This essay places the opening scene of William Faulkner’s “Go Down, Moses” in the context of many other short stories from the 1840s on about encounters with a census-taker, some from the point of view of the person being questioned, others from that of the enumerator. It begins by reading these as constituting a distinctive and enduring strand of local-color fiction and, as such, a counterpoint to the national story told by the government, but then goes on to explore some ways in which the aims of the Census Bureau and those of short story might overlap.

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