Washington D.C. (Location Key)


The only Faulkner story that uses Washington, D.C., as a setting is "Lo!" - a comic tale about a visit paid by Indians to the nation's capital. The Indians are Chickasaws, but not the Chickasaws who appear in the Yoknapatawpha fictions, and so "Lo!" is not included in Digital Yoknapatawpha. Over a dozen of the texts we do include, however, do mention the nation's capital, almost always as a synecdoche for the Federal government. As the "Appendix" that he wrote for The Sound and the Fury, which begins with the Chickasaw chief Ikkemotubbe and President Jackson "in his gold tepee in Wassi Town" (326), notes, the origin of Jefferson was a federal Indian agency; that part of the Yoknapatawpha story is developed at some length in "A Name for the City" and Requiem for a Nun. In those texts the white settlers who displace the Indians have mixed feelings about the U.S. government: it is a source of largesse but also of intrusive "Acts of Congress" (212, 19). During the Civil War, of course, the Confederates saw the city as the capital of an enemy country; Buck McCaslin is thinking of it that way when he boasts that Colonel Sartoris and his regiment from Yoknapatawpha got "within spitting distance" of Washington ("Retreat," 21; The Unvanquished, 52). During Reconstruction Faulkner's white Southerners still see the federal government as an antagonist: when Sartoris shoots the agents who come to Yoknapatawpha "with a patent from Washington to organize" the emancipated slaves into voters, he's seen as defending the county from an enemy invader (66). And through the fictions set in the 20th century the attitude toward 'Washington' remains largely hostile, especially when the 'acts of Congress' include the many agricultural regulations and Depression-era agencies of the Roosevelt administration. Federal agents who try to enforce the rules about the production of alcohol products have been known to disappear in the hills of Yoknapatawpha, and Jason Compson's rage against the government for "spending fifty thousand dollars a day keeping an army in Nicarauga or some place" (The Sound and the Fury, 234) is widely, though not often this deeply, shared. Although Faulkner never directly addresses the role of 'Washington' in the Civil Rights era in his fictions, Gavin Stevens' impatience with the "federal government" against which the white South has to defend itself and its "homogeneity" in Intruder in the Dust (150-53) has a kinship with John Sartoris' actions during and after the Civil War. On the other hand, two other characters in the fictions work for the federal government in 'Washington': Gowan Stevens' father in the State Department (The Town), and the F.B.I. agent in "There Was a Queen." Mr. Stevens remains offstage, but when the agent appears at the dining room table in Yoknapatawpha, Colonel Sartoris' sister refuses to eat with him.

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Washington D.C.