Go Down, Moses Background

Go Down, Moses Background

Published in 1942, Go Down Moses evolved from connecting a series of previous published short stories by William Faulkner. The result was a novel that that enhances the history of McCaslin family specifically by splitting their family tree into white and and black branches. Ultimately, this allows the stories to be retold with the intent of deepening the social connotations and political underpinning of all the interconnected characters and events unifying his fictional Mississippi county.

Go Down, Moses takes the stories told in the novella "The Fire and the Hearth" and the short stories the "Was," "Pantaloon in Black," "The Old People," "The Bear," "Delta Autumn" and "Go Down, Moses" and uses them as the source material ripe for reshaping through revision of what was already in place as well as the addition of new material. The result was no mere padding of connective material loosely and unconvincingly attempting to transform barely connected narratives in a coherent whole as so many writers in desperate need of money have done. Faulkner was in desperate need of money and might never have considered the project at all had he been economically stable, proving that need sometimes produces greater art than mere want. That said, some very notable literary critics have taken the position that the barely tangential relationship of “Pantaloon in Black” to the narrative focus of the other stories does keep that coherence from attaining the seamlessness Faulkner seeks.

The title of the book—although Faulkner insisted it was a novel, some scholars and critics have insisted on categorizing it as a short story collection—derives from a spiritual commonly heard in what were then called Negro churches. This choice is not arbitrary as the revisions of the original content allows Faulker to deepen the characterization of his black characters as well as unify the stories in a way that broadens the themes of co-existence between the two races in the post-slavery era. This would become one of the dominant themes of Faulkner’s stories from this point forward, though he would still face some criticism for personally retaining vestiges of antebellum Southern aristocratic attitudes.

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