Ike McCaslin and Ernest Hemingway: Nostalgia and Degeneration
It was ... the men, not white nor black nor red, but men, hunters with the will and hardihood to endure and the humility and skill to survive, ... only hunters [who] drank, drinking not of the blood they had spilled but some condensation of the wild immortal spirit, drinking it moderately, humbly even, not with the pagan's base hope of acquiring the virtues and cunning and strength and speed, but in salute to them. (Faulkner, “The Bear, ” qtd. in Utley, Bloom, and Kinney 162— 163)
I was beginning to feel strong again ... and it was a pleasure to walk in the easy rolling country, ... to hunt, not knowing what we might see and free to shoot the meat we needed.... I loved the country so that I was happy as you are after you have been with a woman that you really love.... Now, being in Africa, I was hungry for more of it. (Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa 51, 72—73)
After World War I, figures of the hunter and the hunt represent attempts to recapture a simpler, more pristine world. Hunter figures like William Faulkner's Ike McCaslin in “The Bear” and Ernest Hemingway in his life and his fiction seek personal definition and a system of values that can only be found away from the modern world. The wild worlds of the woods and the jungle are sites where moments of clarity and self-realization take place. Between World War I and World War II, the hunter as deployed by both Faulkner and Hemingway is a nostalgic figure who bridges the gap between the troubled present and an idealized past.
Faulkner's Ike McCaslin suggests the possibility of reconciling the wrongs of the past through immersion in nature and participation in the hunting ritual. He relies on Sam Fathers, who acts as Ike's spiritual father, to advise him in the ways of the wilderness. Part Native American and part black, Fathers amalgamates the marginalized elements of American culture in his character. He is a dignified and uncorrupted man who steers Ike toward self-knowledge.