"The Tall Men" (Text Key 249)

short story

William Faulkner wrote "The Tall Men" in early 1941 with a clear financial imperative to pay off owed back taxes. He gauged the market correctly; the story sold in less than a week to The Saturday Evening Post, where it was published on May 31, 1941, only ten weeks after Faulkner sent it to his agent, Harold Ober. He later included it as the third story in the "Country" section of his Collected Stories, and this version, as published by Vintage International, provides the basis for our representation of the story. Although its events could be set during 1941, given the historical and publication framework 1940 seems a far more likely date.

The story’s commercial success was in part due to its contemporary relevance. It appeared after two key events that inform the narrative. In 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Hundred Days Congress enacted the Agricultural Adjustment Act to regulate farm surpluses, and on September 16, 1940, the first peacetime draft was enacted, requiring all men between 21 and 35 to register with local draft boards. "The Tall Men" conjoins these two events in the McCallum family's unwillingness to be governed by either one of these federal rules. Although the United States didn't enter World War II until December 7, 1941, it loomed large in the minds of the public and Faulkner's timely story found a receptive audience. In appealing to this audience, Faulkner revives the MacCullum family from Flags in the Dust as the McCallum family, two decades later. In doing so, he taps into the historically independent spirit of the Scotch-Irish settlers of old who came to America in search of freedom from arguably the same sort of oppression that the current generation resists. Still, the story seems to celebrate traditional values of courage and patriotism as Marshal Gombault "interprets" these oddly independent people so that the draft board investigator, Mr. Pearson, can understand the purity of their motives. Although critics in turn praise and criticize the McCallum family's values and the story's patriotic themes, in the end "The Tall Men" is almost universally dismissed by critics as didactic in tone and lacking in subtly and substance.

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The Saturday Evening Post
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May 31, 1941
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Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Railton, Stephen, and Lorie Watkins. "Faulkner's 'The Tall Men.'" Added to the project: 2016. Additional editing 2019: Johannes Burgers, Erin Penner. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu