Popeye Vitelli

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Popeye Vitelli
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Popeye Vitelli
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The narrator of Sanctuary describes Popeye as someone with "that vicious depthless quality of stamped tin" (4). Although Temple once calls him "that black man" (49), and Horace refers to "Popeye's black presence" (121), Popeye is white. A modern psychologist would label him a sociopath. Horace calls him one of "those Memphis folks" (21), the gangsters who buy homemade whiskey from Lee to sell in the speakeasies of the city. He was born on Christmas, in Pensacola, Florida. A well-known gangster in Memphis, Popeye's only connection with Yoknapatawpha seems to be bootleg liquor, and though Lee feels his presence constantly lurking outside the jail in Jefferson, Popeye may never return to Yoknapatawpha after driving away with Temple. As a murderer, a rapist and a kidnapper who always dresses in black (which explains Temple's label), he seems perfectly cast for the role of villain - until Sanctuary's last chapter describes his early life as the illegitimate child of a father whom he never sees but whose syphilis leaves him permanently damaged. He appears again in Requiem for a Nun, in descriptions of him by Temple, the woman he raped and kidnapped, and Horace, who never met him. According to Gavin, his last name is Vitelli (114). Temple refers to him as an "underworld big shot" (112). Gavin's descriptions are more lurid: he calls Popeye "a psychopath . . . a little black thing with an Italian name like a neat and only slightly deformed cockroach: a hybrid, sexually incapable" (110). In connection with Popeye's impotence, Temple says there was no sex "from him" (111), and in this novel's representation of the events described in Sanctuary Popeye's raping her with an inanimate object is not mentioned. In both novels, after committing two murders, Popeye is "hanged in Alabama for a murder he did not commit" (114).