Go Down, Moses (Text Key 226)


Go Down, Moses, Faulkner's thirteenth novel and the ninth set in Yoknapatawpha, was published by Random House on 11 May 1942. It consists of seven named chapters, each of which contains significant subdivisions.  For that first edition, Random House added and Other Stories to Faulkner's title.  The novel does include revised versions of seven short stories published between 1935 and 1942, but Faulkner himself told his editor about "the shock (mild) I got when I saw the printed title page." When he first told Random House in 1940 about his idea of "making a more or less continuous narrative" out of the earlier material, he was thinking along the lines of The Unvanquished (1938), where stitching short stories into a book had not required much revision. But as he composed Go Down, Moses, he worked hard to re-create the stories as a novel, and by the time he finished writing it in early 1942, he had produced a work more like Absalom, Absalom! (1936), one that takes a searching look at the South, at the legacy of slavery, and in particular - as he put it in a letter to his publisher - at the "relationship between white and negro races here."

The stories Faulkner drew from are "Lion," "The Old People," "A Point of Law," "Pantaloon in Black," "Gold Is Not Always," "Delta Autumn," "Go Down, Moses," and the unpublished "Was." To transform these tales into the story he's telling in the novel, he added a new figure to the pantheon of Yoknapatawpha founding fathers and plantation aristocrats: Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin. He never appears directly in the novel, but his actions as a slave-owner create "the past" that shapes the lives of his black and white descendants. The two most significant of these are Ike McCaslin and Lucas Beauchamp. Ike, his white grandson, was a minor figure in the hunting stories "A Bear Hunt" and "Lion," but becomes the central character in the novel, as he wrestles with the "curse" that lies on his family and the land. Lucas, the essentially comic black protagonist of "A Point of Law" and "Gold Is Not Always," becomes the mixed race grandson of Old Carothers, and in many respects the most impressive black male figure in Faulkner's fiction. (He returns as a central character in Intruder in the Dust, 1948). Many other characters in the stories are changed into various members of the black and white halves of the McCaslin family. And even as he was urgently trying to complete the book in late 1941, Faulkner's determination to rise to the occasion of his theme led him to add a new story to the book - "The Bear," which is widely recognized as one of his greatest works. Ranging chronologically from the early nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, combining Faulkner's long-standing interest in family with his recently invigorated concern with slavery and race, leading readers deeply into both the big woods and the Old South, Go Down, Moses is, indeed, a novel, and one of Faulkner's major achievements.

Representations of the seven previously published stories, and of the severely abridged version of "The Bear" that Faulkner sold to The Saturday Evening Post in 1942, are available elsewhere in Digital Yoknaptawpha. Our representation of the novel here is based on the most recent paperback edition, published by Vintage International in 2011. This edition uses the "corrected text" established by Noel Polk, but unfortunately includes a large number of typographical and other errors. For that reason we include a list of errata, using as our reference the meticulous text Polk published in the Library of American edition (1994).

Dating the Story: Go Down, Moses offers plenty of specific dates for its plots and characters, which remain fairly consistent throughout the novel, so the editors have relied upon them in dating the story. "Was," for example, takes place in 1859, when Cass is nine; we therefore judge that he was born in 1850. The same chapter says that Ike is sixteen years younger than Cass, but "The Bear" says he was born in 1867; we chose the specific date as the basis for our entries.

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Random House
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New York
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Vintage International
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New York
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How to cite this resource:
Towner, Theresa M., Robert Coleman, Erin Kay Penner, and Ben Robbins. "Faulkner's Go Down, Moses." Added to the project: 2016.  Additional editing 2020: Jennie J. Joiner. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

Associate Editors: