35. Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner



Swearing off Faulkner forever?

Ok, maybe Faulkner has finally won over my heart, but I have a sort of love/hate relationship with the guy (probably like his wife did). 

He is a very good crafter of words. Writers change the course of history, and he certainly should be applauded for just understanding the absolutely stupidity of slavery and of treating black people as less than human. How could a Christian think they could twist Scripture to treat people like chattel? I just don't get it, but Faulkner did.  My favorite Civil War historian, Shelby Foote, once said, "Faulkner, to me, was one of the great communicators of sensation." That is a perfect way to put it! His writing created sensation and made people think!  He was so ahead of his time, and that is what probably won him the Nobel Prize for Literature and two Pulitzers. Here is an excerpt of his Nobel acceptance speech:


 I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's, the writer's, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail. (Read or listen to speech HERE)
I wonder how he was so ahead of his time. Was it the influence of his "Mammy" to whom he dedicated Go Down, Moses?

As much as I respect his brilliance as a writer, he is so depressing and hopeless. The "Life's a bitch and then you die" philosophy of the American Modernist Movement (think Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald) is not really my cup of tea. Neither is Southern Gothic fiction. So, that is two strikes against him. Plus, his personal life was such a terrible mess (Think Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Stein again). What is it about these turn of the century American authors? Brilliant but messed up! 

There is an excellent video about him: HERE

This novel was better than As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury, and it is equal to Light in August (Remember when Oprah had you read three Faulkner's in the summer of 2005? I gave up after The Sound and Fury only to finally read Light in August last summer - and liked it! Do yourself a favor and start with LIA and the resources HERE.). All that said, this is probably my last Faulkner (We will pause for a moment of silence.).

Go Down, Moses is a series of interwoven stories about the descendants of Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin (1772 - 1837). There are many characters and this makes it confusing. I found this genealogy very helpful as I read:

McCaslin Genealogy  (I had to look up what "miscegenation" meant)

Sparknotes.com was also quite helpful.

The title is based on the American negro spiritual:


When Israel was in Egypt's land: Let my people go,
Oppress'd so hard they could not stand, Let my People go.
Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt's land,
Tell old Pharaoh,
Let my people go.
In the song "Israel" represents the African-American slaves while "Egypt" and "Pharaoh" represent the slavemaster.
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