Us and the Other: Humanity in William Faulkner’s The Bear

August 13, 2022 by Essay Writer

Us and the Other: Humanity in William Faulkner’s The Bear William Faulkner’s short novel The Bear is a rich story of characters going through rites of passage to understand themselves in the context of the Other. The Other is represented by interrelated characters who come to understand different ways of life. One example of this discovery is the relationship between the characters of the Bear himself and that of Sam Fathers. Both characters are old, isolated individuals with little or no connection to their own species. Old Ben, the bear, is both a hunted animal and one of the story’s main characters. He is an Other to those that hunt him as well as to the other bears. He, like Sam Fathers is an old cripple – the “two-toed bear.” Constantly being hunted by the humans he turns into a reclusive beast whose actions against the humans have almost begun to take on a form of insolence. He sometimes walks away, or kills a dog just for fun. In this way he begins to take on a human characteristic which allows Faulkner to contrast him better against the humans as the Other and, as such, an essential element of how the humans view themselves in the world, in nature and in regards to the animals. This, in turn, shapes humans’ own view of themselves and draws parallels between their own species. It makes the Other an irreducible part of the Self. A perfect example of this is when Major de Spain refers to the Bear in very human terms: “I’m disappointed in him. He has broken the rules. I didn’t think he would have done that. He has killed mine and McCaslin’s dogs, but that was all right. We gambled the dogs against him; we gave each other warning. But now he has come into my house and destroyed my property, out of season too. He broke the rules.” By painting the Bear as a fellow human being, it is as if General de Spain is acknowledging the fact that the Bear is also part of the fabric of the world he lives in. Instead of portraying the bear as something so foreign, something that can’t be understood by humans, Faulkner gives credence to the bear’s actions and mentality by putting him on the level of the human beings. The result is a better understanding of the bear as the Other. It’s not only humans that the novel is targeting – it is the White Man who has come into the forest. For the same reason, by having the bear represent something similar to a human being, Faulkner is able to make the connection to the White Hunter (the White Machine), who comes into the forest to hunt and destroy everything living within it. It also puts the bear on a level with the Native Americans, who are also being hunted to extinction. Sam identifies with Old Ben as being part of a dying breed, and he and Ben die at similar times. They are both relics of the past, unable to identify with their own tribe and hunted by a growing White culture. We see this when a dying Sam is being tended to by the doctor in a passage midway through the novel: “They undressed him. He lay there- the copper-brown, almost hairless body, the old man’s body, the old man, the wild man not even one generation from the woods, childless, kinless, peopleless- motionless, his eyes open but no longer looking at any of them…” Sam Fathers dies in much the same way that Old Ben does, with his eyes open, and when Sam dies he speaks something in a native tongue indiscernible to the others. This represents the past, the purity of Nature, and a time when the laws of Nature were the laws of the land – a time before the white man and his machines of destruction and industrialization came to power. Sam understood this deep down and the Bear understood this to a point where he challenged the humans, flagrantly displaying his isolation and individuality, before he was eventually overcome. Sam was on the side of the humans, but never really identifies with them. He was always a part of the Other and this was something he couldn’t escape.

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