Short Story #153: Kneel to the Rising Sun by Erskine Caldwell

Title:   Kneel to the Rising Sun 

Author:  Erskine Caldwell


Book cover: he Bedside Book of Famous American Short Stories edited by Angus Burrell and Bennett A. Cerf
Lonnie is a sharecropper that works for Arch Gunnard, a nasty man who all but starves his tenants.  Lonnie is also friends with Clem, an African American, who unlike Lonnie often stands up for himself and demands reasonable rations from Gunnard.  On a hot summer's day, Gunnard takes an interest in Lonnie's dog and decides what the dog needs is for his tail to be removed. Gunnard is known for doing this and in fact, has a chest, full of dog tails.  He grabs hold of the dog and pulls out his knife.  Lonnie wants to protest something awful but doesn't have the courage.  He hems and haws and looks to Clem for help but this is Lonnie's dog.  When Lonnie doesn't resist, Gunnard cuts the dog's tail off and the dog howls and whines.  Lonnie eventually goes home to his shack where his wife and ailing and deaf father are.  In the middle of the night, his wife wakes him, telling him that his father has wandered off and hasn't returned.  Lonnie goes out to look and eventually enlists Clem to help him find his father.  They eventually find the remnants of his father in the pig pen where the pigs are well fed but always ravenous.  Lonnie ponders what to do and doesn't want to wake up Gunnard but Clem insists, claiming that Gunnard in all likelihood would deny it in the morning.  When they get Gunnard out of bed, angered and resentful, he minimizes the situation and Clem calls him out.  Gunnard repeatedly assaults and attempts to assault Clem who defends himself but doesn't attack.  Gunnard does into the house to call his friends and Clem runs for the barn.  Lonnie catches up with Clem and Clem asks him to misdirect the men to another spot while he makes for the woods.  Lonnie continues to believe things will be ok if they just go back to Gunnard but Clem knows differently.  Clem takes off to the woods and when Gunnard's posse shows up, Lonnie hesitates but ultimately tells them where Clem went.  The men scour the forest and by morning find him in a tree.  They shoot him down and then shoot him some more.  At the death of Clem, Lonnie falls to his knees, mourning the loss.   


This was a doozie of a story and one that I will probably use within my American Literature course.  There's a lot going on in terms of race and class within this story.  The contrast between Lonnie and Clem is fascinating.  The presentation of Lonnie lacking spine is all but summarized in his failure to keep his dog from losing his tail (a scene that could easily be understood a castration).  Clem's ability to walk a steady line between defiance and conformity is striking, especially since it is on Lonnie's behalf that he goes far beyond that line and yet Lonnie cannot even lie to save Clem's life.  In some ways, to calls to mind the complexity of race and class relations and how it effects everyone involved negatively.

Short Story #153 out of 365
Rating: 5 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  5/31/2014
Source:  The Bedside Book of Famous American Short Stories edited by Angus Burrell and Bennett A. Cerf.  Random House, 1936. The story can also be found online at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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