A Faulkner Glossary
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The principal river draining northeastern Mississippi, including the
locations in Mississippi approximated by Yoknapatawpha
County. It is formed when the Tallahatchie
and the Yalobusha Rivers meet, and it drains into the Mississippi
River just upstream from Vicksburg.
The region of Mississippi known as the Delta
is actually the common floodplain of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers.
According to Calvin S. Brown, the "ceasing to flow and then reversing
once a year [depicted in Go Down, Moses]
happens when the snow melts in the northern part of the drainage basin of
the Mississippi River, which then rises rapidly and high, and backs up into
the local streams that normally empty into it." This "running
backward" also is depicted in the "Old Man" portion of If
I Forget Thee, Jerusalem [The Wild Palms] (A Glossary of
Faulkner’s South 220). The hunting camp depicted in the story "Delta
Autumn" in Go Down, Moses is
somewhere along the lower Yazoo, probably near its mouth into the
Mississippi River. The Yazoo is also referred to in Requiem
for a Nun.
nuh." An actual river and community in Lafayette County,
Mississippi, and an apparent abbreviated form of the word "Yoknapatawpha."
Some early maps of the area referred to the river as the Yockney-Patafa,
a transliteration of the river's Chickasaw
name. In Flags in the Dust,
"Yocona" is the name given to the county in which the novel is
set; later, Faulkner changed the name of the fictional county.
County: Pronounced "Yok
nuh puh TAW
fuh." A county in northern Mississippi, the setting for most
of William Faulkner’s novels and short
stories, and patterned upon Faulkner’s actual home in Lafayette County,
Mississippi. Its county seat is Jefferson.
It is bounded on the north by the Tallahatchie
River (an actual river in Mississippi) and its southern boundary is the Yoknapatawpha
River. It consists of 2,400 square miles, the eastern half of which is
pine hill country. According to the map
included in Absalom, Absalom! (published in
1936), the county's population is 15,611, of which 6,298 are white and 9,313
are black. Originally inhabited by the Chickasaw
Indian tribe, white settlers first came to live in the area around 1800.
Prior to the Civil War, the area was home to a number of large plantations,
including Grenier's in the
in the northeast, Sutpen's
in the northwest, and Compson's and Sartoris's
in the immediate vicinity of Jefferson.
The name "Yoknapatawpha" is apparently derived from two Chickasaw
words: Yocona and petopha, meaning "split land."
According to some sources, that was the original name for the Yocona
River, also an actual river running through southern Lafayette County.
According to Faulkner, Yoknapatawpha means "water flowing slow
through the flatland." Arthur F. Kinney, however, postulates an
additional possibility for the origin and meaning of the name. In Go
Down, Moses: The Miscegenation of Time, he suggests Faulkner might
have consulted a 1915 Dictionary of the Choctaw Language in which the
word is broken down as follows:
ik patafo, a., unplowed.
patafa, pp., split open; plowed, furrowed; tilled.
yakni, n., the earth; ...soil; ground; nation; ...district....
yakni patafa, pp., furrowed land; fallowed land.
Hence, Kinney suggests, the literal meaning of
"Yoknapatawpha" in Choctaw would by "plowed or cultivated
land or district" (21-22).
County Map: In his 1936 novel Absalom,
Absalom!, the sixth novel set in Yoknapatawpha
County, Faulkner included a hand-drawn map of his apocryphal county. In
the map's "key" he declares the geographical size of the county
(2,400 square miles) and its population (Whites, 6298; Negroes, 9313), and
he "signed" the map "William Faulkner, Sole Owner &
Proprietor." The map depicts how the general dimensions of the county
resemble those of his actual Lafayette County, Mississippi, with the Tallahatchie
River serving as the county's northern border and the Yoknapatawpha
River the southern boundary. The county seat of Jefferson
(in the same general area that Oxford
occupies in Lafayette County) lies in the dead center of the county, and is
the intersection of major roads to the north (towards "Memphis
Junction"), south (towards "Mottson"), east, and west, with
additional roads leading northwest toward Sutpen's
Hundred, northeast (towards the MacCallum
place), and southeast, where the hamlet of Frenchman's
Bend lies along the Yoknapatawpha River. The map is significant because
it depicts not just events from Absalom, Absalom! but also key places
from his earlier Yoknapatawpha novels. Later, Faulkner would publish another
updated map of the county with Malcolm Cowley's edition of The
Portable Faulkner, but this one remains the one most often referred
to as a geographic record of the county.
River: The southern boundary of Yoknapatawpha
County, and apparently based on the actual Yocona
River in Lafayette County, Mississippi. ("Yocona" is a corruption
of "Yoknapatawpha.") The hamlet of Frenchman's
Bend is located along the river. According to The
Hamlet, slaves from the first plantation in the area straightened a
nearly ten-mile stretch of the river to prevent flooding. In As
I Lay Dying, the river flooded, washing several bridges out, so Anse
Bundren and his family were initially unable to cross the river as they
were trying to transport the body of Addie
Bundren to Jefferson for burial.