Africa (Location Key)


Given how many of the inhabitants of Yoknapatawpha have African ancestors, it is perhaps surprising that Faulkner only mentions "Africa" in six of the fictions. And only "Red Leaves" really acknowledges the connection between Africa and slavery in the U.S. The enslaved protagonist of this story remembers a few parts of his life before he became Issetibbeha's "servant": he was born in "Guinea" (327), a term which includes much of the modern nation of Cameroon, and "taken" into slavery "by a trader off Kamerun" (327-28). Historically, a high percentage of the people taken to America and sold into slavery originally came from this area in West Africa. This makes the connection between Yoknapatawpha and Africa explicit, but it's both an acknowledgment and an evasion, since this slave belongs to an Indian chief rather than to any of the county's white planters. The other references to "Africa" also keep it at a distance from the realities of slavery in America - or for that matter, modern life in Africa. In Light in August a generic "African village" is used as a point of reference to define the absolute racial difference between "white" and "African": two white men "might have been brothers in the sense that any two white men strayed suddenly into an African village might look like brothers to them who live there" (214). "Africa" appears in Absalom! as an adjective when the Canadian Shreve predicts that "in a few thousand years" everyone will "have sprung from the loins of African kings" (302). This is in the novel's penultimate paragraph; earlier the novel implicitly points to Africa in two phrases: "what we call jungle" and the "dark inscrutable continent"; both of these, however, occur in the context of Sutpen's experience in the French colony of Haiti, where the "two hundred years of oppression and exploitation" of uprooted Africans again do not involve the white U.S. (202). Two of the three times "Africa" is mentioned in The Hamlet locate it in the context of European colonialism. When Ratliff visits Columbia, Tennessee, and discovers that it is an untouched market for selling his sewing machines, his joy is compared to the feelings of "the first white hunter blundering into the idyllic solitude of a virgin African vale teeming with ivory" (61). A few pages later the narrative depicts Will Varner and Flem Snopes settling the accounts of Varner's tenants in Frenchman's Bend and looking like "the white trader and his native parrot-taught headman in an African outpost" (67). The description of Flem as a "native headman" is the only hint of an actual 'African' presence in these passages. A real 'white hunter' appears in The Reivers: Paul Rainey, who "took his pack of bear hounds to Africa" to pit them against lions (163). Race plays a role in the fifth mention of Africa, but not the race one might expect. It appears in Requiem for a Nun. The Square in Jefferson gains a new monument in the aftermath of World War II, a "tank gun: captured from a regiment of Germans in the African desert by a regiment of Japanese in American uniforms"; these U.S. troops are the sons of "mothers and fathers" who have been interned in "a California detention camp for enemy aliens" (194). The internment of Japanese-Americans is a real historical event, of course, and it is historically true that during the war Japanese-American troops fighting in Europe accumulated an impressive combat record - although in fact no Japanese-American troops were involved in fighting in Africa. In the novel's context, the tank gun next to the Confederate statue is a monument to the way the modern South now sees itself as part of "One nation" (194). But at the same time, it seems worth noting what's missing: any memorial to the longer history of "Africa" in Yoknapatawpha. (See also the entries in the index for "Egypt" and "Ethiopia.")

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