Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Jefferson. Fictional town in the northwest corner of the state of Mississippi. Faulkner drew many details from his hometown of Oxford for his portrayal of Jefferson, although he changed details to suit his needs. Both towns are set in the hills of northern Mississippi, which was settled in the first half of the nineteenth century by families of English, Scottish, and Welsh descent, who had immigrated from Britain and settled first in the Carolinas or Virginia, then drifted south toward Mississippi. Faulkner makes much of the parallels between his created Jefferson and the real Oxford, but he also draws details from other northern Mississippi towns to round out his microcosm.

For the inhabitants of Jefferson in the 1910’s and 1920’s, the events of the Civil War, fought half a century earlier, remain very real, embodied in sites around town. This is particularly true for the elderly Bayard Sartoris and his aunt, Jenny DuPre, both of whom yearn for the past. Bayard’s grandson, young Bayard, on the other hand, has just returned from World War I and has a fascination with airplanes and death. Thus he is an alien in this environment, in which he was born and grew up, and is unable to adjust to civilian life in this quiet community, which is still stuck in the nineteenth century.

Sartoris plantation

Sartoris plantation. On the outskirts of Jefferson is the Sartoris plantation, built by Colonel John Sartoris and inhabited during the time of the novel by John’s sister Virginia DuPre; his son Bayard, now an old...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Hoffman, Frederick J. William Faulkner. 2d rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1966. A basic study of Faulkner’s work and life. Notes that Sartoris is the beginning of his great novels about his own “postage stamp of native soil,” Yoknapatawpha County and shows a deeper insight into the cultural context in which his characters operate than his previous novels had.

Howe, Irving. William Faulkner: A Critical Study. 3d ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975. Divided into two parts, one addressing Faulkner’s “world and his work” and the other evaluating his achievement in the major novels. Sartoris is treated as an apprentice work.

Millgate, Michael. The Achievement of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1966. Includes a chapter on Faulkner’s career, separate chapters on each of his novels, and a chapter assessing his achievement. Sees Sartoris as a bridge between his apprenticeship and his mature novels. Notes that, in this novel, Faulkner successfully captured the spirit of a place for the first time.

Tuck, Dorothy. Crowell’s Handbook of Faulkner. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1964. An excellent source for basic information about each of Faulkner’s novels. Provides a synopsis of Sartoris as well as essays on the history of Yoknapatawpha County and Faulkner’s style of writing.

Vickery, Olga W. The Novels of William Faulkner. Rev. ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964. Treats Faulkner’s novels separately, then discusses themes that pervade a number of them. Sees Sartoris as about mythmaking and the deflation of myths.