Memphis, Tennessee (Location Key)


Memphis is the closest city to Yoknapatawpha - as Jason Compson notes near the end of his section in The Sound and the Fury, "I was within sixty-seven miles of there once this afternoon" (245) - and it is the second most frequently used location in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha fictions, appearing in 34 of them altogether. The city was founded on the Mississippi River in 1819, and about the time Jason imagined going there it had close to 200,000 inhabitants. Like all of Tennessee and Mississippi at this time, the city was racially segregated, but its large black population included, for example, Joanna Burden's attorney, E.E. Peebles, and "Professor" W.C. Handy, who brings his Negro orchestra to Jefferson to play at the cotillion ball (and whose "St. Louis Blues" provided Faulkner with the title for "That Evening Sun"). The people of Yoknapatawpha travel there for many different reasons. Both white and (later) black people move there for economic and social opportunities they don't have in northern Mississippi; Dilsey, for example, complains about "them Memphis notions" (31) that carried her son Versh away from home (though she herself ends up living in Memphis too). Bayard Sartoris, Uncle Willy and V.K. Suratt visit medical specialists in the city. Young Bayard Sartoris buys his sports car and I.O. Snopes his mules there. Hunters camped in the big bottom can buy liquor there legally. Popeye (in Sanctuary) and the hitman that Granby Dodge hires (in "Smoke") are only two of the criminals and gangsters associated with the city. But again and again in the texts Memphis is linked to sexual misbehavior. Jason compares his niece Quentin's promiscuous behavior to the women "on Gayoso or Beale street," and there's every reason to assume that Lorraine, the Memphis woman with whom Jason has a relationship, is a prostitute (232, 307). Reverend Gail Hightower's wife and even Narcissa Benbow go there to commit adultery, and many men seek out the white and Negro prostitutes in Memphis' famous and quasi-legal red-light district. The Mansion locates that district in "Mulberry and Gayoso and Pontotoc streets" (68). (The locations for Sanctuary, "Uncle Willy," "Two Soldiers," The Mansion and The Reivers include three dozen separate places in the city; these have there own entries in the index.)

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Memphis, Tennessee
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Memphis, Tennessee