, April 03, 2014
“The Bear” is a short story by William Faulkner; its most often read within a collection of seven short stories that are seen as a full novel, Go Down Moses. The version of “The Bear”, within Go Down Moses, has an additional fourth section that connects it to the rest of the short stories. The additional fourth section goes to tell about the killing of the bear that was hunted throughout the original writing, and Isaacs rejection of his inheritance of a plantation. With the additional fourth section, the story has a larger commentary on slavery. However, when read alone, it is better the fourth section is left out as it does not go along well with “The Bear” alone. When the fourth section is left out, the focus of Faulkner story becomes the struggle between man and nature, portrayed through symbolism and imagery. Since “The Bear” alone is being evaluated, the added fourth section will be left out within the review of the story.
“The Bear” was originally published May 9, 1942 in the Sunday Evening Post. The story revolves around a young boy Isaac McCaslin who goes on yearly hunting trips with his father, Major de Spain, General Compson, and Sam Fathers. Every trip, the overarching goal is to slay a bear, a legendary bear they might say. This bear towers over all others, a bear “too big for the dogs which tried to bay it” (1), a bear too strong for “the bullets they fired into it”(1), even “too big for the very country which was its constricting scope”(1). Yet every year it was there, but even more so young Isaacs, goal to kill it. Over the course of the story Isaac becomes a very skilled hunter and woodsman, more so than most men. He spots the bear several times but never has a chance to shoot it, until Sam Fathers words ring in his head about the right dog to bay it, one “which size would mean less than nothing”(10). He sends after the bear a little mongrel, no bigger than a rat but with bravery unmatched. The result? Isaac has a shot at the bear, but throws down his gun to run after and save the little dog. He looked up “where it loomed and towered over him like a cloudburst and colored like a thunderclap… he remembered: This was the way he had used to dream about it”(11). The book will be judged off its literary value, its ability to create a larger message, and ability to keep the audience reading.
The struggle of man and nature is truly portrayed within Faulkners story through the use of symbolism and imagery. Imagery is used to build up different aspects of the story, such as the bear; “crooked print, shaggy, huge, red-eyed, not malevolent but just big��"too big” (1). The different descriptions of the bear throughout dramatizes it, letting the reader really feel how Isaac does about the bear, giving the reader that same fear and suspense. The dramatic portrayal of the bear helps to develop the larger symbolism of it. The depiction of the bear, almost unrealistic in a sense, immortal, unsurpassed in strength and power, is used to symbolize nature itself. Faulkner uses this so that he can demonstrate the struggle between man and nature, which in the story is the ongoing struggle between the bear and hunters. The hunters, specifically Isaac, symbolize man’s continuous determination to conquer all nature, even the supposed unconquerable. Near the end, Faulkner has a fatal moment where he must decide whether nature triumphs over man, or whether they might peacefully co-exist, as the bear looms over the top of Isaac ready to come crashing down. For that, the reader will have to read and decide.
Faulkner has a small masterpiece with the writing of “The Bear”. It is by no means an easy read, with highly challenging diction that may even require stopping to look up words, but by all means a worth it read. Faulkners ability to foreshadow events leaves you on the edge of your seat throughout, while not giving much away. The characters of the story are not deeply developed, but they do not need to be in order to achieve his goal. The story more than achieves its goal of portraying the struggle between man and nature, with an outcome satisfying to the reader. One issue it perhaps could have touched upon, based off the time period it was written, was war. The story was published in the midst of World War II but has no reference to it throughout. However, I believe it to have no large effect on the quality or literary worth of the book.
Faulkner uses imagery and symbolism to portray the constant struggle for man to dominate all of nature, and nature's ability to resist. The end result is a story the keeps you hooked but also has a larger meaning attached. The story gives you a challenge of a read, but just enough so that it leaves you highly satisfied. All put together, “The Bear” is an excellent read.