William Faulkner’s “The Tall Men,” is a historically relevant story that provides a glimpse into American life in the 1930s, during the Great Depression.
Faulkner’s tales are famous for relating to the time in which they take place, and for this reason, he succeeds at creating masterpieces that fit nicely into the category of American classics. In “The Tall Men,” the story details the various components of law and order during the Great Depression, and provides a clearer look at the various opinions of registering for the World War II draft. “The Tall Men,” helps the reader understand the principles of life during the transition period from the Dirty 30s to WWII, and for this reason it would provide a solid addition to this course’s list of literary classics.
The qualities of each of Faulkner’s characters makes them realistic, because they seem to lead lives that common people would live. The characters and plot provide a realistic representation of history and for this reason it qualifies as being “classical” American literature. This is expressed in the way the marshal has an affinity for the family and lets the two brothers leave, for example. Also, near the beginning of the story it is revealed that he warns the family that he is coming. “’Lee McCallum asked me to send him out when I telephoned we were coming.’ You mean you warned them?’ the investigator said. ‘You telephoned ahead that I was coming out with a warrant for these two evaders? Is this how you carry out the orders of the United States Government,’” (1). The marshal gave the boys a chance to run by warning them, and this shows a different side to the law enforcement at the time than what the public might assume. This realistic take on the potential differences of people during the time period brings a valuable addition to the common beliefs that people typically had of this time period. This helps to enlighten the reader about American history, and for that reason would make the story a valuable addition to the classics.
The story is representative of an important time in American history: the Depression – this gives it more relevancy to being included as a valuable piece of American literature because it helps to tell the story of America. One of the most valuable pieces of information about the struggles that people were facing comes near the beginning of the story when the investigator describes the concealment of land ownership, “… These people who lie about and conceal the ownership of land and property in order to hold relief jobs which they have no intention of performing, standing on their constitutional rights against having to work, who jeopardize the very job itself through petty and transparent subterfuge to acquire a free mattress which they intend to attempt to sell…” (1). The section goes on to say the farmers make false statements so they can receive seed loans. The investigator’s opinion reveals why the two officials are at the home: because the land owners were caught defrauding the government. However, the investigator says he has a warrant for them because they did not register for the draft. Within the first page, the points of views from the two men are revealed, with the marshal supporting the farmers, and the investigator believing the land owners are in the wrong for attempting to receive social welfare when they do not actually need it, as well as not registering for the draft. Serving in WWII was requested of them by the government. Faulkner is effective in his use of characters at revealing the philosophies of the time, and this provides a valuable look into the actions of some members of the farming demographic during the Great Depression, as well as the differing opinions about those actions.
Many of the characters in the story represent components of American history that are important to the nation. For example, the father is a World War I veteran. And his sons represent people who refused to register for the draft prior to World War II. The investigator represents the government, which is forcing people to register for the war. The marshal represents the middle ground, between the government and the common people. He is depicted as being both sympathetic to the requirements of the government, and to the needs of the people. While he tells the boys that they needed to register for the draft, he also sympathizes for the boys, which was proven when he called them to warn them that the officials were coming.
“The Tall Men” fits in with many other similar works of its time period. For example, in the poem “Apostrophe To Man,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, she discusses what is expected of people during the 1930s, which is the same decade that Faulkner sets “The Tall Men.” In her piece she mentions many of the aspects of life at the time that adhered to conformity. “Convert again into explosives the bewildered ammonia and the distracted cellulose;/ Convert again into putrescent matter drawing flied/ The hopeful bodies of the young; exhort” (5, 7, 8, 9). This poem discusses the “conversion” of people to serve in the war. Similarly, “The Tall Men,” discusses the boys needed to register for the draft. Both the short story and the poem reveal the results of war, and how that was factored into society in the Dirty 30s.
While “Apostrophe To Man” is similar to “The Tall Men” in its general setting and philosophical concept, the use of characters in Faulkner’s earlier work, the novel “As I Lay Dying,” provides similar use of characters. Faulker, like legendary Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, uses his characters to communicate ideals. As the reader has seen in “The Tall Men,” each character has their own function in explaining a perception or situation of life at the time. Similarly, “As I Lay Dying,” utilizes multiple characters to provide views about life. For example, the Bundren family helps depict the struggles that each character experienced. Each of these portrayals of the hardships in life during the early 20th century helps tell the story of each type of character – whether religious, secular, male, female, old or young, Faulkner has a character to describe the perspective of each.
Due to the true historical components contained within the story, “The Tall Men,” is a vital addition to classical American literature, and is a worthy addition to this course. While many texts provide a look at the hardships of the Great Depression, “The Tall Men,” provides a unique perspective, one that collaborates the perspectives of the government and the commoners who were hit by the global recession. But the story takes this interesting dynamic a step further by including the WWII draft. This unique combination makes the text almost vital to add to the course, and to the more broad collection of classical American literature, as it can help provide students with a solid grasp of the hardships that were experienced by so many – and how those struggles became worse when people were told they needed to register for the draft.
Faulkner, W. (1930). As I Lay Dying. New York: Vintage.
Faulkner, W. (1941). The Tall Men. Literature Save. Retrieved from
Millay, E.S.V. (1934). Apostrophe to Man. PoemHunter.com. Retrieved from