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Literature Study GuidesThe BearSection 5 Confession Summary

The Bear | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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The Bear | Section 5 (Confession) | Summary



Smirnov repeats his intention to shoot Popova while Luka listens helplessly. Luka calls out to the "little fathers," or the leaders of his country, as if they will be able to sense his distress and intervene. He then begs Smirnov to "have pity on a poor old man, and go away from here!" Luka insists that Popova is so frightened by Smirnov that she is not acting rationally. Smirnov continues to talk to himself about Popova. He is impressed by her courage and spirit. He admits that he has never met a woman like her before. Luka continues to weep for Popova. Smirnov comes to the conclusion that he genuinely likes her. He would almost be willing to forgive the debt. He realizes that his previous anger is gone.

Popova returns with Nicolai's dueling pistols. Luka rushes out to find the coachman and the gardener. The coachman and gardener are presumably younger than he is and may be able to intervene. Popova offers the pistols to Smirnov so he can examine them. He teaches Popova how to hold the gun and take aim. As he teaches her, he continues to describe her admirable qualities to himself. Popova recommends that they should go outside into the garden because it is "inconvenient to shoot in a room." Smirnov tells Popova that he plans to fire his shot into the air. It will then be up to her whether she shoots him or not. She asks him why. He refuses to explain. Popova concludes he must be frightened of her. He confesses that he is afraid because he likes her.


Smirnov equated sentimentality with women earlier in the play. Now he connects it with being a "little boy" or a "puppy." Ironically, his tone toward Popova becomes increasingly sentimental the longer he imagines their coming confrontation. His supposed hatred of her and her gender in general shifts into admiration. He proclaims that Popova is a "real woman" which suggests that he has changed his definition of women in general. He earlier argued that women were spineless manipulators at heart and compared the most beautiful woman to a crocodile. However, he now seems to believe that the women he fell in love with before were not real women but perversions of the ideal. Popova astonishes him with her force of personality and her stalwart refusal to shrink away from danger. She refuses to surrender her position even if it means resorting to physical violence. Smirnov suggests she is made of "fire" and "gunpowder." This idea is a radical departure from his original speech when he proclaimed women were "all muslin" and "ethereal" with no real substance to them.

Smirnov is still battling with his own awakened feelings of affection when Popova returns. She seems impatient to enter into the duel, but she allows him to teach her the basics of dueling. Smirnov adopts the role of the enthusiastic teacher as he expounds on the different types of guns and their merits. Neither person acts like someone who is prepared to take the life of another person. Popova does brag about looking forward to killing Smirnov, but her bravado is betrayed by the repeated question "Are you afraid?" which bookends her violent description. She expresses interest in Smirnov's emotional state which is something an opponent in a duel wouldn't normally do. Popova appears to be experiencing her own internal struggle alongside Smirnov for all her outward show of certainty.

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