Arkansas (Location Key)


Arkansas is directly across the Mississippi River from Mississippi. The "company" of Confederate troops camped outside Jefferson in "Retreat" and The Unvanquished come from the state (20, 46). Only four people from Yoknapatawpha go there. When Ike McCaslin goes looking for his cousin Fonsiba Beauchamp in Midnight, Arkansas, in Go Down, Moses, the difficulties of travel in the state are formidable: he journeys "by rail," "by contracted stage," "by rail again," and on horseback, through what is described as a kind of wasteland - "empty," "muddy," night after night in "hotels, in roadside taverns of rough logs and containing little else but a bar," "in the cabins of strangers and the hay of lonely barns" (263). Like Ike, Fonsiba is a grandchild of Old Carothers McCaslin, but her genealogy is extra-marital and bi-racial. She left Yoknapatawpha after being emancipated at the end of the Civil War and is now living with her husband, a Northern Negro, on what he claims is a farm near that ominously named town. The farm is described as "a single log edifice with a clay chimney . . . no barn, no stable, not so much as a hencoop: just a log cabin built by hand . . . a farm only in embryo" (264). Midnight itself contains a tavern, a livery stable, a big store, a saloon, a blacksmith shop - and a bank, where Ike can leave Fonsiba's thousand-dollar McCaslin bequest in the hands of a white banker who promises to pay it to her in monthly installments that will guarantee it lasts for decades. The bleakness of this episode seems meant to comment more on what "freedom" might mean to Negroes (265) than on "Arkansas" as a place. The two other Yoknapatawphans who spend time in Arkansas are Buddy MacCallum (in Flags in the Dust) and Pete Grier (in "Two Soldiers") and even though they go there almost 25 years apart, they probably go to the same place: a U.S. Army boot camp. The novel calls the place Buddy goes after enlisting to fight in World War I a "concentration camp" (355), a phrase that would acquire a much different meaning during World War II. That is the war Pete enlists to fight in; he leaves Memphis, Tennessee, as part of a detachment of new recruits being taken to "Little Rock" (95). Other fictions also establish this connection between Arkansas and Memphis. In Light in August Joe Christmas' grandfather kidnaps him from an orphanage in Memphis to try to place him in an orphanage in Little Rock, Arkansas. To Joe, this other orphanage looks "no different from the one they left" (140). In The Reivers Otis complains about "all that time I wasted in Arkansas before anybody ever told me about Memphis" (139). Otis is one of two characters in that novel from Arkansas; the other is Miss Corrie, who is both an orphan and one of the prostitutes who work for Miss Reba in Memphis. She and Otis are both from the fictional small town of Kiblett, Arkansas. And it is inside Miss Reba's brothel that Arkansas is mentioned in The Mansion: the real town of Lonoke, Arkansas, is where the sister or daughter or wife of an unsavory patron named Strutterbuck lives (90-91). The state appears in a different context in Requiem for a Nun, when the narrator measures how 20th century America is becoming "one nation" (rather than a North and a South) by noting the "Brooklyn exchange students" who attend college on the G.I. bill "at Mississippi or Arkansas or Texas universities" and sell "tiny confederate battle flags" at football games (194).

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