start the conversation– or at least to continue it from where it apparently fizzled out at some point. I have so many talking points that I’d like to bring up, but here are the ones I think are the most important to highlight:

+ Structure. Interestingly, this book spans the gray area between novel and short story collection. These stories are all closely interconnected and almost read like chapters of a single novel, though older editions of this book have often been titled Go Down, Moses and Other Stories. Such a title suggests a sharp distinction between the stories, when in actuality they tend to blend together into one long narrative. I like to think of them as sections rather than individual stories because they really do belong side by side. I also think it’s fascinating to think about the order they appear in Go Down, Moses. Each section reveals slightly different information about the tangled web of this family throughout several generations, unfolding a complicated history entrenched in slavery, war, and pride of property. One’s reading experience of this book would be vastly different if the sections were placed in another order.

+ Inheritance. The idea of inheritance plays a major role in this book in a myriad of ways, from inheritance of land and money to slavery, family legacies, reputations, and beliefs. Generations of characters are linked through so much more than just the blood that runs through their veins, and it is this interconnected web that creates such embedded conflict within the family. It’s really interesting to see how some characters try to shake loose from this inheritance while others embody it as part of their identity.

+ A changing South. One of the reasons I love Faulkner’s work and find it so interesting is that his stories straddle that gray area between the “Old South” and the “New South,” the rocky transition from slavery to supposed freedom. You feel that constant tug of tension between the two in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, a reflection of the pervasiveness of this dichotomy throughout the actual South during this time period.

+ “Was.” Putting this story as the very first section of this book was a brilliant move on Faulkner’s part (assuming he decided the order of the stories for this edition). “Was” explains why the marriage between Tomey’s Turl and Tennie was arranged and introduces several of the key characters in the book. The reader has no way of knowing the incredible significance of the marriage at this point in the text, but providing information about it allows Faulkner to slowly let the details unfold in later sections. Also, I think the title of this section is brilliant because it emphasizes how important the past is to this family. Their heads and hearts and identities are so deeply entrenched in the past that they never seem to make it past what “was” to what now “is.”

+ “The Bear.” THIS STORY. HOLY COW. Not only is this the longest section of the book, but in my opinion it’s also the most interesting, important, and revelatory of them all. I became unexpectedly invested in the bear hunt and fascinated by the inner workings of the camp for those two weeks in November each year. This section also brings up the important Native American perspective, particularly in regard to land ownership and how his mixed race identity has been controlled by slavery. If you read one story from this book (though I don’t know why you would– just read the whole thing!!) definitely read this one!

Overall, I was sometimes confused, sometimes surprised, and always fascinated by Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses. This is a text I foresee myself reading many more times in the future as I endeavor to understand all of its layers, nuances, and implications.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!! Though I would probably recommend they start with another text by Faulkner first (maybe Sartoris or As I Lay Dying) to get used to his style of writing before diving into this more confusing work.

What are your thoughts on this book? What’s your favorite work by Faulkner? Any recommendations for what I should read by him next? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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