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The Bear ()

Nobel Prize Winners (1949)

The essence of political conservatism is the yearning for the best of the culture and moral clime of the past--the sense that something of value to our souls has been lost in the headlong rush of human social progress.  Political liberalism, on the other hand, assumes that man can radically improve upon centuries old social structures, cultural inheritances and moral codes.  But there is one area where the roles of the two are reversed and that is when it comes to the environment.  The American Left has a long standing love affair with nature; from Jefferson to Thoureau, Teddy Roosevelt to Al Gore, there is a pastoral strain to liberal politics, a kind of belief in an Edenic past and a nearly Biblical sense that man's attempts to control nature have a corrupting influence.

This sentiment has perhaps never been treated more beautifully in our Literature than in Faulkner's great short novel, The Bear.  The story of a succession of hunting seasons is basically a warning from Faulkner that as we destroy the wilderness we threaten the traditions and values of our society.  Nature is symbolized by the cagey ancient ursine, Old Ben.  Most of the tale is told by Ike McCaslin, who is 10 years old as it begins.  Initially he flounders through the woods, but as he surrenders himself to the primordial forces of Nature, he is able to sense the bear's presence.  Another year, when he sets aside his gun and compass and other accouterments of civilization, he is finally able to see the bear.  Gradually he earns his way into the aristocracy of the wild, until, together with Sam Fathers (part black, part Indian, he represents a kind of noble savage) and Boon Hogganbeck (a sort of elemental force of nature) and a suicidally fearless dog named Lion, he hunts down Old Ben after the bear violates the unwritten code of the woods by attacking a horse.  But even as Old Ben succumbs, he will take some of them with him and his parting signals the end of a way of life.

Despite some too obscure interior monologue passages, this is Faulkner's most accessible work.  It is the only Faulkner I've ever actually reread and it is so rife with symbolism and ulterior meanings, that you can always find something new in it.  And, for whatever reason, it is further evidence that sports writing brings out the best in almost every author (see also "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" by John Updike), in fact, it is often anthologized in Greatest Sports Story collections. Regardless of where you find it, or which version you read, it is well worth a shot.


Grade: (B+)


William Faulkner Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: William Faulkner
    -FILMOGRAPHY: William Faulkner (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: William Failkner (Mississippi Writers Page)
    -William Faulkner (Poetry Foundation)
    -BIO: William Faulkner (Nobel Prize)
    -Faulkner at Virginia
    -The Center for Faulkner Studies
    -LECTURE: "I decline to accept the end of man." (William Faulkner: Nobel Prize Speech, Stockholm, Sweden, December 10, 1950)
    -INTERVIEW: William Faulkner, The Art of Fiction No. 12 (Interviewed by Jean Stein, SPRING 1956, Paris Review)
    -VIDEO: Writings of William Faulkner: From Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home, the guests talked about his life and his writings, focusing on the Yoknapatawpha County novels (C-SPAN, MAY 5, 2002)
    -VIDEO: Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury: The panel talked about the works of Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning Southern writer William Faulkner. (C-SPAN, DECEMBER 9, 2001)
    -VIDEO: Shelby Foote on Faulkner: Mr. Foote talked about the writings of William Faulkner and his view of the South (C-SPAN, MAY 2, 2002)
-ESSAY: William Faulkner’s Last Words & the American Dilemma (M.E. Bradford, September 24th, 2023, Imaginative Conservative)
    -WIKIPEDIA: Absalom, Absalom!
    -ENTRY: William Faulkner American author (Michael Millgate, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Absalom, Absalom! novel by Faulkner (Richard Godden, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Absalom, Absalom! (
    -AUDIO BOOK: W. Kandinsky reads 'Absalom, Absalom!' (You Tube)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (Grade Saver)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (Cliff Notes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Absalom, Absalom! (Spark Notes)
    -ESSAY: How Much Did the History of American Chattel Slavery Shape William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!?: W. Ralph Eubanks on the Connection Between Faulkner’s Fiction, His Longtime Home, and the University of Mississippi (W. Ralph Eubanks, July 29, 2021, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Imagining the Lives of the Aviators Who Inspired William Faulkner: Taylor Brown on Looking to the Past (Which Isn't Even Past) (Taylor Brown, April 21, 2022, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: William Faulkner’s Tragic Vision: In Yoknapatawpha County, the past never speaks with a single voice. (Jonathan Clarke, Winter 2022, City Journal)
    -ESSAY: Old Rowan Oak: William Faulkner’s Conservatism (Carl Rollyson|September 24th, 2021, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: Faulkner as Futurist: The past is never dead because its meaning is forever changing. (Carl Rollyson, Hedgehog Review)
    -ESSAY: American myths: Demystifying William Faulkner Paul Giles, December 2020, Australian Book Review)
    -ESSAY: William Faulkner’s Demons: In his own life, the novelist failed to truly acknowledge the evils of slavery and segregation. But he did so with savage thoroughness in his fiction. (Casey Cep, November 23, 2020, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: Understanding William Faulkner (Mark Royden Winchell, September 24th, 2020, Imaginative Conservatism)
    -ESSAY: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner: American Ulysses: A perfect novel and distinctive, masterful version of the stream-of-consciousness style (Lucy Sweeney Byrne, 8/15/20, Irish Times)
    -ESSAY: The Many Guises of William Faulkner: As 'The Sound and the Fury' celebrates its 90th anniversary, read about two-time Fiction winner William Faulkner's varied career (Sean Murphy, The Pulitzer Prizes)
    -ESSAY: William Faulkner’s Hollywood Odyssey: The biggest name in Southern lit didn’t spend his whole life in Mississippi (JOHN MERONEY, April/May 2014, Garden & Gun)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: How William Faulkner Tackled Race — and Freed the South From Itself (John Jeremiah Sullivan, June 28, 2012, NY Times)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: What to Do About William Faulkner: A white man of the Jim Crow South, he couldn’t escape the burden of race, yet derived creative force from it. (DREW GILPIN FAUST, SEPTEMBER 2020, The Atlantic)
Perhaps the most powerful of Faulkner’s tellings of the Civil War story is Absalom, Absalom! (1936), a novel structured around Quentin Compson’s own refusal to look away. Although Faulkner insisted that Quentin did not speak for him, Gorra has “never quite believed him.” Quentin’s search to understand why Charles Bon was murdered during the very last days of the war unfolds through his elaboration of successive narratives in a manner not unlike Faulkner’s own. Unsatisfied with each version of the story he uncovers, Quentin looks again, arriving through ever more disturbing revelations at the South’s original sin: the distorting and dehumanizing power of race. It is race that pulls the trigger. “So it’s the miscegenation, not the incest, which you cant bear,” Bon says just before Henry, at once his brother and his fiancée’s brother, shoots him.

