Intruder in the Dust (Text Key 227)


On the first day of February, 1948, Faulkner wrote his agent to explain that he had set aside the seemingly unending work of A Fable, his allegorical novel about World War I, to start a "mystery story" he'd first considered in 1940. His relief at returning to his "apocryphal Jefferson" was palpable; he boasted of writing 60 pages, roughly half the novel's expected length, in the preceding two weeks. He promised to have it done before the end of February, and though he burned through the rest of the draft with time to spare, he soon found himself deep in revisions. In April, as he sent the manuscript – more than double its original length – to his publisher, he admitted that what had been a short piece, intended for popular interest, had "jumped the traces" as he reworked it.

The main figures of Intruder in the Dust are familiar ones, though their roles are new. Although Chick Mallison tagged along with his uncle in the five previously published detective stories that Faulkner would collect in Knight's Gambit (1949), he takes the lead in Intruder while his uncle, Gavin Stevens, remains somewhat removed from the main action. Stevens also appeared in the earlier novel Light in August and would return to stay with Intruder, becoming a fixture in the subsequent works Knight's Gambit, Requiem for a Nun, The Town and The Mansion. One of Faulkner's most impressive African American characters, Lucas Beauchamp, who challenged Ike McCaslin's role as the heir and protagonist of Go Down, Moses in 1942, shifts Intruder from a murder-mystery to a much more intriguing puzzle as the young Chick struggles, over a series of years, to see Lucas as more than the locus of a town's hatred, fear, and frustration.

Faulkner drew on his prolonged stints in Hollywood throughout the 1940's for the novel's murder mystery, and its subsequent reworking into a movie (1949) shot in Oxford offered him a reprieve from his persistent financial troubles. But there were larger issues that drove Faulkner to this text at this time: his conviction that above and beyond the murder-mystery, the novel concerned the "relationship between Negro and white, specifically or rather the premise being that the white people in the south, before the North or the govt. or anyone else, owe and must pay a responsibility to the Negro." His quick reassurance to his editor, "But it's a story; nobody preaches in it," is only half true; Gavin Stevens offers lengthy speeches that many see as Faulkner's rebuttal to the Dixiecrats, whose segregationalist line threatened to upset the 1948 presidential elections and weaken Democratic influence throughout the South. As Chick graduates from tagging along after his uncle to a racial awareness of his own, Faulkner sets talk aside and invests in the actions of the youth.

Far more powerful than Gavin Stevens's soliloquies are the complex, fraught relations between Chick and Lucas. Chick's unpayable debt to Lucas, generated in a boyhood misadventure, re-sets the terms of racial interaction both within Faulkner's fiction and outside it. Chick's attempts to absolve himself of obligation to Lucas recall the pairs of black and white boys who appear throughout Go Down, Moses. A rift appears when Roth Edmonds asserts superiority over his childhood friend, Henry, who is also Lucas's son. Henry's refusal to be shamed by his friend's actions prepares the way for the events in Intruder, where, to Chick, Lucas is first an undesired savior, then a man whose pride "earns" him the hatred of Chick and many others in the town mob, and finally an old man whose wife has died and whose white and black blood forces him to stake claim to an identity outside racial boundaries. In insisting on paying his own legal fees at the end of the novel, Lucas provides the end point for the monetary obsession that seemed merely material for comedy in Go Down, Moses.

The novel was first published by Random House on September 27, 1948. The text used here is Noel Polk's Corrected Text, published by Vintage International in 2011.

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Random House
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New York
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September 27, 1948
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How to cite this resource:
Dye, Dotty, Erin Kay Penner, and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust." Added to the project: 2015. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia,