William Faulkner is one of the greatest Southern writers in America, and his novels are known for the accurate picture he gives of the lives of the black people living on the plantation with the white families. In his particular narrative style, Faulkner manages to capture the spirit of the South and the flavor of the life led by the white and black people living together. In most of his novels and short stories, there appear generations of the same white families, living with their black servants.
The pattern of the Southern life at the turn of the century always included a plantation on which the white and black people lived separately, each with their own families and lives. Faulkner does a lot more in his novels than merely present the oppression of the blacks by the whites. The most important literary technique that he uses- that of the stream of consciousness- is a very important tool in his monograph of the Southern life.
Thus, by using alternatively the point of view of many characters, both white and black, he manages to capture the way in which the people of different races conceive of each other. He goes thus, much beyond presenting a merely realistic image of the interaction between the blacks and the whites by revealing their minds at the point where consciousness is formed. The Bear and That Evening Sun are two of his most revelatory pieces which are concerned with racism.
The Bear, which is usually considered a short novel revolves around the initiation of Ike McCaslin into hunting. The bear that the villagers had been trying to kill for a long time, Old Ben, functions as a symbol of wilderness and freedom in the story. The main idea developed in the text is that of the greatness of wilderness, of nature and the earth which are much older than man. As such, man has no right to own and divide the land, and ignore the right to freedom that nature has:
“It was of the wilderness, the big woods, bigger and older than any recorded document:–of white man fatuous enough to believe he had bought any fragment of it, of Indian ruthless enough to pretend that any fragment of it had been his to convey; bigger than Major de Spain and the scrap he pretended to, knowing better; older than old Thomas Sutpen of whom Major de Spain had had it and who knew better; older even than old Ikkemotubbe, the Chickasaw chief, of whom old Sutpen had had it and who knew better in his turn.
It was of the men, not white nor black nor red but men, hunters, with the will and hardihood to endure and the humility and skill to survive[…]”(Faulkner, 184-185) Faulkner’s repetitions about the string of generations of families following one after the other is meant to emphasize the fact that the land does not belong to any of them, since the land was there first. The same thing applies to the relationships between men of the three different races: the Indians, the Afro Americans and the white people: men do not have the right to enslave any other human beings, especially since the whites only arrived much later on the American land.
Racism is presented in the short novel in two main ways: first of all the hunters are of mixed races. One of them, Sam Fathers, is an Afro American who, although very respected as a hunter and an old man, is still considered and treated as a Negro, therefore not as an equal. The plight if the race has followed the old man all his life, and he now looks back and feels glad that his life will end and he will no longer have to be a Negro: “And he was glad, he told himself.
He was old. He had no children, no people, none of his blood anywhere above earth that he would ever meet again. And even if he were to, he could not have touched it, spoken to it, because for seventy years now he had had to be a Negro. It was almost over now and he was glad. ”(Faulkner, 208) Race is something that he cannot chose, and marks his life from beginning to the end, overshadowing any other sense of identity that he might have.
The scenery that Faulkner uses is very fit for the message that he is trying to deliver: the wilderness is a symbol of freedom, and the man as a hunter is meant to recall the beginnings of humanity. In this context, Sam is no longer a slave but the “chief, the prince”, the leader of the other hunters: “He thought then: I wonder what Sam thinks. He could have Lion with him, even if Boon is a white man. He could ask Major or McCaslineither. And more than that.
It was Sam’s hand that touched Lion first and Lion knows it. Then he became a man and he knew that too. It had been all right. That was the way it should have been. Sam was the chief, the prince; Boon, the plebeian, was his huntsman. Boon should have nursed the dogs. ”(214-215) The relationship between the people, even in the wilderness still obeys the unwritten laws of racism, though. When Ash, another black man in the hunt replicates to Boon in a old manner, the boy narrator expects the latter to hit the black.
This indicates that the aggression of the white towards the black was something taken for granted and never punished, no matter the circumstances: “Now Boon’s going to curse Ash or maybe even hit him, the boy thought. But Boon never did, never had; the boy knew he never would even though four years ago Boon had shot five times with a borrowed pistol at a Negro on the street in Jefferson, with the same result as when he had shot five times at Old Ben last fall. ”(Faulkner, 222)