The development of Ike McCaslin's moral consciousness in the novel "Go Down, Moses"

Hugh Joseph Short, Fordham University


Faulkner's Go Down, Moses has sparked critical debate for more than half a century without yielding a scholarly consensus as to its genre or its focus. Critics have debated whether the book ought to be considered a collection of short stories or a novel. Those who have argued that Go Down, Moses is a novel have attempted to find coherence in the seven units of the text in a variety of ways, but their attempts have proven inadequate in explaining the work's form and content. A satisfactory reading of Go Down, Moses as a novel relies upon the recognition that the commissary scene of part four of "The Bear" provides the central, unifying action of the novel, making Isaac McCaslin its main character and focusing attention on his relinquishment of his McCaslin inheritance when he comes of age on his twenty-first birthday. All other action in the novel reflects upon this action in one way or another. An examination of the novel from this perspective reveals that Ike's relinquishment is a principled action, made necessary by the development of his moral consciousness up to the time of the relinquishment. The cumulative effect of the text is to confirm and validate the principles and perceptions on which Ike bases his decision. In repudiating the McCaslin plantation he acts in a morally responsible manner, though his actions are not able to bring about any radical transformation in Southern society.

Subject Area

American literature|American history

Recommended Citation

Short, Hugh Joseph, "The development of Ike McCaslin's moral consciousness in the novel "Go Down, Moses"" (1994). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9425206.