Skip over navigation

Go Down, Moses

William Faulkner

Pantaloon in Black

The Fire and the Hearth

The Old People

Summary

A huge, strong negro named Rider is sent sprawling by grief when his young wife, Mannie, dies. He digs with a frenzy at her funeral, and his aunt is worried about him. He goes home--to the house he rents on Carothers Edmonds's estate, the old McCaslin plantation--and sees (or thinks he sees) Mannie's ghost. The next morning he goes to work at the sawmill but leaves after hurling an unbelievably large log down the hill. He buys a jug of alcohol, drinks profusely, and finally goes to the tool room at the mill, where a security guard named Birdsong runs a crooked dice game for negroes. Rider drunkenly accuses Birdsong of cheating--a just accusation--and cuts his throat.

A sheriff's deputy talks to his wife as she cooks supper and tells her about the lunatic negro who, after his wife died, killed Birdsong. After they found Rider, the police took him to jail, but he ripped the door off the cell and fought the other prisoners. The sheriff tells his wife that the Birdsong boys accounted for 42 votes in the election for sheriff. Two days later, Rider's body was found hanging from the bell-rope in a negro schoolhouse, and the coroner proclaimed the verdict of death at the hands of person or persons unknown.

Commentary

In some ways, "Pantaloon in Black" is the least connected of all the stories in Go Down, Moses; Rider is not a McCaslin, and he is not a part of the larger history of the book. His one link to the other characters is that he rents a house from Carothers Edmonds, described in this story as "the local white landowner" as if to show Edmond's distance from events. But this story is nevertheless important to the thematic development of Go Down, Moses because it explores themes of masculinity, family, and grief that are indirectly important throughout the stories and because the lynching it depicts is the most brutal instance of racial conflict in the book.

Go Down, Moses deals constantly with questions of patrimony, of the qualities passed on from father to son. "Pantaloon in Black" looks at the idea of masculinity and strength; in showing how, despite all his strength, Rider is unable to overcome his grief, the story emphasizes the importance that family can assume in a man's heart. (Lucas might very well have behaved this way if Molly divorced him.) Throughout the story, Rider refuses to accept weakness of any kind; as he drinks the jug of alcohol, he snarls, "Try me, big boy," as if talking to his own feelings, and he later tells his aunt that if God wants to help him, God can come to him. But he cannot escape his feelings simply by being strong, and his ghostly vision of Mannie in their house represents this inescapability.

The final section of this story, the deputy's monologue to his disinterested wife about the behavior of the crazy negro, shows the shocking extent of misunderstanding, racial hatred, and casual acceptance of horrific violence that were central to race relations in Faulkner's world. The deputy interprets all of Rider's actions as signs that he did not care about his wife's death and can casually shrug off the lynching because the Birdsong boys represented a great many votes for the sheriff. Rider's terrible personal struggle in the first part of the story is reduced to utter insignificance; in this sheriff's mind, it didn't even exist.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us