Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Waves of Time in Faulkner's Go Down, Moses

Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Waves of Time in Faulkner's Go Down, Moses

Article excerpt

Always, when we read Faulkner, we move into a world of changing relationships and shifting boundaries. Narration emerges from apocryphal observations as often as from firsthand accounts. Lineage and ancestry are one and at the same time fixed in blood and stone and entirely mythical. Characters in one story react to some event that occurred in another novel or story with no overt linkage spelled out. Cause and effect become not linear but amorphous and ambiguous. Yet, slowly, and reliant on the reader's experience, rich, complex meaning emerges, evocative both of Faulkner's South and of larger human issues.

Faulkner's readers and critics are not strangers to how time shapes storyness. Frequently in Faulkner, the reader must disentangle chronological developments from the linear progression followed moving through a story. Such entanglement is not, of course, unique to Faulkner, but, taken together with his complex and layered chronologies, it creates much of what is distinctive and significant about his work. By feeding information in a delayed sequence in his collection Go Down, Moses, Faulkner forces the reader to move back and forth between stories in an attempt to create logical and systematic patterns of meaning. The ancestry of the character Ike (Isaac McCaslin) creates a typical pattern of delayed information. Ike is referred to at the age of 70 in the very first story ("Was"), but it is not until four stories later in "The Bear" that the reader learns that Ike is a product of a union between Theophilus McCaslin and Sophonsiba Beauchamp, a couple whose union Faulkner so comically thwarts in that first story. The reader must decipher lineage in this collection by examining how time flows. Faulkner helps effect this deciphering of the flow of time by turning the series of stories into a genealogical puzzle. Time and ancestry are expressed through one another, and in time's relationship to ancestry & meaning of lives begins to emerge. But ancestry is not the only expression of time in this text. Faulkner surrounds the reader with a myriad of other references and allusions to time, creating a cascading flow that structures the wholeness of the collection.

Before examining particular expressions of time in Faulkner's text, a consensual understanding of what is meant by the concept of time is necessary. Time as flow, distinguished from the view of time as particulate moments, is characterized by Michael Shallis in his study On Time: An Investigation in Scientific Knowledge and Human Experience in this way:

Time is experienced in two fundamental ways. It seems to flow--the passing

of seconds, days and years--very much like an endless stream or river, ...

Time is also perceived as a succession of moments with a clear

distinction between past, present, and future. (Shallis 14)

Shallis also describes these two most prevalent, generalized models of linear and cyclical time:

Time seems linear most of the time. It stretches back into the past like

a temporal ruler marked in a scale of years, decades, and centuries, and

it stretches away into the future.... However, time is also perceived as

cyclic and therefore not necessarily "progressive." In such a view, based

on the various cyclic characteristics of nature, the day, the season, the

year, time becomes the element within which natural events occur, always

coming full cycle .... (Shallis 14-15)

Literature often presents this cyclical view of time, emphasizing recurrent patterns (diurnal or seasonal). Short stories in particular, because they condense time, adopt this pattern of representation rather than the linear. Shallis, however, points out the difficulty of modeling the flow of linear time:

Time as an endless flowing stream ... is not suitable for a practical

clock. However, a cyclic view of time, where the repeatability of an

event, like the observed passage of the sun through the sky, day after

day, can provide a most appropriate basis for a clock. …

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