Big Bottom (Location Key)

Code: 
532
Notes: 

For Faulkner aficionados the "big woods" in his hunting stories are a place like the pathless wilderness where Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook have adventures in Cooper's Leather-Stocking Tales or the big river where Huck Finn and Jim travel on the raft in Mark Twain's novel - one of the enchanted places in the American imaginary. If Faulkner's "South" is haunted by its past and divided up by issues of race and class and gender, the "big woods" apparently offers a kind of escape into a world that is timeless and whole. There is nothing symbolic or spiritual about the place in "A Bear Hunt": this earliest hunting story derives from a different literary tradition, usually referred to as 'South-Western Humor,' and though it is set at De Spain's camp in the "wild" bottom of the Tallahatchie River where the other hunting stories take place (65), and even includes a mysterious Indian mound, the story Faulkner stages there deploys the setting for essentially comic purposes. A year later, however, in the story "Lion," Faulkner introduces the bear into the setting, and although Jefferson is "just twenty miles away," this primeval world is relocated in a more mythic context, unchanged, Quentin Compson thinks, since "the first Indian crept into it" long ago and representing an antithesis to the world of "houses" and "stores" in towns and cities (192). When Faulkner's imagination returns to the woods in Ike McCaslin's company in the hunting stories of the late 1930s, they are slightly further away from civilization - "thirty miles from Jefferson" ("Delta Autumn," 273) - and much more deeply embedded in the realm of the spirit. When Go Down, Moses pulls these stories together, it uses what Ike learns - from Sam Fathers, his spirit guide, from Old Ben, the bear, and from the wilderness itself - to suggest how he can "free" himself from the "curse" of history and even time (285, 246). It's important to note, however, how as a modern American writer Faulkner both evokes and subverts this religious-Romantic trope. There is always already something awry about the big woods. Gender isn't transcended, for example, but repressed - "The Bear" chapter in the novel actually begins with an act of segregation: "hunters" are "not women, not boys and children," but men (182). Faulkner is aware of this evasion: the novel begins by noting that Ike is childless. Nor does the wilderness have a future. In the first paragraph of the story "Delta Autumn" the big bottom in Yoknapatawpha is "gone now" (267). It's been clear cut by the logging company that De Spain sold the land to. Actually, it's not all gone, but the only part of the 'timeless' woods that remains is the graveyard where Sam and Lion and one of Old Ben's paws are buried. That cemetery strikes a particularly Faulknerian note, but it isn't the most ironic note we need to acknowledge. Because in the larger world of the Yoknapatawpha fictions, the big woods was already "Sutpen's Hundred" (Absalom, Absalom! pre-dates most of the hunting stories, all except "Lion"), and in that novel De Spain's hunting camp - the place where Ike apparently can step out of history into communion with eternity in a way that resembles Dilsey's religious experience in church on Easter morning in The Sound and the Fury - is Sutpen's fishing camp, where Sutpen's life ends. The ground of Ike's rebirth is saturated with the blood of Sutpen, Wash, Wash's granddaughter Milly and her infant daughter. "The past" was there first.

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