1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 76. Intruder In The Dust: by William Faulkner

Intruder In The Dust is William Faulkner’s version of a detective story set in the pastoral tradition and complete with Faulkner’s trademarked lingering sentences, stream-of-consciousness and decomposing Southern tradition. It tells the story of a elderly Black man, born into slavery, who in the years following WWII finds himself all but convicted of shooting a white man in the back. It begins sometime before the apex of the narrative and shows Lucas Beauchamp, the novel’s peripheral protagonist, providing a young white child (who finds himself wet, hungry and cold after an afternoon of rabbit hunting), with dry clothes, a meal and warmth. That young man would grow into the teenager that would dig up a grave at the request of Beauchamp, an isolationist who does not ’yes suh’ the whites or feel like he should have to defend himself. With the help of a Black teen and a elderly Southern spinster, the truth is eventually uncovered, figuratively and literally, but the narrative is really a backdrop for Faulkner’s conversation about white-guilt, likening the South to “a man writhing sleepless in bed at night”, not for “having injured his fellow so much as having been wrong”. The South, in Faulkner’s view it seems, needed to free the slaves, not to be forced to free them, but to recognizes their sin and purge themselves of it. That the South needed to “expiate and abolish it [themselves], alone and without help nor even advice.” It wasn’t the South that freed the slaves, it was the North. It was like a parent forcing a child to give back what he stole and robbing him of the opportunity recognize his wrongs and to purge the sin himself, and so, leaving him forever a sinner and blackening his soul. The novel is an exercise in purging that sin. Beauchamp is a symbol of that sin, having been born a slave. He is a constant reminder of that stain, and when many assume he would have been lynched, the South finally reigns in its barbarity and admits to its own sin.

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Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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