William Faulkner makes extensive use of the setting in "The Bear". Faulkner uses the woods in which the main action of the story takes place, the animals in those woods, and the historical setting of his novel to represent the values held by the main characters and to act as a motivating force in Ike McCaslin's behavior. One purpose these woods serve is to represent the "Old South" and the dignity and tradition associated with it.
These great woods are the setting for the noble hunt of Big Ben. It is in these woods that Ike McCaslin gains his manhood and learns the beauty of the "old South" which the woods represent. The woods also reflect the change of the South as Ike discovers the horrors that the Southern lifestyle was responsible for. This change is indicated in book five when the woods are being torn down and the noblest game remaining in them are Boon's precious squirrels.
In addition to reflecting the downfall of the "Old South", the woods also serve to illustrate the theme of property rights. Throughout the novel, the author reflects that the woods belong to no man. For example, on page 384 Ike is discussing his choice to repudiate the land with McCaslin: I can't repudiate it. It was never mine to repudiate . Because it was never Ikkemotubbe's fathers" fathers" to bequeath Ikkemotubbe to sell to Grandfather or any man because on the instant when Ikkemotubbe discovered, (sic) realised, that he could sell it for money, on that instant it ceased ever to have been his forever, father to father to father, and the man who bought it bought nothing. Faulkner also makes use of the animals in Big Bottom to represent the values held by the main characters and to reflect the state of mind of the characters.
This old bear is not the only symbol of the "Old South." As Ike is walking away from Sam's grave, he encounters a rattlesnake that represents not the noble side of the "Old South" but the fetid atrocities which it was responsible for.