Poor, Mizzling Souls in William Faulkner’s “Shingles for the Lord”

William Faulkner

Rather than do a review of what I found to be one of the finest short stories I’ve ever read, I think I’ll just give you a morsel to taste.  Hopefully, it will inspire you to read the rest.

Pap is late getting to the church.  He was late borrowing the froe from Killegrew, “a seventy-year-old man, with both feet and one knee, too, already in the grave”.  Killegrew had been squatting all night on a hill listening to a fox race (or trying to, since “he couldn’t even hear unless they had come right up onto the same log he was setting on and bayed into his ear trumpet.”

Reverend Whitfield was in no mood to hear excuses.

“You could have gone yesterday and borrowed the froe,” Whitfield said, “You have known for a month now that you had promised this one day out of a whole summer toward putting a roof on the house of God.”

Pap defends himself –

“We ain’t but two hours late,” pap said. “I reckon the Lord will forgive it.  He ain’t interested in time, nohow.  He’s interested in salvation.”

But the Reverend won’t be out-theologized –

“He ain’t interested in neither! Why should He be, when He owns them both? And why He should turn around for the poor, mizzling souls of men that can’t even borrow tools in time to replace the shingles on His church.  I don’t know either.”

Before getting to work, Pap argues with Homer and Salon about how many man-hours have been lost and how many units of work they had promised Whitfield.  Pap snaps back –

What modern ideas?… I didn’t know there was but one idea about work — until it is done, it ain’t done, and when it is done, it is.

They keep going at it about work and how Pap should have hired somebody to work “them extra overtime units”.  Pap says he “ain’t had no WPA experience in dickering over labor.”  Salon proposes that instead of paying cash, he could work a trade, “You might use that dog.” Pap stops in his tracks and looks over at Solon.  Pap didn’t own the hound outright, but had raised it for half-interest.

“So that’s it,” pap said.  “Them things wasn’t work units atall.  They was dog units.

Solon insists it is just a friendly offer – “You sell me your half of that trick overgrown fyce and I’ll finish these shingles.” Pap comes back with talk of six extra units of one dollars.  Solon says no, “I’ll pay you the same two dollars for your half of that dog that me and Tull agreed on for his half of it.”  Pap could bring back the dog tomorrow and forget all about the church roof.

Pap sets there with the maul up over his head, looking at Solon.  Then he begins to laugh.  And without warning, he brings the maul down, “the froe done already druv through the bolt and into the ground while the shingle was still whirling off the slap Solon across the shin.”

They go back at until it’s time to break for lunch.

Over lunch, they continue to negotiate work hours, dollars, and the hound dog, as well as the cost of the shingles.  Finally, Solon takes out his purse and pays pap the two dollars and they get to work, arguing about whether it would be possible for finish the job in a day.  Salon lays down his froe and maul and says –

Well, men, I don’t know what you fellars think, but I consider this a day.

Pap doesn’t skip a beat –

All right…  You are the one to decide when to quit, since whatever elbow units you consider are going to be shy tomorrow will be yourn.

Solon agrees –

That’s a fact, … and since I am giving a day and a half to the church instead of jest a day, like I started out doing, I reckon I better get on home and tend to a little of my own work.

to read more…. check out “Shingles for Lord” in Works by William Faulkner

photo of William Faulkner from Rob Lowell in Repetitive History~ good beauty, bad ugly, ebon ivory.

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