Isaac McCaslin

Character Key Number: 
Display Name: 
Isaac McCaslin
Sort Name: 
McCaslin, Isaac
Ever Present in Yoknapatawpha?: 

Few characters in the Yoknapatawpha canon are as protean as Isaac (Uncle Ike) McCaslin. If you only read "A Bear Hunt" (1934), "Lion" (1935), "The Old People" (1940), Intruder in the Dust (1948) and "Race at Morning" (1955), Uncle Ike is one of the men who are part of the annual hunting parties into the big woods. He's a very accomplished woodsman - as the narrator of the last story on that list puts it, "he had been hunting deer in these woods for about a hundred years, I reckon, and if anybody would know where a buck would pass, it would be him" (297) - but in those texts neither 'hunting' nor Uncle Ike have a larger significance. If you read only "Fool about a Horse" (1934), The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1960), you would think of Isaac essentially as a merchant, owner of a hardware store in Jefferson. But if you read Go Down, Moses (and you should!), you know Ike as a major character who belongs at what could be called Faulkner's 'Round Table,' where you find the sons of the old plantation aristocracy who take on the sins of their fathers and of the South in a quest for social justice. Quentin Compson, for instance, confronts that legacy in Absalom, Absalom!, and the part Ike ends up with when Faulkner revised "Lion" and "The Old People" for Go Down, Moses was originally played by Quentin. As someone who has already committed suicide at age twenty in The Sound and the Fury, however, Quentin cannot ultimately give Faulkner a way to move through the past toward a new future. When a ten-year-old Ike begins his apprenticeship with Sam Fathers, himself a victim of that past, hunting and the wilderness open up the possibility of a spiritually redemptive world outside time, and in particular outside Southern history. When Ike chooses to renounce his McCaslin inheritance - a Southern plantation haunted by the curse of slavery - he announces that "Sam Fathers set me free" (285). The price of that freedom goes beyond the material one: although in earlier texts he has children, when he sacrifices his inheritance he becomes "husband but no father, unwidowered but without a wife" (268). Even with that sacrifice, unfortunately, Ike's story in Moses doesn't end with his freedom. In the first publication of "Delta Autumn," Uncle Ike is a minor character. In the revised "Delta Autumn" chapter in the novel, he's the central character; he's back in the woods, but if earlier that realm had promised a way to transcend the legacy of slavery and racism, here it becomes the setting where Ike essentially repeats the past. Ike remains alive throughout the fictions; he's over 90 in his last appearances. Faulkner's very last novel mentions him three times, recalling all the parts he plays across the Yoknapatawpha saga. He is "the best woodsman and hunter this county ever had" and the merchant who owns the hardware store on Courthouse Square (14) and the quixotic hero who "abdicated the McCaslin plantation" (17). But as in the other texts that precede or follow Go Down, Moses, the role he plays in The Reivers is a very small one.