"The Old People" (Text Key 242)

short story

The first published version of “The Old People,” for which Faulkner received $400, appeared in the September 1940 issue of Harper’s Magazine. His extensively revised version of the story is best known to Faulkner readers as part of Go Down, Moses, which was published in 1942. In the original 1940 text, the boy at the center of the story is never named. Faulkner might very well have originally planned for him to be Quentin Compson. According to Joseph Blotner, the typescript of "The Old People" identifies the boy's father explicitly as "Mr Compson." On the other hand, in the Go Down, Moses version of “The Old People,” the boy is Ike McCaslin. In the Harper's text Ike actually appears, but as minor character, a member of the hunting party, and a grown man who is referred to as "Uncle" Ike. There is also a problem with Faulkner’s construction of Sam in the 1940 text as his paternity is ambiguous. Near the beginning of one paragraph, the narrator says that Sam is the grandson of Chickasaw Indian Chief Ikkemotubbe, but near the end of the same paragraph the narrator implies that Ikkemotubbe is Sam’s father. However, the chronology of events only makes it possible for Ikkemotubbe to be Sam’s grandfather (Sam is 70 in the present tense of the story, but Ikkemotubbe’s son is said to have been a child 100 years ago.) Faulkner clears up the ambiguity when he revised the story for Go Down, Moses version of “The Old People,” by identifying Ikkemotubbe as Sam’s biological father. The 1940 Harper’s Magazine version of “The Old People” was reprinted in the Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner. That text is the basis for our edition.

Dating the Story: In Go Down, Moses the story takes place in the time frame of the larger saga of the McCaslin family, where Ike is born just after the Civil War. In this earlier version, however, there is no explicit indication of when the hunt takes place. We have decided to date it in 1904 because the story takes place 100 years after Ikkemotubbe returns to Mississippi around 1804, having spent seven years in New Orleans, at which point he sells Sam's grandmother and child and an adult male slave to the unnamed narrator’s great-grandfather. This 1904 time frame, however, is at odds with Faulkner’s representation of the boy hunter and Sam Fathers in another story, the first published version of “The Bear,” where the boy and Sam are paired together for another hunt that occurs after the boy has killed his first buck, as depicted in "The Old People," yet at an earlier time, as internal evidence clearly implies. Presumably this inconsistency reflects the way Faulkner is re-imagining the boy as Ike rather than Quentin (the 1904 date works well with Quentin Compson's known biography).

References: Blotner, Joseph, Faulkner: A Biography (Random House, 1974); Fragnoli, A. Nicholas, Michael Golay, and Robert W. Hamlin, Critical Companion to William Faulkner: A Literary Response to His Life and Work (Facts on File, 2008).

First Publisher: 
Harper's Magazine
First Publisher Date: 
September 1940
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Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Coleman, Robert, and Ben Robbins. "Faulkner's 'The Old People.'" Added to the project: 2014. Additional editing 2018: Lorie Watkins, and Stephen Railton. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

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