"Red Leaves" (Text Key 244)

short story

"Red Leaves" was the second story Faulkner managed to get published in the Saturday Evening Post, and it appeared in the magazine's October 25, 1930 issue. Faulkner may have begun writing it as early as 1927 or as late as 1929. He sent it to the Post on July 24, 1930. Faulkner revised the story for These 13 (1931), and it next appeared in The Portable Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley (1946). Faulkner published it in his Collected Stories (1950), where it opened the section entitled "The Wilderness" that includes his three other tales about the Indians of Mississippi. He revised the story one more time, for Big Woods (1955). In keeping with the editorial practices of the Digital Yoknapatawpha project, the 1950 edition is used here. The story has been widely anthologized and is considered to be one of Faulkner’s finest.

As the earliest written of those four stories, "Red Leaves" steps into a previously unexplored corner of Yoknapatawpha County. In this story the name of the tribe, which in some texts he calls Choctaw and in others Chickasaw, is never given. It should be said that Faulkner's representation of Native American behavior and customs is very unreliable, though it is historically true that southern Indian tribes often owned slaves. The tale is also his earliest hard look at slavery, an issue that would come to occupy more of his attention later in the 1930s.

Dating the Story: It is impossible to reconcile the timeline of the story with either regional history or Faulkner's other fictions about the Indians of Yoknapatawpha. The text uses two real historical figures to locate the period in which Doom traveled to New Orleans - "Carondelet" and "General Wilkinson" (318) - both of whom are in the city at the same time as Doom. Hector de Carondelet was the Spanish Governor of Louisiana from 1791-1797. (Wilkinson could have been there as well during that period, or earlier or later.) Doom's son Issetibbeha, who is born soon after he returns to his tribe, is specifically "nineteen" years old when Doom dies (319). "Five years later" Issetibbeha travels to Paris, returning to the tribe "a year later" (320). He marries after that. The child of that marriage, Moketubbe, is at least "twenty-five" when Issetibbeha gives him the red slippers (321); and Issetibbeha "lives for five years longer" before his death sets the plot of "Red Leaves" in motion (322). So it is at least 55 years after Doom's trip, i.e. the early 1850s, when Issetibbeha's slave runs away. But historically the Indians of northern Mississippi were "removed" from the state and relocated in Oklahoma by the mid-1830s. Given this disparity, we have chosen to follow the intervals provided by the text, choosing "1794" as the date of Doom's trip to New Orleans and counting forward from there. But even so, all our dates are approximate. (Other events in the story are also problematic when measured against history. Congress abolished the importation of slaves into the U.S. in 1808, and steamboats did not appear on the Mississippi until after 1811.)

First Publisher: 
Saturday Evening Post
First Publisher Date: 
25 October 1930
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Edit Copy Publisher: 
Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Burgers, Johannes H., Elizabeth Cornell, and Garrett Morrison. "Faulkner's 'Red Leaves.'" Added to the project: 2013. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu