Northwest Road|Jefferson to Memphis (Location Key)


The road that leaves Jefferson to head northwest is given a name only once: when Max Harriss races his car around the Square in "Knight's Gambit" and takes a skidding turn out of town, the story says he's driving off on "the Memphis highway" (213-14). We assume this is also the route toward Memphis that Granny takes with Bayard and Ringo during the Civil War in "Retreat," and the one that the bus carrying the younger Grier to Memphis takes during the Second World War in "Two Soldiers." Some accounts of The Reivers assume it's also the road over which Boon, Lucius and Ned bounce on their way to Memphis, and that is certainly possible, but our reading of the novel suggests they travel directly north from Jefferson on what Faulkner elsewhere calls the 'Valley road.' Besides Memphis, there are two major reasons to travel this road: Sutpen's Hundred and the Big Bottom. Sutpen's is twelve miles out of town on the road, which becomes the site of several memorable moments in Absalom! Early in his marriage Sutpen turns the road "into a race track" on Sunday mornings (15). Judith tries to use it to take her father's corpse to town for a funeral, but somewhere along the road the mules pulling the wagon "bolt" and Sutpen's body - dressed in his Confederate "regimentals," with "sabre and embroidered gauntlets" - tumbles "into a ditch" (151). The unpaved roads of Yoknapatawpha create a lot of dust in the fictions, but no description of that is more evocative than Quentin's trip with Rosa up this road through the darkness of a hot September night in 1909: "the trees along the road not rising soaring as trees should but squatting like huge fowl, their leaves ruffled and heavily separate like the feathers of panting fowls, heavy with sixty days of dust, the roadside undergrowth coated with heat-vulcanised dust" (143). The Big Bottom is the large area of wilderness in which men from offices in Jefferson and plantations in Yoknapatawpha hunt deer and bear for two weeks every November. It occupies much of the same space on a map of Yoknapatawpha as Sutpen's Hundred, and the 'hunting camp' in which they stay during the hunting trips was originally built by Sutpen as a fishing camp. But the hunting stories Faulkner wrote don't focus on the road - which might have suggested too inescapable a relationship between the woods and society; they tend to begin describing the landscape at the moment when the horses and wagons turn off the highway into "the big woods," "profound, sentient, gigantic and brooding" (Go Down, Moses, 167).

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Northwest Road|Jefferson to Memphis
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Northwest Road|Jefferson to Memphis