    -ESSAY: Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!" and the Mysterious Rosa Coldfield (Alicia D. Costello, 2010, Inquiries)
    -ESSAY: Absalom, Absalom! as a Hardboiled Detective Novel: Faulkner's Rereading of The Sound and the Fury (SUWABE Koichi, THE FAULKNER JOURNAL OF JAPAN)
    -ESSAY: From Genesis to Revelation: The Grand Design of William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (Maxine Rose, Autumn 1980, Studies in American Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Poetic Justice in William Faulkner's "Absalom Absalom" (MANUELA GERTZ)
    -ESSAY: Reading Bon's Letter and Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (David Krause, March 1984, PMLA)
    -ESSAY: Faulkner's Map of Yoknapatawpha: The End of Absalom, Absalom! (Robert Hamblin, Center for Faulkner Studies)
    -ESSAY: "ABSALOM, ABSALOM!" AND THE NEGRO QUESTION (JOHN V. HAGOPIAN, Summer 1973, Modern Fiction Studies)
    -ESSAY: The Biblical Background Of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (JOHN V. HAGOPIAN, January 1974, CEA Critic)
    -ESSAY: An Archetypal Study on William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! (Haihui Chen, Theory and Practice in Language Studies)
    -ESSAY: Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Me (Ed Protzel, 6/27/2016)
    -ESSAY: Symposium on Absalom, Absalom! (Richard Ford, Spring 2013, Three Penny Review)
    -ESSAY: William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!: A Narrative of Inexhaustible Word and Unfathomable Past (Djamila Houamdi, IAFOR Journal of Literature & Librarianship)
    -THESIS: Impressions of morality in Absalom, Absalom! (Eric G. R. Stephenson, University of Colorado)
    -ESSAY: The Postmodernist Features In Absalom Absalom English Literature (UK Essays, 1st Jan 1970)
    -ESSAY: Absalom, Absalom!: Story-telling as a mode of transcendence (Richard Forrer, Fall 1976, The Southern Literary Journal)
    -ETEXT: William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom: A Case book (Fred Hobson, editor)
    -ESSAY: Narrating the Indeterminate: Shreve McCannon in Absalom, Absalom! (Jo Alyson Parker)
    -ESSAY: Postmodern Truth in William Faulkner's "Absalom, Absalom!" (Nahid Sharifi, H. R. Rezayee and *Kh. Mohamadpour, Life Sciences Journal)
    -ESSAY: Narrative Voice in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom (Literature Essay Samples, March 1, 2019)
    -ESSAY: Reflection of History in Absalom, Absalom!
    -ESSAY: Faulkner's Stylistic Difficulty: A Formal Analysis of Absalom, Absalom! (Eric Sandarg, 12-14-2017, Georgia State University)
    -ESSAY: As I Lay Trying: How to read William Faulkner: Advice for reading William Faulkner (Christopher Rieger, 4/26/16, MPR)
    -ESSAY: Ragged, Unkempt, Strange: On William Faulkner: For all the ways it is rife with tenderness, fury and ugliness, William Faulkner’s fiction is stubbornly persistent in its artistry. (Joanna Scott, NOVEMBER 20, 2012, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Sutpen's Delay in Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! (Robert Yarup, 07 Aug 2010, The Explicator)
    -ESSAY: Nic Pizzolatto on 'Absalom, Absalom!' (To the Best of Our Knowledge: Bookmarks)
    -ESSAY: James Joyce and His Influences: William Faulkner and Anthony Burgess (An abstract of a Dissertation by Maxine i!3urke, July, Ll.981, Drake University)
    -ESSAY: Joyce and Faulkner (Thomas E. Connolly, Summer, 1979, James Joyce Quarterly)
    -ESSAY: The Jim Crow South in Faulkner’s Fiction (Michael Gorra, NYRB)
    -ESSAY: Down Through the Faulkner Bloodline, Pride and Racial Guilt Commingled: Michael Gorra on William Faulkner's Great-Grandfather (Michael Gorra, August 24, 2020, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: You Need to Read Faulkner Right Now but You Might Need a Map: No white American author has ever written so well about the racial complexities of his country, but no author poses more challenges to unsuspecting readers. Here’s a guide (Michael Gorra, Sep. 13, 2020, daily Beast)
    -ARCHIVES: The Faulkner Journal of Japan
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (Dave Nash, Medium)
This novel requires time and attention, it’s not something to read in two minute intervals, it’s not for scanning or skimming, its paragraphs go for pages; its longest sentence is 1292 words. Faulkner’s flowing style, long sentences, stream of consciousness writing conveys all the perceptions, thoughts, and feelings of a single moment. It enables Faulkner to throw everything he has into each page, put his heart in every paragraph, and make each sentence piece of his soul.

