Understanding Isaac Mcaslin Essay, Research Paper
Understanding Isaac McCaslin
William Faulkner?s novelette, ?The Bear?, is perhaps the most widely discussed of all his writings. In understanding the story, the role of Isaac Mcaslin should be reviewed and understood since ?The Bear? is ?his? story. Critics have thoroughly examined and commented on many different aspects such as the wilderness theme, the relevance of chapter four to the rest of the story, and how the symbolism works.
Upon reviewing criticism, you can discover that several critics share the same opinion of Isaac as other readers do. Isaac, who is the main character in the story and perhaps sometimes viewed as a hero, is hardly a ?man? and is as much a part of the destruction of the wilderness as the planing-mill.
Isaac?s violent nature is evident in his ruthless obsession of hunting Old Ben, ?long legend of corn-cribs broken down and rifled, of shoats and grown pigs and even calves carried bodily into the woods and devoured and traps and deadfalls overthrown and dogs mangled and slain and shotgun and even rifle shots delivered at point-blank range yet with no more effect than so many peas blown through a tube by a child? (Faulkner 254). Isaac had his mind set on killing Old Ben from the very start of the novel. As a legend, Old Ben serves as a symbol of the wilderness, and Isaac is determined to track him down. ?It ran in his knowledge before he even saw it. It loomed and towered in his dreams before he even saw the unaxed woods?(Faulkner 254). Isaac dreams that it ?might even be his gun? that would finally stop Old Ben (Faulkner 255). Isaac thinks about killing Old Ben with his gun himself, but cannot because he would feel guilty if he shot Old Ben.
Critic Leonard Gilley says that ?Isaac, all his life flouted the right use of the wilderness?the right use which employs the woods but does not destroy?(McGrath 380). Isaac Understood that the hunters did not want to kill Old Ben, but Isaac himself, seems ?intent on the kill from the day the first warm buck-blooded wets his forehead when he is eleven years old? (McGrath 380). Gilley also notes that Isaac becomes ?ruthless? in the fact that ?he knew game trails that even Sam Fathers had never seen; in the third fall he found a buck?s bedding-place by himself and unbeknown to his cousin he borrowed Walter Ewell?s rifle and lay in wait for the buck at dawn and killed it when it walked back to the bed as Sam had told him how the old Chickasaw fathers did? (McGrath 203). You can think that Isaac did this to show what kind of power he can have. Sam may have told him what the Chickasaw fathers did, but one can assume that he did the killing just for pleasure and to show that he had control of everything possible. He could not be stopped because he thought he had a great deal of power and no one could stop him in any way of form.
While studying the death of Old Ben, Gilley notices how Isaac views it as a triumph (McGrath 382). ?It was the beginning of the end of something, he didn?t know what except that he would not grieve. He would be humble and proud that he had been worthy to be a part of it too or even just see it too? (Utley 109). You can share the feeling with Gilley that Old Ben had been Isaac?s friend, and Isaac neglects his moral responsibility by not standing up to the same Old Ben (McGrath 382). Isaac could not stand up to Old Ben because he does not have the guts to stand up to him. You can assume that Isaac may have been afraid of Old Ben because he did not stand up to him. You can think that Old Ben was physically bigger and stronger than Isaac was. He felt like that he could not harm Old Ben without some kind of a weapon on his side.
Upon Isaac?s return to the woods at the age of eighteen, Gilley comments on how Isaac cannot stand to see how the earth has been raped and mutilated, which is symbolized through the planing-mill that has taken over the wilderness that was once the sight of the hunters? yearly rendezvous with Old Ben. However, ironically, Isaac jumps on the log-train and runs into the wilderness to escape (McGrath 383). In doing this, Isaac seems to be joining forces with the planing-mill and becomes an accomplice in destroying the wilderness.
William Van O?Conner feels that Isaac is ?too passive a protester of injustice? (Utley 329). O?Conner also states that ?Isaac is never seen as a good representative of the virtues to be learned from the wilderness because he is in effectual or inactive in contexts where the virtues he has learned in the wilderness, particularly the respect for liberty, might motivate him to some positive action? (Utley 329). O?Conner illustrates this by pointing out that Isaac allows Mcaslin Edmonds to put the profit from the land that he (Isaac) chose to repudiate into Isaac?s bank account (Utley 329). O?Conner also makes the comment that ?Isaac would absolve himself not merely from the guilt but from the obligations contingent upon the guilt? (Utley 329). If Isaac had McCaslin Edmonds put the money in his bank account because he would not feel guilty, then Isaac should have at least gave some of the money to McCaslin Edmonds for putting the money in the bank for him. Isaac would not have felt as guilty if he had took in consideration to give Edmonds some of the money.
Isaac?s feeling toward Lion are also discussed by O?Conner. If Lion symbolizes the ?ruthless, non-human spirit of the kill,? then Ike should have been opposed to Lion (Utley 327). Instead, the reader is told, ?he (Isaac) should have hated Lion? (Faulkner 266). The use of the word ?should suggests Isaac?s weakness and inability to stand up to the spirit that Lion represents and who is eventually responsible for the death of the great bear. Isaac just accepts the inevitable end and observes it as the ?last act on a set stage.? Therefore, he does not have to grieve because Lion does the killing. This only emphasizes Isaac?s weakness as a man. He was better than everyone, so he could have someone do the job for him.
Faulkner further emphasizes Isaac?s weakness when he refers to him as ?still father to none? (Faulkner 303). This emphasis on Isaac?s childlessness very definitely reveals Isaac?s inability to be a ?man?. Isaac was a very selfish person who would not admit to anyone. He could not confess to anything that he had done wrong. You could say that he thought he was perfect.
Another interesting point was that Isaac chooses to be a carpenter and model Christ, in reality this really mocks him (Faulkner 253). As a hunter, Isaac seemingly values the wilderness, but as a carpenter he builds with lumber from the trees (Ruotolo 62). As a reader of this story, you can say that the reason why he never made any mistakes or did anything wrong is because he thought he was god himself. Isaac thought he could do anything he wanted and most of the time got it. He was spoiled because of this.
After careful consideration of Isaac McCaslin and the role he plays in ?The Bear?, it becomes evident that he should be viewed as a weak man and a very active participant in the destruction of the wilderness. He knew the wilderness like no other person, but he destroyed the wilderness like no other person, but he destroyed the wilderness simply to show he had the power to do so. By perceiving Isaac McCaslin in this manner, ?The Bear? becomes a more meaningful story.
Sorry didn’t have one.
Mostly William Faulkner “the bear”