Short Story #246: The Tall Men by William Faulkner

Title:  The Tall Men

Author:  William Faulkner

Summary

Photo of Sinclair Lewis. Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6c/Lewis-Sinclair-LOC.jpgA federal investigator arrives at a house with the deputy marshal in pursuit of two men whom they have warrants for.  There is already a doctor on the scene that the deputy called in after being requested by one of the McCallum people when he called ahead.  The investigator is angry at the deputy mmarshalfor warning them but the marshal doesn't believe it is a real issue since he knows the McCallums. The investigator has a very clear and narrow view of the townsfolk and the people he is pursuing.  He follows the marshal into the house where he finds several family members gathering together as one of them has injured himself.  The marshal introduces the investigator as the state capital (Jackson) and is from the draft board with a warrant for the boys.  The investigator explains that the boys are required to register.  The investigator attempts to insist that he must take the boys, but everyone shrugs him off since there is someone who is injured.  They enter into the room with injured man.  In this room, it is explained again that the investigator is from the government and is here to arrest the boys for failing to register for the draft.  He is met with the same question of why is it necessary if there is no war.  The doctor at this point explains that the rest of the leg must come off.  The injured man insists that going to the hospital is unnecessary--it's nearly off as it is and they might as well finish the rest.  The doctor is hesitant with this idea.  In explaining that he is ready for the pain, the injured man talks about his military experience.  They begin to make preparations and the injured man directs the two boys to get ready and go enlist now.  The investigator objects to this direction saying that it is too late and they must arrested and if the marshal will not serve a warrant, that he too will be cited for contempt.  The marshal just responds that the investigator is clueless to what's actually going on.  The marshal relates a tale about other men in the family who have also served their country in the war over the generations.  The marshal also explains the ways in which the government had interfered with the businesses that the family had been running there (cotton) and that in some ways, the government interference has been the direct cause of why they were unable to actually sign up for the draft.  Meanwhile, the surgery moves forward and the investigator gets drafted into helping out, despite concerns about getting blood on him.  After the procedure is done, the marshal and investigator take the leg out to a part of the land where family members have been buried and bury the leg.  While doing this, the marshal lectures the investigator about the value of lives and living.  Once done, the marshal suggests returning to town. 

Reflection

The commentary about how bureaucracy interferes with the living of lives and doing right is very prominent within this story.  The contrast between the hard-working, well-meaning, and sincere McCallums and even the deputy looms large against the "investigator" who wants to perform to the letter of the law and not to the spirit of it.  

Short Story #246 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  7/20/2014
Source:  The short story can be found 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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