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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Go Down, Moses (1942) by William Faulkner



Book Review
Go Down, Moses (1942)
by William Faulkner

  Each Faulkner novel I read, I ask myself, "Do people still read William Faulkner OR WHAT?"  I've actually already done a post about the decline of interest in Faulkner between his high watermark in the early 1980s and today.  Specifically, in 1985, Ernest Hemingway surpassed Faulkner in terms of number of mentions in the English language, a phenomenon you can see clearly illustrated in the above Google Ngram.  Hemingway himself isn't exactly in vogue these days, so that shift in number of mentions is particularly telling. 

  My sense is that Faulkner has suffered because of the explicit themes of sex, violence and race relations which permeate his work.  His modernist prose style doesn't help, but the combination of the four factors makes him largely unreadable for High School students, vastly limiting his potential audience.  I can also see how his "white maleness" would make him an unpalatable subject for graduate students in literature, another huge potential audience.   Was Faulkner ever a popular, best selling author?  Certainly after he won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949, but  not before then, when his audience was confined to the literati.

  I've seen Go Down, Moses referred to as both a collection of short stories and a novel.  Initially, readers and reviewers read the collection of loosely connected chapters as a compilation of thematically similar short stories, but later readers have, rightly I think, argued that Go Down, Moses is actually a loosely structured novel.  In Go Down, Moses Faulkner concerns himself with the confused family history of the McCaslins.  The family has two branches, one black, one white.  The chapters move backwards and forwards and time, and rarely spell out for the reader the precise nature of the twisted family dynamics between the slaves and slave owners.

   Finally, after reading the unusually stylized Wikipedia entry for this book, I realized that the complication at the heart of Go Down, Moses is that of a white male slave owner having a child by a slave, and then having a child with that (female) daughter.  Hunting is also a major theme in here, with multiple stories dealing with the tracking and hunting of a wily old bear.  I guess they have bears in Mississippi?

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