“The Bear”: A Message of Freedom or Accursed Despair? William Faulkner, in his novela, “The Bear,” raises several intriguing issues through the use of blood. Is blood simply an internal red liquid, let easily with the blade of a knife? Faulkners use of blood implies a more substantial concept. It is a symbol of the ties that bind a family, something that can not be let so easily. Further, it is incorporated into the definition of who you are, as Sam Fathers is referred to as possessing the blood of a “Chickasaw” mingled with the blood of a “negro.” It can be a permanent, definite reference to who you are, from where youve originated. In this sense, Faulkner implies that individuals do not own their own blood, that blood is instead a legacy of those who came before them. This issue of blood comes into focus in Section 4, when Ike attempts to reject the land and holdings of a corrupt grandfather. Ultimately, he repudiates his heritage, his ancestry, his own blood. This urges the reader to ask whether the individual can e!
scape the bonds of blood and nullify the actions of preceding generations, or if the individuals identity is to be forever bound to an unalterable past. Stephen M. Ross writes on “The Bear,” that “consciousness itself, like knowledge of the family past can be passed on from generation to generation.” (Fictions Inexhaustible Voice 159) Sam Fathers innate knowledge of the “old fathers” would appear only to strengthen the notion that human identity is forever doomed to be cursed by the improprieties of our predecessors. However, the reader learns through Ikes personal conflict that the individual, although forever defined by the acts of a blood not truly their own can find freedom, ironically, through the one thing that each individual can call their own, the heart.
Before Ike even begins his process of self-liberation, the connections between blood, ancestral ties and self identity are clearly drawn. Sam Fathers, the physical manifestation of this inner conflict is described as, “the quarter Indian, grandson of a Chickasaw squaw, who on occasion resented with his hard and furious fists the intimation of one single drop of alien blood and affirmed with the same fists and the same fury that his father had been the full-blood Chickasaw and even a chief and that even his mother had been only half white.” (218) The reader knows that his assertions are not entirely complete, that his blood is also that of a black slave. In circumventing the recognition of the presence of “alien blood,” he further alienates himself from his immutable physical identity. He is truly alone for he had “none of his blood anywhere above the earth that he would ever meet again. And even if he were to, he could not have touched it, spoken to it, because for seve!
nty years now he had had to be a negro.” (206) These facets of his alienation ask the reader if we can escape our heritage, if we can escape who we are, or more concretely, if we can choose our own identity. Sams life long struggle to discover who he was shows that the repudiation of our blood is insurmountable. The physical and ancestral components of our identities remain fixed, and that basic truth denies us complete ownership of the self. An individuals blood can never truly belong to that person. It has been handed down generation after generation of people who themselves didnt own it either.
“I cant repudiate it. It was never mine to repudiate. It was never Fathers and Uncle Buddys to bequeath to me to repudiate because it was never Grandfathers to bequeath them to bequeath me to repudiate…” (246) Ikes view of the land closely parallels the inability to possess ones blood. Perhaps when Ike repudiates the farm, he is not only attempting to disown the land and his heritage, but in addition, his own blood. In acknowledging that “maybe it was more than justice that only the white mans blood was available and capable to raise the white mans curse,” he reveals to the reader his attempts to disavow his ancestors, and in turn, his blood by disclaiming the land that they owned. (248) When he states, “Apparently they can remember nothing save when underlined in blood,” blood is depicted as a vessel of memory. (273) The connection between his blood and his identity has ingrained upon him not only an unrelinquishable ancestry, but also a “vicarious centr!
al consciousness” (Fictions Inexhaustible Voice 156) bequeathed him by the irrefutable forces of heritage and history. Here it appears that Ikes sense of self dissolves into a physical existence grounded in the implicit memory of his predecessors, and any endeavor to resist would seem hopeless and futile. Is human self-identity merely an indistinct and perhaps trivial illusion? Freedom under this assumption would itself seem even more trivial, if not absurd. What is freedom if it is not to be ones true self?
Ike later finds that true freedom is not explicitly found within the confines of the individual being. His discovery is rooted in the fact that the history of the plantation inscribed in the ledgers was a record, “not alone of his own flesh and blood but of all his people, not only the whites but the black one too, who were as much a part of his ancestry as his white progenitors, and of the land which they had all held and used in common and fed from and on and would continue to use in common without regard to color or titular ownership” (256)
Blood is not simply common to the members of an immediate family, but is shared by all of humanity, as is the Earth we live on. He frees himself from the alienation that exists in conjunction with the concept of the self. Blood isnt owned by one person the blood of the individual is the blood of all. The sins of the fathers do not wholly rest on Ike, but are reflected by, and are a reflection of humankind. These connections run deeper as Ike converges on the source of the bloods driving force, ” if the truth is one thing to me and another thing to you, how will we choose which is truth? You dont need to choose. The heart already knows.” “Truth is one. It doesnt change. It covers all things which touch the heart” (249, 283) Within each human, there is a heart that understands and implicitly knows the truth: “honor and pride and pity and justice and courage and love,” “the complexity of passion and lust and hate and fear which drives the heart.” (283, 249) !
But what exactly is it that touches the human heart? Where or what is this truth? The vessel of ancestral memory, the record of the inexplicable human experience, the blood this is what pulses through our veins and flows through our hearts. To apprehend the truth is the experience of the human heart, but to create the truth is the infinitely varied journey of life that all humanity shares. In short, the truth shall set you free.
The individual is forever condemned, never to completely own ones self, but instead is marred by the curse of their predecessors existence whose identity will forever remain a fragment of their own. Restrained from existing as a separate, alien being, the person is forced to share the most pertinent parts of their consciousness with numerous others, the human heart, the interpreter of the ultimate meaning, and the blood, the meaning and identity of our physical existence in this world. Ike affirms that “the doomed and lowly of the earth have nothing else to read with but the heart,” and that the heart knows the truth, the one, the unity. Perhaps it knows because within all its almost incomprehensible complexity, it is the unity that binds us all, not only to each other, but to the infinite possibilities of existence. Robert Hunter, in the song Eyes of the World,
relates his perspective on the relationship between the human heart, the truth and the universe that encompasses, or maybe is encompassed by the two.
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Wake up to find out that you are the eyes of the world,
the heart has it’s beaches, it’s homeland and thoughts of it’s own.
Wake now, discover that you are the song that the mornin’ brings,
But the heart has it’s seasons, it’s evenin’s and songs of it’s own.