Faulkner dedicated Go Down, Moses to his late “mammy” Caroline Barr. Caroline “Callie” Barr was born into slavery in 1840. She came to work for Maud Butler Faulkner, the mother of William Faulkner in 1902, when he was just five years old.[1]

She took care of Faulkner and his brothers since their infancy, and in turn she also took care of Faulkner's daughter, Jill. Though he and Barr stood on polar ends of the societal power hierarchy, they formed a very intimate relationship in which she acted as the figure of authority over Faulkner's conduct, and as the figure of constant affection and love.

Faulkner delivered a eulogy for Caroline Barr, whom he called mammy until her death, in 1940. In this eulogy, he pays respect to Barr and credits her of teaching him moral values, "to tell the truth, to refrain from waste, to be considerate of the weak and respectful to age." He characterizes her life as one of servitude, as one who “was born in bondage and with a dark skin and most of her early maturity was passed in a dark and tragic time for the land of her birth.”[2] According to Faulkner, the fact that she accepted these injustices without complaint is what earned her the gratitude and affection of the Faulkner family.

Though she herself never learned to neither read nor write, Caroline shared her own experiences of slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction with the Faulkner children. She was a central source of inspiration for multiple black women characters of Yoknapatawpha County – Dilsey Gibson in The Sound and the Fury and Molly Beauchamp in Go Down, Moses. Similar to Dilsey Gibson, who lives in a cottage right outside the main Compson home, Caroline Barr lived in a cottage behind Faulkner's home in Oxford, Mississippi. Though some critics view Faulkner's attitudes towards Caroline as paternalistic and racist, many believe that given the social attitudes of the time, Faulkner's love and respect for Caroline was genuine. He conducted her funeral in his living room at Rowan Oak and arranged for her burial and grave marker.

callie barr.jpg

The grave marker reads, "Callie Barr Clark, [1840-1940] Mammy, Her white children bless her."[3]



To Mammy
Caroline Barr
Mississippi
[1840-1940]
Who was born in slavery and who gave to my family a fidelity without stint or calculation of recompense and to my childhood an immeasurable devotion and love.
-- Go Down Moses, Dedication


[1] Hamblin, Robert, and Charles A. Peek. “Caroline Barr.” A William Faulkner Encyclopedia. 1999. Print.
[2] Faulkner, William. “Eulogy for Mammy Caroline Barr.” Delivered at Oxford, Mississippi. 1940.
(http://swc2.hccs.edu/htmls/RowHTML/faulkner/mammy_caroline_barr.htm)
[3] Gleason Family. “Caroline ‘Callie’ Barr Clark.” Find a Grave. Accessed December 2013. (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=pv&GRid=69850973&PIpi=55415039)