Journal of American Studies

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Journal of American Studies (2009), 43:389-405 Cambridge University Press
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

Research Article

William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses: An American Frontier Narrative


a1 Department of English, University of Sydney. E-mail:
Article author query
gleeson-white s [Google Scholar]


This essay seeks to extend Faulkner's imaginative writings beyond the temporal, spatial and aesthetic parameters of regionalism and modernism, according to which his work has been widely read. In an exemplary reading of his 1942 novel Go Down, Moses, I recontextualize Faulkner's fiction in a broader literary and discursive tradition of the US frontier narrative. To draw out the frontier meanings and tropes of Go Down, Moses, I examine closely those texts – Faulkner's and others' – that circulate around the major fiction and necessarily exert, I argue, interpretative pressure on it. These more secondary or contiguous texts include Faulkner's screenwriting for two of the great Hollywood Western directors, John Ford and Howard Hawks; his short stories and speeches; James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking tales; and the political discourse that emerged in response to the democratic crisis of the 1930s. Certain tropes and narratives – to do with colonialism, for example – that have been submerged within the Faulknerian southern narrative of the plantation, begin to surface, to reset the narrative in relation to a national project. Reading Faulkner in this way constructs a critical frame that is both diachronic and transregionalist, and thus contributes to current debates articulated within the revisionary project of new southern studies about the ways in which we think and write anew about the post-South.

(Online publication September 24 2009)