California (Location Key)


As the westernmost place on the continent with the hills that are full of gold, "California" has long been a symbolic destination for Americans. In the fictions Faulkner sometimes pairs it with "Texas" as a place for running away from one's past (The Town, 346), though when Temple Drake Stevens looks for that kind of escape on a California beach that is "far from Jefferson" (Requiem for a Nun, 61) her own son reminds her why she has to go back. For Willy Christian, who wants to escape Jefferson's present rather than his past, California is mythic. Twice he calls it "California!"- using the word and the exclamation point as a kind of incantation ("Uncle Willy," 242). Not surprisingly he never gets there. More material are the aspirations of the Negro tenant farmers and "furnish-hands" who in the 1930s exchange Yoknapatawpha's cotton fields for the "ghettoes" of Los Angeles as well as in northern cities like "New York and Detroit and Chicago" (Requiem for a Nun, 193). In his later fiction Faulkner locates a new kind of racial diversity in California. When Chick Mallison mentions the one "Chinaman" who lives in Jefferson in The Town, he claims that "we all knew about San Francisco's Chinatown," "half the world or anyway half the continent" away (321) - "we" of course are the white townspeople, and he doesn't explain what they "knew." California is associated with racial injustice as well. In Requiem for a Nun he uses another piece of Jefferson - the captured German "tank gun" that stands near the Confederate statue in the Square as a memorial to the local veterans of World War II - to mention the internment camps to which the Japanese-Americans living on the west coast were removed as a possible threat to the war effort against Japan. The "regiment of Japanese" - i.e. Japanese-American soldiers - who captured the tank have parents confined to "a California detention camp for enemy aliens" (194); that was the official language, though almost two-thirds of the 110,000-120,000 people interned were American citizens and there was no effort to prove they were "enemies." Two of the ten camps on the U.S. mainland were in California, and about a quarter of the people who were interned were in these two camps. Except for that unnamed Chinese man, all the Asian-Americans in the fictions are located in California. Gavin Stevens reproduces that pattern when he refers, imaginatively, to various veterans of World War I around the U.S. and equates the experience of "John Doe of Jefferson, Mississippi," with that of "Harry Wong of San Francisco" ("Knight's Gambit," 243). Two other wars define the role California plays in two other texts. In Sanctuary Ruby Lamar waits for Lee Goodwin, who is "a soldier in the Philippines (59), by working in a restaurant in San Francisco. Two wars later, Pete Grier sends his family presents from a San Francisco drugstore before shipping out for the Pacific in "Shall Not Perish" (105).

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