Memphis: Red Light District (Location Key)


According to a 1938 report on "Prostitution Conditions in Memphis," the city "tolerated" a "red light district located in the lower end of the city, a deteriorated section not far from the railroad and mainly inhabited by colored people." Both many Yoknapatawpha men and Faulkner's fictions go there frequently. In The Reivers Lucius Priest refers to this area as "the Memphis tenderloin" (223); the original 'Tenderloin district' was in 19th century New York City, but the name soon became a popular nickname for areas in other U.S. cities that offered various kinds of vice. I don't think Faulkner ever uses the phrase 'red light district,' which is associated with the specific vice of prostitution. (In Flags in the Dust, however, he does note that one of the characters was expelled from the state university for hanging a red light "above the door of the girls' dormitory," 186). In "Uncle Willy," Willy Christian finds the prostitute he marries (briefly) in this part of Memphis, on "Manuel Street" (237). There is no such street in the real Memphis, but there is a 'Gayoso Street' that ran through the center of the red light district, and Gayoso Street is named after Manuel Gayoso, a former governor of Spanish New Orleans. In Sanctuary Popeye taunts Ruby Lamar with her "Manuel Street" background (9). "Gayoso" street, along with the nearby "Beale" street, are both mentioned by Jason Compson in The Sound and the Fury, when he thinks about how small is the dress worn by his niece Quentin (232); Jason seems very familiar with this part of Memphis, and Lorraine, the Memphis woman he has a relationship with, probably works in a brothel in the area. Late on a Sunday, at least in The Reivers, the area is very quiet, but walking both to and from the train station, Lucius recognizes "places similar to Miss Reba's" as well as closed "saloons" along their route (137).

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Memphis: Red Light District
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Memphis: Red Light District