‘The Tall Men’ by William Faulkner

Faulkner, William 1941

The Tall Men by William Faulkner, 1941

The magic trick:

The long monologue the old deputy marshal breaks into midway through the story

It is but a mere passing comment early in the story, but the deputy’s admonishment of the young inspector – “… I been trying to tell you something for you not to forget. But I reckon it will take these McCallums to impress that on you…” – sets up the central message of the piece.

He makes good on his promise later in the story, telling a lengthy history of the McCallum family during a long monologue. It recalls a device Chekhov uses in each of his Little Trilogy stories (though perhaps I’m only making that connection because I have recently read a lot of Chekhov) in which he allows one character to make a lengthy statement that provides the heart of the overall story. The monologue, also like Chekhov in The Little Trilogy, allows the author to keep his own views hidden. The marshal’s speech is strong in its anti-New Deal sentiments, defending the liberty of the rural south. And that’s great. This can simply be a story about this man’s point of view. It doesn’t necessarily represent Faulkner’s opinion on the subject at all. The author can be direct and even political without betraying any personal allegiances. And that’s quite a trick on Faulkner’s part.

The selection:

The old marshal turned, his shaggy eyebrows beetling again, speaking down to the investigator as if he were a child, “Ain’t you found out yet that me or you neither ain’t going nowhere for a while?”

“What?” the investigator cried. He looked about at the grave faces once more contemplating him with that remote and speculative regard. “Am I being threatened?” he cried.

“Ain’t anybody paying any attention to you at all,” the marshal said. “Now you just be quiet for a while, and you will be all right, and after a while we can go back to town.”

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