Mississippi River (Location Key)


The Mississippi River figures in a number of Yoknapatawpha fictions, as one would expect, since before the railroads and the automobile the River was a major thoroughfare for people going to or leaving places like Yoknapatawpha, and the main way cotton was shipped from Mississippi plantations to northern factories. As the "Appendix Compson" notes, "the whole Mississippi Valley" (327) is the immense area drained by the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The "Appendix" is one of the places in the fictions that pay particular attention to the River as a Location in our sense of the term. Two other texts make still more significant use of it. In Requiem for a Nun Faulkner's focus is wide-angled. The Mississippi River and the towns that grew up along its banks - "St Louis, Paducah, Memphis, Helena, Vicksburg, Natchez, Baton Rouge" (82) - appear in the novel as a major element in the historical story that Yoknapatawpha is part of. The antebellum era as a "new age" for the nation flows through the "vast single net of commerce webbed and veined [by the waters of] the mid-continent's fluvial embracement" (83). The novel locates Jefferson in this context, putting it "about midway between" the River and the Natchez Trace, the other, early, overland transportation route to Yoknapatawpha (6). Absalom! uses the larger River thematically: as "that Continental Troth, that River which runs . . . through the physical land," it is the symbolic "geologic umbilical" that connects Quentin Compson as a southerner with Shreve McCannon as a Canadian (208). At a much more personal level, the deck of a steamboat moving on the moving river - "suspended immobile and without progress from the stars themselves" (250) - provides a very resonant site for Charles Bon's musings on his identity. It is also at the center of the wanderings of Bon's son Charles Etienne Saint-Valery Bon, who inherits his father's anguish about identity, for "something like a year" (167); among the men he provokes, racially, into beating him are "negro stevedores and deckhands on steamboats" (167).

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Mississippi River
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Mississippi River