These clips about Go Down, Moses come from many different sessions, in both 1957 and 1958. The first two are from a tape with so much background noise that I'm giving you a transcript of Faulkner's answers as well as the questions. The rest are much clearer, at least acoustically. As with the other sets of questions, you should also think about the kinds of questions the UVA community in 1957-1958 didn't seem interested in asking about this book, especially since it makes black characters, race relations and the legacy of slavery so central to its concerns.
Q: Could you explain the significance of the title “Was”?
Faulkner: Yes, I was—this was the first chapter in a book. The book was composed of short stories. It covered a great deal of time. The central character in the book was a man named Isaac McCaslin, who was old at the time of the book. But this background which produced Isaac McCaslin had to be told by somebody, and so this is Isaac McCaslin’s uncle, this Cass here is not old Ike, this is Ike’s uncle. And “Was” simply because Ike is saying to the reader, I’m not telling this, this was my uncle, my great-uncle that told it. That’s the only reason for “Was”—that this was the old time. But it’s part of him, too.
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Q: Sir, you use hunting terms all through “Was” when they’re chasing Tomey’s Turl. Is there any significance to this —I mean, do they think that perhaps this colored man is not about —well, say he’s on the same plane as the fox?
Faulkner: At that time he was, at the very time that these twin brothers believed that there was something outrageous and wrong in slavery and they had done what they could. In fact, they had given up their father’s fine mansion to let the slaves live in it and they had built a two-room log cabin that they lived in. That they by instinct knew that slavery was wrong, but they didn’t know quite what to do about it. And in the heat of the pursuit —well, in daily life, they would use the terms in which the Negro was on a level with the dog or the animal they ran. And especially in the heat of a race, which —though this was more of a deadly purpose than simple pleasure, in the heat of running this man the man became quarry that would have received the same respect that the bear or the deer would —that is, the bear or the deer would have had his chance for his life. They wouldn’t have betrayed him, tricked him, they wouldn’t have built a deadfall for him. They would have run him all fair with the dogs and if he could escape, could kill the dogs and get away, good for him. If he couldn’t, it was too bad.
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Q: I’d like to know a little bit about the circumstances of the composition of “The Bear.” Can you remember when it was that you first thought of it and put it down? . . . You really began to compose it when you were Isaac's age?
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Q: Mr. Faulkner, you seem to put so much meaning into the hunt. Could you tell us just why you hunted when you were a little boy, or what meaning the hunt has to you?
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Q: In “The Bear,” Mr. Faulkner, once again, at the—the end of Part Three, Sam Fathers has died. Does he die in his own little cabin or does he ask Boon Hogganbeck and Ike to take him out and expose him on the four-cornered platform?
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Q: In “The Bear,” Mr. Faulkner, many readers come across Part Four and find it written in quite a different style than the other parts and the conclusion—well, it gets far ahead in years beyond Part Five. Was there any conscious plan in that?
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Q: Mr. Faulkner, do you look at Ike McCaslin as having fulfilled his destiny, the things that he learned from Sam Fathers and from the other men as in his—when he was twelve to sixteen? Do you feel that they stood him in good stead all the way through his life? . . . Did he ever have any children?
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Q: Mr. Faulkner, Isaac McCaslin in “The Bear” relinquishes his heredity. Do you think he may be in the same predicament as modern man, under the same conditions that he can’t find a humanity that he can fit in with?
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Q: [This is an interesting series of exchanges between Faulkner and two women, about Ike's relationship with his unnamed wife. One woman asks these questions:] Sir, I'd like some help on understanding what I call the bedroom scene in the fourth section of "The Bear." You make one statement—"She is lost. She was born lost." Could you help me understand what was meant by that? . . . And I wondered why she laughed and laughed. . . . So she intended from the beginning of their marriage to deny him this one thing that he had requested until it was useful in blackmailing— [And then, after a few more exchanges, a second woman asks:] Mr. Faulkner, if she had been the kind of wife he needed, and had been able to give him love and companionship and had stuck by him and had children and had a home for him, do you think that his—that he would ever have compromised with his ideals? After all, he had no training, no way of providing for her.
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Q: Sir, you stated that the story of Ike in "The Bear" is in a manner of speaking autobiographical. Does Ike's theory of the curse on the land in any way reflect your feeling there's a curse on the land?
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Q: Sir, one of the most interesting aspects of "The Bear" to me is the conflict between man and the wilderness. I would like to ask you if you intend for the reader to sympathize more with Old Ben in his conflict with the hunters, or with the hunters in their conflict with Old Ben.
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Q: Sir, is that what you meant by the ending of this, then—that change must destroy all goodness?
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Q: Mr. Faulkner, does the miscegenation and incest of Roth Edmonds in "Delta Autumn" complete a cycle of incest and miscegenation begun by old McCaslin and only interrupted by the goodness of Buck and Buddy and Ike in the middle?
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Q: Sir, in “Delta Autumn,” in the thoughts of Ike McCaslin when he’s talking to the colored girl, you write, “Maybe in a thousand or two thousand years in America, but not now, not now.” I was wondering how you might apply that to the present-day conditions that have happened since the writing of the story, with the Supreme Court decision and what-not.
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Q: This genealogy with all these people that were connected with each other, the McCaslins and everybody—was that made up before the books were written or as each one was written?
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