Jefferson Railroad Line (Location Key)


The railroad line that runs from north to south straight down the middle of Yoknapatawpha on both the maps that Faulkner made was built in the decade after the Civil War by Colonel John Sartoris. The story of how he built it is told, briefly and with a few variations, in three Yoknapatawpha novels, starting with the first, Flags in the Dust. Will Falls reminds the Colonel's son how Sartoris rode "up and down the survey with a saddlebag of money night and day, keepin' jest one cross tie ahead of the po'house" (22). Included in the chest of Sartoris relics that that son opens is a "long-necked oil can such as locomotive drivers use," made of silver and engraved with the date the first train, pulled by a locomotive that John named "Virginia," arrived in the depot in Jefferson: "August 9, 1873" (88-89). On the whole the fictions treat the railroad as one of the Colonel's great legacies to the county: the statue that the family erects over his grave faces out over the tracks. But there is blood on those tracks. In Flags Sartoris originally had a partner in his railroad venture, a man named Redlaw, whom the Colonel buys out before the line is finished; when Redlaw kills him later, the residual animosity created by the venture is one of the causes. And in The Unvanquished the Colonel's son Bayard describes the building of the railway too; his account includes how his father killed a "hill man" whom he suspected without evidence was going to rob him as he rode along "the unfinished line with two saddlebags of gold coins borrowed on Friday to pay the men on Saturday" (220). Requiem for a Nun gives the Colonel a third partner in the venture: General Compson. He too was bought out, but it's a bit surprising that Faulkner decided to associate a Compson with such a purely commercial enterprise. Even more surprising is the way the narrator of that text calls it "a railroad from Jefferson north into Tennessee" (187); most of the events associated with Yoknapatawpha's railroad do take place north of Jefferson, but it also runs south from town. Throughout the fictions trains serve as the major way in which Yoknapatawpha is connected to the larger world, bringing characters up from Mottstown, for example, as well as taking them north toward Memphis and beyond. Faulkner also notes in The Mansion that the last passenger train stops in Jefferson in 1935 (446). That day in 1873 when the first train arrived is described by Bayard as a huge moment for the people of Jefferson: Colonel Sartoris himself was driving, blowing "blast after blast on the whistle," and at the station was "a Confederate flag and girls in white dresses and red sashes and a band" (Unvanquished, 226). Scenes on the trains that run on the Colonel's railroad have their own Location, but the tracks themselves serve as an important location in several of the texts. It's significant that when the Colonel's great-grandson Bayard, for example, returns to Jefferson after World War I in Flags, rather than getting off the train at the station - or as it's called by Simon, a family servant who was there when the track was laid, "de dee-po his own folks built" (7) - he jumps off the train on the wrong side of the tracks: that's one way the novel measures the distance between the great past and modernity, especially when in a later text like The Unvanquished Faulkner can describe the grandeur of the way the first Sartoris drives that first train into the station. In Light in August the railroad tracks carry Gail Hightower and his wife into Jefferson, and Lucas Burch away from Lena Grove and her newborn child. If Burch uses the tracks to sneak out of town, in The Mansion Mink Snopes uses them to sneak into Jefferson, evading detection as he returns after forty years to kill Flem by walking along the tracks for miles. It's also on the tracks, at a "sharp curve . . . below town," that Mrs. Hait's husband is killed while taking part in another Snopes' sordid scheme: both "Mule in the Yard" and The Town (243) describe the way I.O. Snopes uses the railroad as a source of income by arranging to have the mules he can't sell run down by the train. The great-grandfather of William Faulkner, a man named Colonel William Falkner, also built a railroad line after the Civil War; it runs through Ripley, Mississippi, but as Wikipedia puts it, "the first station on the line north of Ripley was located in what is now the community of Falkner." It's not surprising the his great-grandson puts a railroad at the center of his maps, and so many of his fictions.

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Jefferson Railroad Line
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Jefferson Railroad Line