William Faulkner: Intruder in the Dust


William Faulkner: Intruder in the Dust

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      If the Battle of Gettysburg was the turning point of the Civil War, the beginning of the end for the Confederacy, then Pickett's Charge, the climax of three days fighting involving a theretofore unparalleled assembly of men and material, was certainly one of the war's defining moments. The open-field assault on Cemetery Ridge by some 15,000 men was one of the war's largest actions and one of its bloodiest. Following a Confederate victory at Chancellorsville that had much revived the hopes of the South, Lee's invasion of the North with the reinforced Army of Northern Virginia offered the promise of a victory that could preserve the Southern way of life by prompting recognition of the Confederacy by the United Kingdom and France. These hopes and the enduring romantic version of the Southern cause that remains a part of the South's cultural memory are evocatively captured in this excerpt from Intruder in the Dust, by William Faulkner.

      For every Southern boy fourteen years old, not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it's still not yet two oclock on that July afternoon in 1863, the brigades are in position behind the rail fence, the guns are laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags are already loosened to break out and Pickett himself with his long oiled ringlets and his hat in one hand probably and his sword in the other looking up the hill waiting for Longstreet to give the word and it's all in the balance, it hasn't happened yet, it hasn't even begun yet, it not only hasn't begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin against that position and those circumstances which made more men than Garnett and Kemper and Armstead and Wilcox look grave yet it's going to begin, we all know that, we have come too far with too much at stake and that moment doesn't need even a fourteen-year-old boy to think This time. Maybe this time with all this much to lose and all this much to gain: Pennsylvania, Maryland, the world, the golden dome of Washington itself to crown with desperate and unbelievable victory the desperate gamble, the cast made two years ago; or to anyone who ever sailed even a skiff under a quilt sail, the moment in 1492 when somebody thought This is it: the absolute edge of no return, to turn back now and make home or sail irrevocably on and either find land or plunge over the world's roaring rim.

      

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Universalium. 2010.

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