Tallahatchie River Bottom (Location Key)


In the vernacular of Faulkner's Mississippi, a creek or river 'bottom' is the low land along its banks. This terrain is characterized by swampy wetland, 'sloughs' full of stagnant water and dense undergrowth. A great many scenes in the fictions take place in 'bottoms' in various parts of Yoknapatawpha, including the banks of the river that forms the county's northern boundary. On his 1936 map Faulkner labels this the Tallahatchie, the real river that forms most of the Lafayette County's northern boundary. The Tallahatchie bottom includes the 'Big Bottom," the extensive wilderness in northwest Yoknapatawpha that is the site of Faulkner's major hunting stories. The earliest first hunting scenes in the fictions, however, occur upriver in the county's northeastern corner: in Flags in the Dust, Faulkner's first Yoknapatawpha fiction, Bayard Sartoris and Buddy MacCallum hunt game in that area. The game in the bottoms are deer and bear, but human beings are also hunted along this river. In "Vendee," for example, an earlier Bayard Sartoris and his slave/companion Ringo pursue the white outlaw Grumby along the "old road" that runs through this bottom, and ultimately capture and kill him there (110, 177). 'Pursuit' is a very prevalent motif in Faulkner's texts, though Ringo is one of the few black characters who ever chase a white one. In three other instances the chase along this 'bottom' has even more complex historical and racial undertones. "Red Leaves" is organized around Faulkner's most overt description of the pursuit of a runaway slave. The unnamed enslaved protagonist runs back and forth over thirty miles of this "creek bottom" (331) before he is captured and brought back to "the plantation" (339). The people who own him and chase him are Choctaw Indians, and the plantation is an Indian community. Fugitive people are hunted in the "bottom" again in Faulkner's next 'Indian story,' "A Justice," when "the People," the entire tribe of Indians, tries to hide "in the creek bottom" from Doom, their chief, and the hard labor he is forcing upon them; in this story Doom uses dogs to find them (350). Dogs are also used in Chapter 7 of Absalom, Absalom! when a group of white men and slaves chase Thomas Sutpen's captive French architect along this "river bottom" for two days (177). The architect is finally re-captured trying to hide in "a cave under the river bank" (177); this event is referred to again in Requiem for a Nun (33). There's a second episode in "A Justice" that can also be seen as part of this pattern. After the Indians use ten of their slaves as capital to purchase the 'rights' to the wrecked steamboat on the Tallahatchie from three white men, Herman Basket and Crawford "overtake" the whites somewhere in the bottom, kill them, and take the slaves back to the tribe. The Indians are not typical 'slave owners' and neither the People nor the architect nor the three whites nor the ten slaves are typical 'fugitive slaves,' but it is interesting to consider how these episodes may be related to the many 'slave hunts' that recur in both historical and fictional accounts of slavery. (The one time in the fiction when a white slave owner pursues a black runaway slave is in "Was," the opening chapter of Go Down, Moses, but there the conventional representation is complicated - euphemized? - by the fact that the slave is the half-brother of the slave-owner, that he runs away to the same place every six months or so, that the white owner puts on a tie before beginning the chase and so on; the 'freedom' that's at stake is the white man's, who is in danger of being forced into a marriage.)

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