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The following editions of Go Down, Moses are available for purchase online:

Go Down, Moses (Vintage Paperback Edition) Go Down, Moses

Vintage International


ISBN: 0679732179

Published 1991

Go Down, Moses (Modern Library Edition) Go Down, Moses

Modern Library


ISBN: 0679601740

Published 1995

Novels, 1942-1954 Novels, 1942-1954: Go Down, Moses, Intruder in the Dust, Requiem for a Nun, A Fable

Library of America


ISBN: 0940450852

Published 1994

Published May 11, 1942, by Random House, under the (mistaken) title of Go Down, Moses, And Other Stories; dedicated “To Mammy Caroline Barr, Mississippi, [1840-1940]: Who was born in slavery and who gave to my family a fidelity without stint or calculation of recompense and to my childhood an immeasurable devotion and love.”

One of Faulkner’s masterpieces, Go Down, Moses is an episodic novel consisting of short stories, most of which were published elsewhere. A difficult novel at times (particularly in Section 4 of “The Bear”), the novel tells the story of the McCaslin family, beginning with the family patriarch Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin, and his many descendants, both black and white. It is a noteworthy exploration of race, particularly as it is compounded with miscegenation, and is concerned also with the vanishing wilderness.

The Story

The novel unfolds in discrete stories that are achronological. For an examination of the plot sequence in the order in which they appear in time, see Arthur F. Kinney’s Go Down, Moses: The Miscegenation of Time.


Isaac McCaslin, 'Uncle Ike,' past seventy and nearer eighty than he ever corroborated any more, a widower now and uncle to half a county and father to no one
     this was not something participated in or even seen by himself, but by his elder cousin, McCaslin Edmonds, grandson of Isaac's father's sister and so descended by the distaff, yet notwithstanding the inheritor, and in his time the bequestor, of that which some had thought then and some still thought should have been Isaac's, since his was the name in which the title to the land had first been granted from the Indian patent and which some of the descendants of his father's slaves still bore to the land.

“Was,” the first story/chapter in Go Down, Moses begins with a reference to Isaac McCaslin, one of the key characters in the novel, and a flashback to an event which occurred in 1859, eight years before Isaac was born, relating to Isaac's father, Theophilus “Buck” McCaslin, and Buck's twin brother Amodeus (Buddy). His cousin McCaslin Cass Edmonds, was nine years old at the time of the story and it is he who tells it to Isaac. The story is comic, but it is an ironic comedy for reasons that will be revealed later in the novel.

As the story proper opens, chaos has broken out at the McCaslin plantation: the fox which the McCaslins keep caged in the bedroom has broken loose, with the dogs chasing it through the house; and more significantly, the slave Tomey’s Turl has escaped. As we discover, it is a regular event for Turl, who goes to Hubert Beauchamp’s plantation, Warwick, in the neighboring county to visit his beloved Tennie. Thus begins the ritual hunt for Turl: Buck gets his necktie, because Hubert has a sister, Sophonsiba, and then sits down to breakfast to give Turl a sporting chance.

Much of the humor in the piece is the way in which this “hunt” for the escaped slave goes badly for Buck, as Turl again and again gets the better of his would-be captor. Turl’s ultimate triumph, however, he accomplishes with the aid of Sophonsiba, who desperately longs for a husband. Buck’s misadventure leads him to “accidentally” get into bed with Sophonsiba, and so to live up to his region’s code of conduct, he must marry her.

Buck gets out of his nuptial quandary only by the poker-playing skill of his brother, who comes to rescue his brother from his obligation and in the process wins Tennie as well.

“The Fire and the Hearth”

[T]o the sheriff Lucas was just another nigger and both the sheriff and Lucas knew it, although only one of them knew that to Lucas the sheriff was a redneck without any reason for pride in his forbears nor hope for it in his descendants.

Set in the present day of the early 1940s, “The Fire and the Hearth” tells principally of Lucas Quintus Carothers McCaslin Beauchamp, son of Tomey’s Turl and grandson, as it turns out, of old Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin, his namesake and the white patriarch of the McCaslin family. It is comprised of two previously published stories, “A Point of Law” and “Gold Is Not Always,” both of which Faulkner extensively revised for Go Down, Moses.

As in “Was,” much of “The Fire and the Hearth” is comical, particularly Lucas’s determination to put an end to the moonshining activities of George Wilkins, who like Lucas is a tenant on the McCaslin plantation currently run by Roth Edmonds (grandson of Cass Edmonds), not because of the competition with his own moonshining operation but rather because Lucas fears George’s youthful indiscretion will get both of them caught. Complicating matters is the fact that George is enamored of Lucas’s youngest daughter, Nat.

Lucas plans to tell Roth Edmonds of George’s operation, but first, he must hide his own still. While doing so, he uncovers a single gold coin, which sets his mind racing about old stories of buried treasure and instills in him a new determination to find it. Before he can do so, however, he is himself arrested for moonshining when Nat plants his still in his own backyard to allay suspicion away from George. The comedy in the story follows Lucas’s actions to outwit the prosecutor from bringing him to trial for moonshining and later to trick a “divining machine” salesman into giving him the device to find the treasure Lucas still believes is hidden somewhere on the McCaslin plantation.

The story has a far more serious side, however. In an extended flashback, we find that Lucas very nearly killed Zack Edmonds when he believed Zack to be sleeping with his wife, Mollie, shortly after Zack’s wife had died giving birth to Roth. Only by a misfired bullet did Lucas avoid murder, both of Zack and of himself, which would inevitably result in the case of a black man killing a white. Another serious moment in the story is when Roth as a young boy enters into his heritage of racial recognition, when he asserts his superiority as a white over his black friend and playmate Henry, the son of Lucas and Mollie.

The story ends on a note of tenderness and love, when Mollie, determined to put an end to Lucas’s avarice in hunting the treasure, intends to divorce him. Though he stubbornly persists in going through with it, even appearing in court, Lucas finally relents, even debasing himself before a white man in order to preserve his marriage.

“Pantaloon in Black”

But she had not stopped. She was fading, going. “Wait,” he said, talking as sweet as he had ever heard his voice speak to a woman: “Den lemme go wid you, honey.” But she was going. She was going fast now, he could actually feel between them the insuperable barrier of that very strength which could handle alone a log which would have taken any two other men to handle, of the blood and bones and flesh too strong, invincible for life, having learned at least once with his own eyes how tough, even in sudden and violent death, not a young man's bones and flesh perhaps but the will of that bone and flesh to remain alive, actually was.

Like “The Fire and the Heart,” this story is likewise set in the present, though it has only tangential relation to the rest of the novel. Rider, a powerful black lumber mill worker, is grieving over the death of his wife. His grief is so great that nothing he does can relieve it. Finally, he ends up at a crooked dice game, where he kills the operator, Birdsong, knowing that the act will lead to his own lynching. His suicidal gesture is misinterpreted, however, by the sheriff’s deputy who had been “officially in charge of the business” as the crazed action of “damn nigger”; as he tells his wife, black men like Rider “aint human. They look like a man and they walk on their hind legs like a man, and they can talk and you can understand them and you think they are understanding you, at least now and then. But when it comes to the normal human feelings and sentiments of human beings, they might just as well be a damn herd of wild buffaloes.”

“The Old People”

Commentary forthcoming...

“The Bear”

Commentary forthcoming...

“Delta Autumn”

Commentary forthcoming...

“Go Down, Moses”

Commentary forthcoming...

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How to cite this page (MLA style):

Padgett, John B. “Go Down, Moses: Commentary.”William Faulkner on the Web.

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Copyright © 1995 – 2008 by John B. Padgett.
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