The History of Yoknapatawpha, Mississippi

Map of Yoknapatawpha County by Robert Pollack.

Faulkner’s County

Yoknapatawpha is a fictional county that William Faulkner used in nearly all of his stories.  The word “Yoknapatawpha” has various translations.  Faulkner himself explained the term as a Chickasaw Indian word meaning “water flowing slow through the flatland”.  Other scholars, however, have translated the word to mean “split land”, perhaps symbolizing the destruction of the Indian culture that Faulkner’s hometown once possessed.  Most scholars agree that Yoknapatawpha is based on Lafayette County, Mississippi, where Faulkner grew up (Winston).

With his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, written in 1926, Faulkner begins his journey through Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha Co., Mississippi and continues to write about it all the way up through 1945.  Yoknapatawpha is not specifically identified in the earlier writings, although he mentions a small town called Jefferson where most of the stories take place, which lies within Yoknapatawpha County’s fictional borders. The first story that mentions Yoknapatawpha County is Faulkner’s third novel, Flags in the Dust, though the setting is actually taking place in Jefferson. Yoknapatawpha is only mentioned once within this novel, but is referred to as “Yocona” County-which is a reference to a real river in south Lafayette County. Some of the novels that Yoknapatawpha does not appear in are The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, and Go Down, Moses. It shows up only once in Sanctuary and The Unvanquished. In some of the short stories Faulkner wrote, more than half of the forty-two pieces in his Collected Stories mention Jefferson as a setting, but only four times is “Yoknapatawpha” mentioned in the whole volume. Jefferson is mentioned ten times in The Sound and the Fury, twenty-one times in As I Lay Dying, one-hundred ten times in Light in August, fifty-one times in Absalom, Absalom!, thirty-six times in The Unvanquished, forty-six times in The Hamlet, and thirty-six times in Go Down, Moses.

The fact that Yoknapatapha wasn’t mentioned in many of the stories that take place in the county may itself be irrelevant.  Perhaps Faulkner specifically didn’t want the reader to become caught up in the geography, but rather in the community that he shaped through the eyes of his characters.  By discovering Yoknapatawpha through the residence, the reader is able to become involved in the issues being presented and in way, enter into the mystifying county of Yoknapatawpha (McHaney).

Published on March 24, 2009 at 12:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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