Go Down, Moses
The Old People
In the forest, Sam Fathers, the son of a Choctaw chief and a negro slave- girl, teaches Isaac McCaslin how to hunt. When Isaac is deemed old enough to go on the yearly hunting expeditions with Major de Spain, General Compson, and Isaac's older cousin McCaslin Edmonds, he kills his first buck, and Sam Fathers ritualistically anoints him with its blood. Isaac remembers Sam Father's history; the son of Ikkemotubbe, the chief who sold the land to the white people and also sold his son and wife into slavery, Sam left the Jefferson area for the big forest after the death of Jobaker, his Choctaw friend. Sam now tends the hunting camp of Major de Spain and McCaslin Edmonds.
After Isaac kills his buck, the group is making ready to leave, when Boon Hogganbeck rides in on a mule declaring that he has just seen a massive buck. The group disperses to try to hunt the big deer before they leave. Sam leads Isaac to a clearing; they hear Walter Ewell's horn, and Isaac assumes the buck has been killed. But then a giant buck comes down the slope toward them and looks at them with gravity and dignity. Sam calls it "grandfather." They do not shoot at it.
That night, McCaslin and Isaac stay at Major de Spain's house near Jefferson, 17 miles away from the McCaslin plantation. In bed, Isaac tells McCaslin about the buck, and McCaslin speculates that it represented some form of indomitable, primal energy that grows up out of the earth from all the blood that seeps into it and all the lives it absorbs. Isaac thinks that McCaslin does not believe him, that he is accusing him of claiming to have seen a ghost; but McCaslin tells him solemnly that he, too, has seen the buck: Sam took him into that same clearing the day he killed his first deer.
The two main features of this short story about Isaac McCaslin's childhood are, first, its portrayal of the first steps in the development of Isaac's beliefs about nature and the land, and second, its portrayal of the history of Sam Fathers, whose betrayal at the hands of his father, Ikkemotubbe, and subsequent upbringing as a slave mirrors several other familial displacements throughout the book. Isaac's first lessons in the tradition of the hunt lead him to experience two pristine moments: his anointment in the blood of the buck and his vision of the giant spirit-buck. His acceptance of the tradition passed down to him by Sam Fathers and implicitly understood by the other "old people" of the story's title represents another kind of patrimony, this one free of corruption and violence (except the violence of the hunt): the patrimony of moral tradition, whereby values are handed down from one generation to another. As McCaslin Edmonds notes in theorizing about the spirit-buck, life is always too short for those living it and always diffuses itself into its environment. Just as blood and fallen leaves are absorbed by the earth, the values of the hunt are absorbed by young Isaac. If the spirit-buck represents a concentrated manifestation of this kind of energy, it is significant that Sam Fathers calls it "grandfather"; there is a patrimony between nature and man, as well.
Sam Fathers's history shows another example of cultural displacement and another example of a son brought up in an environment outside his normal family. Just as McCaslin is raised by his uncles and Isaac is raised by McCaslin, Sam Fathers is raised by his mother and a man who is not his father. His father betrays him, just as Carothers McCaslin betrays Turl (letting him be raised as a slave, leaving him a bequest only after he dies), and probably for the same reason: the mixed racial status of the child.
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