The Myth of Yoknapatawpha

Topics: William Faulkner, Yoknapatawpha County, World War II Pages: 5 (1568 words) Published: June 18, 2013
William Faulkner

William Cuthbert Faulkner was a Mississippi born novelist, who was a quiet and private man who once observed, “It is my ambition to be, as a private individual, abolished and voided from society.” Known for his distinctive voice and his evocative depictions of life in the American South, Nobel laureate William Faulkner is recognized as one of the most important authors of the twentieth century.

The myth of Yoknapatawpha

Yoknapatawpha is a fictional place created by William Faulkner, his “intact world” of the North- Central Mississippi as the setting of his novels. Most of Faulkner’s body of work is set primarily in the mythological county of Yoknapatawpha, Mississippi. Of the nineteen novels, only five are set elsewhere, and even these sometimes touch its borders. Yoknapatawpha actually corresponds to the actual Lafayette County, though differing in some details. Yoknapatawpha has given its name to a cycle of interconnected major novels and some minor works set there, beginning with SARTORIS (1929) and continuing through The SOUND AND THE FURY (1929), AS I LAY DYING (1930), LIGHT IN AUGUST (1932), ABSALOM, ABSALOM! (1936), The HAMLET (1940), GO DOWN, MOSES (1942), The TOWN (1957), The MANSION (1959), and The REIVERS (1962).

In response to a question about his fictional county, during a class session at the UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA where he was writer in residence, Faulkner mentioned that Yoknapatawpha is “a Chickasaw Indian word meaning water runs slow through flat land”. But the term, a combination of two Chickasaw words—Yaakni’ and patafa—means land or earth that has been ripped or cut open for disemboweling. Faulkner first identifies Yoknapatawpha County by name in As I Lay Dying

Yoknapatawpha is a self-contained world of rich bottomlands, broad cotton fields, eroded hills, and pine barrens peopled by Chickasaw Indians and African-American slaves, plantation masters, defeated Confederates, indomitable spinsters, and poor, white hill farmers. Charlatans, thieves, and rascals jostle with honest, hard-working folk. In time, the Yoknapatawpha saga spans roughly 170 years. It starts from the establishment of a Chickasaw agency and trading post on the future site of Jefferson, Mississippi, before 1800, and extends to 1961. In content, it deals with the Native American tradition, early exploration and settlement, the rise of the plantation system, the Civil War, the emancipation of slaves and Reconstruction, the decline of the planter aristocracy, and the machine and commercial culture of the modern era—the transformation of the Compson Mile of the 1830s into the Eula Acres subdivision of the decade following World War II.

Faulkner developed the grand design of Yoknapatawpha over 30 years. He sketched the outlines of his legendary place in Sartoris, his third novel. In Absalom, Absalom! The novelist drew a map of his fictional county, signing himself “William Faulkner, sole owner and proprietor. He prepared a second map for the Viking Press’s The PORTABLE FAULKNER (1946). The Absalom sketch gives Yoknapatawpha County an area of 2,400 square miles, with a population of 6,298 whites and 9,313 Negroes. The fictional county is more than three times larger than Lafayette County, with only two-thirds of Lafayette’s population; nor did the real place ever have a black majority. The TALLAHATCHIE RIVER forms the northern boundary of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha; the YOCONA RIVER delimits the county on the south. There are no formal eastern or western boundaries.

According to the critic MALCOLM COWLEY, writing in the Saturday Review in April 1946, “Faulkner performed a labour of imagination that has not been equalled in our time, and a double labour: first, to invent a Mississippi county that was like a mythical kingdom, but was complete and living in all its details; second, to make his story of Yoknapatawpha stand as a parable or legend of all the Deep South.” The Yoknapatawpha chronicles present a...
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