Go Down, Moses

"Go Down, Moses"

Summary

The book's final story begins with a census interview, which places the action in 1940. A well-dressed and well-spoken young black man identifies himself as Samuel Beauchamp, a native of Yoknapatawpha County. After completing the census form, he is led back to his cell on Death Row.

The action shifts to Jefferson, the Yoknapatawpha county seat. The protagonist is Gavin Stevens, a local attorney and amateur Biblical scholar and detective. Mollie Beauchamp (Lucas' wife) has had a premonition of harm involving her long-lost grandson, Samuel. She begs Stevens to discover his whereabouts and condition. Stevens pities the old woman and accepts the job for a token fee.

Stevens soon discovers that Samuel Beauchamp is due to be executed in Illinois within hours. Without quite understanding why, he donates and collects enough money to bring the young man's body home for a proper funeral. That evening, Stevens drops by the memorial service but quickly leaves, because he feels out of place. The funeral is held two days later.

Analysis

This is the shortest and most straightforward story in the book. The action is minimal. Its real importance lies in the fresh perspective it provides through Gavin Stevens, an educated and worldly man of the 20th century who would eventually become a key figure in Faulkner's later fiction. Stevens is like several other white characters in Go Down, Moses in that his impression of blacks in general is quite paternalistic and tradition-bound. He is, however, capable of change; at the story's end he experiences an epiphany when he learns that Mollie wants the funeral to be covered in the local newspaper "just like anyone else's". His realization ends the book on a somewhat hopeful note; perhaps the old cycle of exploitation and willful ignorance will not last forever after all.

Gavin Stevens also interacts with the Beauchamp family in the novel Intruder in the Dust (1948), in which he helps to save Lucas Beauchamp from a murder charge and a lynching. Some subtle clues seem to place that story a few years before Go Down, Moses.

Publication

"Go Down, Moses" first appeared in Collier's (January 25, 1941).

Preceded by The Hamlet Novels set in Yoknapatawpha County Succeeded by Intruder in the Dust

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