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The wilderness in American fiction: Hemingway and Faulkner

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  1. Introduction
  2. Hemingway in his first novel The Sun Also Rises
  3. Stories of initiation
  4. Wilderness is marked as a special place
  5. The relevance of what Sam and Wilson teach
  6. Wilderness as a symbol for purity
  7. Conclusion

Growing up during a time in American history when much of the country was still an unspoiled wilderness, it is no wonder Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner both show a particular awe for nature and a preoccupation with wilderness as a symbol. Wilderness is an important theme in Hemingway's ?The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber' and The Sun Also Rises, and in Faulkner's Go Down, Moses. While Hemingway expands his concept of wilderness to stretch from the hills of Spain to the savannas of Africa, Faulkner concentrates on the woods of Mississippi. Despite their varied locations, Hemingway and Faulkner have strikingly parallel understandings of the spiritual implications of wilderness. For both, the wilderness is a space of spiritual education and sacred initiation into manhood. It is differentiated for the profane world, embodying a sense of purity and evoking a strict moral code.

[...] As Bill semi- ironically states: the woods were God's first temples.?[3]Another clue to the specialty of these hills is the Englishman Harris' reaction, again understated: don't know what this all means to In this novel and others the wilderness set apart as special and significant. Often, the wilderness is significant because it is a place where important initiations take place. Both Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber? and Ike's sections in Go Down Moses Old People?, ?Delta Autumn?) are stories of initiation. [...]


[...] Ike must purify himself in order to enter the sacred space of the wilderness and see Old Ben, the bear. He cannot carry the objects of civilization, which are characterized as ?tainted?[10]. First, upon Sam's advice, he goes without a gun. Then he discovers that that is not enough: he must journey into the woods without a watch and compass as well[11]. Here, the wilderness is established as a place of purity. Both Ike and Francis' guides are described in such a way that links them physically with the wilderness in which they reside. [...]

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