Mississippi State Insane Asylum (Jackson) (Location Key)


Historically, the Mississippi State Insane Asylum was opened in Jackson in 1855, and operated there until 1935. In Faulkner's fictions it is simply referred to as "the asylum" or "Jackson" - or, by Ratliff in "A Bear Hunt," "the Jackson a-sylum" (75). Two of Faulkner's most memorable characters are committed there: Benjy Compson and Darl Bundren. That his brother Benjy hasn't been shipped off to Jackson is one of Jason Compson's persistent grievances in The Sound and the Fury; when Faulkner wrote the "Appendix" to the novel about fifteen years later, he revealed that after their mother's death Jason had his way - though about a dozen years after that, in The Mansion, he complicated the story by revealing that Mrs. Compson's cried so much after Benjy was committed that Jason agreed to bring "Benjy back home" - though that doesn't provide the story with a happy ending. At the end of As I Lay Dying Darl Bundren is forcibly restrained and taken by agents of the state to Jackson. The youngest Bundren, Vardaman, keeps repeating variations on "Darl he went to Jackson," as if the repetition could explain it (249-52). Cash Bundren wonders if it isn't "better so for" his brother (261), but given the way Darl's last section in the novel ends, with him either in the asylum or imagining himself there - "in a cage in Jackson where, his grimed hands lying light in the quiet interstices, looking out he foams" (254) - there's certainly no happy ending here either. The other character who ends up there is Henry Armstid, in The Town, after falling victim to one of Flem Snopes' schemes (in The Hamlet). Mink Snopes does not go to Jackson in The Mansion, though that's where his lawyer argues he belongs. And in a confusing but intriguing passage in "Skirmish at Sartoris" as a short story and a chapter in Go Down, Moses, it seems possible that one of Benjy's ancestors, a husband of "Mrs. Compson," was sent there too; according to Bayard Sartoris' narrative he was "locked up for crazy" though we don't know where (62, 193). Ratliff mentions "Jackson" because of the "wild" look on Luke Provine's face, a reference that suggests how common 'going to Jackson' was among Faulkner's people as a kind of synonym for 'crazy.' But in the fictions Faulkner's use of 'Jackson' suggests how porous is the distinction between 'sanity' and 'madness.'

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Mississippi State Insane Asylum (Jackson)
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Mississippi State Insane Asylum (Jackson)