Jefferson Courthouse and Square (Location Key)


"The courthouse: the center, the focus, the hub" (Requiem for a Nun, 32) - one way or another the courthouse and the Square around it that are at the center of Jefferson appear in over two-thirds of the fictions. (The "Square" or the "square" - Faulkner's texts write it both ways, sometimes even inside the same text; see "Knight's Gambit," 199 vs 210.) The various descriptions of the "by-neo-Greek-out-of-Georgian-England" courthouse building (Requiem, 167) align very closely with the design of the actual Lafayette County courthouse in the middle of Oxford's central square, and although the story of the Yoknapatawpha courthouse varies a bit from text to text, it too stays close to history. Requiem, where the first act is entitled "The Courthouse," provides the fullest account of its building in the years before the Civil War, according to a design provided by the same French architect who created Thomas Sutpen's plantation. Several texts mention how "the courthouse and everything else on or in the Square was burned to rubble by Federal occupation forces after a battle in 1864" (Intruder in the Dust, 48-49); curiously, Faulkner refers to but never describes the burning of Jefferson, and only once describes its aftermath in any detail, when Bayard and Ringo "ride past the brick piles and the sooty walls that hadn't fallen down yet, and went on through what used to be the square" at the end of "Vendee" (The Unvanquished, 184). Like Colonel Sartoris' plantation, however, also burned down by the Yankees, the courthouse and the stores on the Square soon rose again. The four clocks on the courthouse, one facing in each cardinal direction, play a role in many stories - sometimes a symbolic role, not surprisingly in an author as interested in 'time' as Faulkner: one such moment occurs in that most time-obsessed novel of all, The Sound and the Fury, when Jason Compson thinks bitterly about the pigeon droppings that have to be cleaned out of those clocks "every year" (247). The inside of the courthouse contains different offices in different stories, including the "the Chancery Clerk's books" which record the transferrals of the land in Yoknapatawpha from the Indians to the white settlers ("The Old People," 204) and the ordinance prohibiting motor vehicles within the city enacted by Bayard Sartoris at the dawn of the automobile age, "copied out on a piece of parchment like a diploma or a citation and framed and hung on the wall" by Mayor de Spain in an irreverent mood (14). Eula Varner and Flem Snopes are among the couples who get married there. Seven different trials take place inside the building's courtroom, including Mink Snopes', which is described in all three novels in the Snopes trilogy, and Nancy Mannigoe's, which provides the dramatic curtain raiser for Requiem. Outside, on the streets on the Square, much more of Yoknapatawpha's story takes place, large-scale happenings like the potential lynch mobs that gather there in Light in August and Intruder, and small: it's on the Square that Miss Emily is seen riding with Homer Barron, for example, or Chick Mallison sees Eula for the first time. To the many ways that Faulkner uses the courthouse and square as a stage, we add one of our own. Our project's programming requires that every textual Event take place at a Location. But a great many events in the fictions occur at undefined places in Jefferson. Whenever this happens, we 'locate' the event here, in the center of the town at the center of the county; so, for example, this is the Location where, in "Monk," Monk is tried for murder and the place "about town" where Monk is often seen in his "cheap, bright town clothes" (46). We also use this Location to define the place where a story's first-person narrator is telling the tale, unless the story identifies such a place itself; this includes, for example, the Location we assign "the town" in Light in August when "they tell Byron" the story of Gail Hightower's experience in Jefferson (60-73). (To disambiguate these various instances you can search the 49 texts that use this Location by "Courthouse|Trial," "Courthouse|Office," "Courthouse and Square," and "Jefferson Event" .)

Display Name: 
Jefferson Courthouse and Square
Sort Name: 
Jefferson Courthouse and Square