In the short story Old Man, William Faulker employs community characteristics by brilliantly depicting the theme of return and craftily applying subtle inferences throughout the story. Specifically, Faulker explores various languages, patterns, customs, and traditions within the community context. Three prominent illustrations of community that follow along the storyline are the community of convicts, Black Mississippians, and the anonymous.
By design of the story, each community’s specifications are unfortunately simplified. However, within the simplification, the reader earns the autonomy to imagine and create notions regarding the communities personally. In order to establish community, Faulkner relies on the character’s longing to return or be associated with their communities. Returning also supports ideas surrounding returning to moments, memories, and a sense of familiarity.
For the convicts featured in this short, their community and connection involved being accustomed to life in the penitentiary. Their lifestyle was simple, predictable, and labor expectant despite their varying offenses. Faulker showcases the interactions of the convicts by displaying the reenactment of events along the river for one specific character he calls Tall Convict.
The tall convict, presumably not well-versed in life experiences due to his early life sentencing, longs for stability and what he perceives as his usual way of life. Being sent to the flood rescue efforts was outside of his community scope. With that in mind, elements of life he and the inexperience with the river’s rage made his growing concern to rid himself of the extra baggage brought on by the rescue of the once pregnant woman he was ordered to retrieve. After her rescue, the convict displays concern for returning her to her community of people who know her.
With Black Mississippians, the shared elements of their community involved cultural customs associated with being black and living in the Mississippi Delta. Old Man, the name for the Mississippi River by black people living by the river and river towns, represents the shared thread of vernacular language. Black Mississippians were also bonded by their knowledge of the wild and unpredictable elements of the river, such as its persistent flooding and geographically unique wildlife.
Lastly, the anonymous community or nameless characters featured in the story represent a community of the countless nameless people affected by the flood and its societal and economic imprint. This community implied more than Faulker simply not providing multiple names even with anonymity. Although surface-level, the anonymous community provided the story’s context and validity.
The 1927 Mississippi River flood ravaged and rearranged many aspects of the Mississippi Delta. Within those guidelines, various communities learned and adapted to their newfound existences. Although vastly different, each community shared the commonality of determination to find its way back to a sense of normalcy.