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Go Down, Moses | Quotes

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1.

Anytime you wants ... something done ... get the womenfolks to working at it. Then ... set down and wait.


Tomey's Turl, Was

Women in 19th-century Southern society have little obvious agency or independence. Turl's comment indicates how the surface depiction of women as powerless conceals the real authority they wield behind the scenes when the men are so troubled and tortured. Because they lack official power, they must resort to alternative plans and activities, which means women are more likely to get things done once a plan is set in motion.

2.

It seems to me I've been away from home a whole damn month.


Buck McCaslin, Was

Buck spends only a few days away from his home, but a lot happens in those few days—an escaped slave, a near-marriage, and a lot of traveling. Buck never wants to leave his property, nor does his brother Buddy. The statement, therefore, reflects the brothers' close connection with their land.

3.

The same thing made my pappy that made your grandmaw.


Lucas Beauchamp, The Fire and the Hearth

Lucas never accords the Edmonds men, Zack or Roth, the kind of respect they believe they deserve under the complex social rules and order of Southern culture. When Lucas confronts Zack about the relationship with Molly, Lucas makes clear his sense of equality with the Edmonds men. He accepts their condescension and the terms they use to identify him, but Lucas also reminds Zack they both come from the same bloodline. Because of their shared ancestry, Lucas feels no compulsion to defer to Zack. In fact, the shared ancestry moves Lucas to resist Zack's power.

4.

He's more like Carothers than all the rest of us put together, including old Carothers.


Roth Edmonds, The Fire and the Hearth

Lucas Beauchamp is an enigma to those who know him, but Roth sees in his face a sense of ruthlessness and hardness that allows Lucas to endure. He believes Lucas embodies the nature of their common ancestor, indifferent to difference, indifferent to anything except survival and triumph over adversity. With a twist of situational irony, the true heir to Carothers's personal legacy is from the lineage Carothers would never formally claim as his own.

5.

Ah'm awready home. Ah'm snakebit now ad pizen can't hawm me.


Rider, Pantaloon in Black

Rider repeats these sentences several times when he goes on his drinking binge after his wife's death. He says it a few times when he comes to the mill and interrupts the dice game. On the surface, the line seems only to reflect Rider declaring how drunk he is. However, it's more an indication of how Rider has given up hope and given up on living. The snakebite is a metaphor for the loss of his wife and the ensuing grief. Rider doesn't think poison—or any danger—can hurt him because he is already wounded beyond help.

6.

Think of all that has happened on this earth ... the blood ... that has soaked back into it.


Cass Edmonds, The Old People

When Isaac tells his cousin Cass about meeting the deer Sam Fathers calls "Grandfather," Isaac thinks Cass won't believe him. He doesn't know Cass had the same experience with Sam. Cass portrays the land as a living entity, absorbing the events, the blood, the spirits and energy of all that happens. Because the land is its own entity, Cass recognizes things happen in the wilderness that may escape human understanding but are nonetheless real.

7.

It was me he was watching. I don't reckon he did need to come but once.


Isaac McCaslin, The Bear

When Isaac is old enough to hunt bear, Old Ben comes to assess the new threat Isaac represents. Isaac realizes the bear has an interest in him, considers him an adversary, and feels both threatened and flattered by the attention. Old Ben's activities reflect a mysterious and unknowable order found in the natural world, often ignored or minimized by humans.

8.

I'm disappointed in him. He has broken the rules. I didn't think he would.


Major de Spain, The Bear

Major de Spain mistakenly thinks Old Ben has killed one of his horses. However, his expression of disappointment is based in a faulty assumption. Major de Spain simply assumes all creatures, like Old Ben, should follow the same rules white men expect them to follow. The statement indicates the arrogance of domination of land and creatures that causes Isaac eventually to deem his family and his home country "cursed."

9.

I can't repudiate it. It was never mine to repudiate.


Isaac McCaslin, The Bear

When Isaac tells Cass he wants no part of the McCaslin plantation land, Cass tries to talk him out of it. Isaac's views against ownership of this land are so firmly entrenched, his respect for the land itself so vast, he doesn't believe he even has the right to give up something he never has owned. Isaac believes all ownership of land is an illusion. The tribes who occupied the land before the white men settled there didn't think of themselves as owners. Ikkemotubbe "sells" land that doesn't belong to him. In Isaac's mind, this sale makes the family's claim to the land illegitimate.

10.

The whole South is cursed, and all of us who derive from it ... lie under the curse.


Isaac McCaslin, The Bear

Isaac expresses his core belief the South is inherently doomed and cursed by the slavery that contributed to the region's construction and prosperity. He opposes the idea of ownership in general and the ownership of other human beings specifically. He believes both black and white citizens will suffer for the wrongs of their ancestors because there is no way to change or right the monumental wrongs of the past.

11.

Truth ... doesn't change. It covers all things which touch the heart.


Cass Edmonds, The Bear

Cass attempts to help Isaac McCaslin come to terms with the ugliness in their shared family history by quoting from John Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn." Cass wants Isaac to understand there are also inherent forces of good in the world—that honor, pride, pity, justice, and courage are the eternal truths that may touch the heart even in a tortured family such as theirs. Life is not always domination and abuse of power. It can include poetry in the deepest sense.

12.

Haven't you discovered ... that women and children are one thing there's never any scarcity of?


Roth Edmonds, Delta Autumn

Roth listens to his hunting party talk about the necessity for the United States to go to war in the early 1940s. His friends argue war is necessary to protect women and children, an attitude that reflects the chivalry of the myth of the Old South. Roth on the other hand, has a more cynical perspective. He knows his culture doesn't really value women and children, because both are easily replaceable.

13.

The woods and fields he ravages and the game he devastates will be ... his punishment.


Isaac McCaslin, Delta Autumn

Isaac reflects on the development, or overdevelopment, of the Mississippi wilderness, the land he cannot own but still loves. Although a hunter, he doesn't kill wantonly, and he strongly opposes the rampant destruction of wildlife and habitat development causes. He believes, for humans, the punishment for destroying the wilderness is inherent in the destruction itself. Humans will have to live without the elements they have destroyed, ultimately making their lives more difficult. Thus the punishment for the crime is the result of the crime itself.

14.

Roth Edmonds sold my Benjamin ... Sold him to Pharaoh and now he dead.


Molly Worsham Beauchamp, Go Down, Moses

Molly blames Roth Edmonds for Samuel Beauchamp's death in Chicago. Roth expelled 17-year-old Samuel from the plantation for his petty misdeeds. Molly, old enough to remember when slaves were sold away from their families, confuses Samuel's expulsion with Roth's selling Samuel as a slave. She further employs the metaphor used in the hymn "Go Down, Moses" to compare Roth with the Pharaoh who kept God's chosen people, the Israelites, in bondage in ancient Egypt. The wrongs done to Molly's family reach biblical proportions.

15.

She just wanted him home, but she wanted him to come home right.


Gavin Stevens, Go Down, Moses

Gavin Stevens and his editor friend go to great lengths to conceal Samuel Beauchamp's crimes in Chicago, and his manner of death, from Samuel's grandmother Molly. In the end, she doesn't mind if Samuel's fate gets published in local papers. Her concern is Samuel's body be brought home for burial by the people who loved him. She wants a coffin and a proper funeral "to come home right" because she thinks he deserves the dignity he didn't get in life.

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