"The Bear" (Text Key 4672)

short story

This version of Faulkner's great novella originally appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on May 9, 1942. In July of the previous year, Faulkner began work on the hunting story about a mythic bear which would eventually become the fifth and longest segment of Go Down, Moses (1942). By September 9, he sent the first two sections of "The Bear" to Random House and, in the following two months, he revised them, using most of the first section and the initial pages of the second, into a story that he could sell to a magazine for badly needed cash. He concluded this now much shortened story with new material that would become part of section four of "The Bear" in Go Down, Moses. The two versions of "The Bear" appeared in print virtually simultaneously: the novel was published on May 11, just two days after the story.

The unnamed boy at the center of this story is a good example of how Faulkner recreated his cast of characters over the course of his career. As Faulkner worked on the various hunting stories that would eventually become part of Go Down, Moses, the identity of the boy-hunter and his father underwent significant transformation. In Harper's 1935 publication of "Lion," later reworked into section three of "The Bear" of Go Down, Moses, a sixteen-year-old Quentin Compson serves as the youthful narrator of the story. Faulkner maintained Quentin's role in the earliest surviving typescript of "The Old People," but by 1939 when he submitted a slightly longer typescript for magazine publication, it is no longer clear that the boy-hunter is a Compson for he had become, as in this magazine version of "The Bear," an anonymous protagonist. By the time Faulkner began to compose the manuscript of "The Bear" two years later, he had already formulated a larger working narrative that featured the boy-hunter as Isaac "Ike" McCaslin.

Dating the Story: Our representation of the story is based on the magazine text reprinted in the Uncollected Stories, edited by Joseph Blotner. Because so much of this story is consistent with "The Bear" of Go Down, Moses, we have chosen to use Ike McCaslin's birth year of 1867 as the same for the unnamed boy in this story, which means that the story opens when the boy is ten in November 1877. To some degree, this dating is conjectural, based not on internal evidence in the story itself, but on its compositional relationship to the narrative that Faulkner had already established for Go Down, Moses. Dating the events of "The Bear" relative to each other is relatively straightforward, as the boy hunter's age and the month in which events occur are usually given. The main action of the story spans from the boy's first November hunting trip when he is ten to April when he is fourteen. However, it is impossible to discern from evidence in the story an absolute accounting of the years that the story takes place. Circumstantial clues in the story, such as the fact that General Compson was "old enough" to lead a brigade in 1865 but in the present-day action is still young enough to hunt, means it has to take place within a few decades of the Civil War.

First Publisher: 
Saturday Evening Post
First Publisher Date: 
May 9, 1942
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Edit Copy Publisher: 
Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Corrigan, John, and John Padgett. "Faulkner's 'The Bear.'" Added to the project: 2015. Additional editing 2021: Jennie J. Joiner, John Padgett. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

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