    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Arthur Hirsch, Baltimore Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (KC Public Library)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Rose Reads Novels)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (J. A. Bryant, Jr., Twentieth-Century Southern Literature)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Michael A. Khan)
    -REVIEW: of Absalom, Absalom! (Literary Corner Cafe)
    -REVIEW: of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (Orlo Williams, September 26, 1935, Times Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: Of As I Lay Dying (EL Doctorow)
    -REVIEW: of Forgotten Conservatives in American History by Brion McClanahan & Clyde Wilson (Stephen M. Klugewiz, American Conservative)

Book-related and General Links:
    -William Faulkner on the Web
    -William Faulkner Centennial Celebration (Random House)
    -Center for Faulkner Studies
    -William Faulkner (SQUARE BOOKS  Oxford, Mississippi)
    -Most Faulknerian
    -Mississippi Writers Page: William Faulkner (1897-1962)
    -William Faulkner: Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
    -William (Cuthbert) Faulkner (1897-1962)(Kirjatso)
    -BIBLIOGRAPHY: Faulkner Bibliography by Works
    -ESSAY: The Thematic and Structural Function of Time in William Faulkner's "The Bear"  (Erinç Özdemir, Journal of American Studies of Turkey)
    -The Contemplative as Teacher:  Learning from Thomas Merton   by Thomas Del Prete
    -Traditional and Modern Values in the Works of William Faulkner (Anna Carnick, Brighton High School class of 1998)
    -Arthur F. Kinney, "Faulkner and Racism," Connotations 3.3 (1993-94): 265-278.
    -Go Down, Moses:  Resources
    -Wilderness: This first unit in Junior English will focus on the use of the wilderness in the literature.


i'm a chinese reader and i love this short story so much,but i've only read the chinese version.

- jill

- Apr-12-2007, 11:06


I read William Faulkners' Light In August and The Bear. I feel like i accomplished something. He was a genius and a great tradition in American literature.

- Ted

- Mar-02-2007, 05:47


it sucked don't read it

- kyle

- Apr-12-2006, 13:51


Old Ben did not kill the hunting party's horse; it was Lion.

- dyrden

- Mar-13-2006, 22:33


I can't believe you people can even conceive of rating Faulkner's work when you don't even understand it. I'm sure all of you are aware that Faulkner is considered the greatest twentieth century American writer period. Whether you agree with a book's message or not, you're opinion is not indicative of its impact on society. A great work worth reading stimulates thought. Giving Faulkner a B- is unbelieveably naive. I'm not even going to talk about the F given to As I Lay Dying.

- Don

- Nov-01-2005, 15:22


humm i concur. the story was pretty ok, but you kind of have to get used to the way that the stream-of-conciousness works

- lily

- Jan-03-2005, 23:05


In order to understand works that you may read you have to have somewhat of an Education, judging by how much most of you drop the F-Bomb I would say that the possibility of you guys having an education or a little bit of respect is none. Thanks

- Alison

- Nov-17-2004, 00:47


i rate this piece of work a F-...I fell asleep the first time trying to read it and I find it very difficult to sit down and read. I suggest to all you students out there not to read this story because you will never be able to read again!

- Brian

- Sep-10-2003, 21:03


dis suck it was nothin yo it was so borin i fell asleep readin tha title yo hah i gave it an F+

- Rosa

- Jul-07-2003, 22:31


I read the bear short story and i found it to be very good i gave it a A-

- Arelis Rosario

- Jul-07-2003, 22:30


i don't know why u gave the bear a B+> I read only the short story and still almost felt asllep during the first paragraph. but well i guess that's your pesonal opinion and even so I question it I'll respect it. but I agree with u on the theme of the story and that the bear symbolizes wilderness. but u have to admitt that the dog symbolizes truth and u really should write that in your critic. thanks a lot tyll sombody with no name

- doesn't matter

- Apr-30-2003, 13:31