The Bear


The Bear Essay, Research Paper

William Faulkner makes extensive use of the setting in The Bear. Faulkner uses the woods in which the main action of the story takes place, the

animals in those woods, and the historical setting of his novel to represent the values held by the main characters and to act as a motivating

force in Ike McCaslin?s behavior.

The first three books and the last book of The Bear all take place in the Big Bottom, woods in Mississippi “owned” by Major de Spain. One

purpose these woods serve is to represent the “Old South” and the dignity and tradition associated with it. These great woods are the setting

for the noble hunt of Big Ben. It is in these woods that Ike McCaslin gains his manhood and learns the beauty of the “old South” which the

woods represent. The woods also reflect the change of the South as Ike discovers the horrors that the Southern lifestyle was responsible for.

This change is indicated in book five when the woods are being torn down and the noblest game remaining in them are Boon?s precious

squirrels. In addition to reflecting the downfall of the “Old South”, the woods also serve to illustrate the theme of property rights. Throughout

the novel, the author reflects that the woods belong to no man. For example, on page 384 Ike is discussing his choice to repudiate the land with


I can?t repudiate it. It was never mine to repudiate?. Because it was never Ikkemotubbe?s fathers? fathers? to bequeath Ikkemotubbe to

sell to Grandfather or any man because on the instant when Ikkemotubbe discovered, (sic) realised, that he could sell it for money, on

that instant it ceased ever to have been his forever, father to father to father, and the man who bought it bought nothing.

Faulkner also makes use of the animals in Big Bottom to represent the values held by the main characters and to reflect the state of mind of the

characters. For example, Old Ben represents the nobility of the “Old South” and is described on page 418:

?fierce and ruthless not just to stay alive but ruthless with the fierce pride of liberty and freedom, jealous and proud enough of liberty

and freedom to see it threatened not with fear nor even alarm but almost with joy?

This old bear is not the only symbol of the “Old South.” As Ike is walking away from Sam?s grave, he encounters a rattlesnake that represents

not the noble side of the “Old South” but the fetid atrocities which it was responsible for. This rattle snake is described on page 447 as “?the

old one, and he could smell it now: the thin sick smell of rotting cucumbers and something else which had no name, evocative of all knowledge

and an old weariness and of pariah-hood and of death.” After this observation has been made, the old snake slithers silently off, stately to the


In addition to making use of the woods and the animals in the woods, Faulkner also employs the historical setting as a motivating force in Ike

McCaslin?s behavior. The majority of book four deals with Ike?s discovering of his past and what his grandfather did to his slaves. Without this

background information, the reader wouldn?t understand why Ike wishes to repudiate his inheritance and trade the life of a rich plantation

owner for that of a celibate carpenter. In context, however, the reader sees that Ike chooses this celibate life because he wishes to have nothing

to do with his perverted past, even at the expense of his wife.

Faulkner makes extensive use of setting throughout The Bear. The author employs it both as a motivating force in human behavior and as a

representation of the values held by characters.

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