At first glance, "The Bear" might resemble a short story about hunting. But the always-deceptive William Faulkner crafted a tale which represented not only sixteen-year-old Isaac McCaslin's coming of age by being able to join a hunting party, but it was a symbolic story of life itself and the illusion which man can never seem to distinguish from reality. The hunt represented life and the historic natural struggle between predator and prey. Faulkner wrote, "It was of the men, not white nor black nor red, but men, hunters, with the will and hardihood to endure and the humility and skill to survive, and the dogs and the bear and deer juxtaposed and reliefed against it, ordered and compelled by and within the wilderness in the ancient and unremitting contest according to the ancient and immitigable rules which voiced all regrets and brooked no quarter; -- the best game of all" (Cowley 197-198). To the victor goes the spoils -- an esteemed position of respect within the tightly-knit society.
Ike soon learned that the hunt was more than bagging bears and deer. He came to realize that it was the pursuit which was paramount, not necessarily the prizes it promised: The hunt was simply a symbol of pursuit. Most of anyone's life is a pursuit of something. [The hunt teaches] not only to pursue but to . let go because then tomorrow you can pursue again. The pursuit is the thing, not the reward, the gain" (Schreiber 477). There would always be one elusive bear always lurking in the shadows -- the stuff from which legends are made. In "The Bear," his name was Old Ben. This bear symbolizes the wilderness to Faulkner -- huge, intimidating, primitive, untouched by man. When men organize together in a hunting party, they are re-establishing their ties with nature, remembering what it was life before civilization pervaded every aspect of their lives. Man does not have to learn how to become one with nature -- it is instinctive, and when he enters the wilderness for the first time, it is more like a sense of deja-vu instead of a virgin experience.