Places: Sartoris

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1929

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Immediately following World War I

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedJefferson

Jefferson. SartorisFictional 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 man; his great-grandson, also named Bayard; and Narcissa, the wife of young Bayard. With its retinue of African American servants, the house and land represent a microcosm of the Old South. Faulkner carefully describes the old house and the way in which each room represents some aspect of the past of the family. The house, indeed, seems very much an embodiment of that past, surrounded by an aura of the violent history of the region. In addition, the author includes careful descriptions of the fields and the process whereby cotton, when it was the main crop of the South, was picked by black laborers, ginned, and bound into bales.

Sartoris bank

Sartoris bank. Major financial institution of Jefferson. It was founded by Colonel John Sartoris and is still controlled by the Sartoris family. Many characters of the novel are somehow related through the bank, and here some of the story lines are developed and given direction.

Yoknapatawpha County

Yoknapatawpha County (YOK-nuh-puh-TAW-fuh). Fictional county that Faulkner uses in many different works. Several scenes are set in the rural areas of his mythical kingdom, including a foxhunt at the MacCallum farm. There is also a Christmas scene at the shack of an impoverished black family, where Bayard hides when, after the death of his grandfather, he is fleeing the world represented by the Sartoris family. The shack and the touchingly simple life of the family underscore the levels of society in Yoknapatawpha County. The places with which the classes are associated demonstrate the differences between them. With these two settings, Faulkner completes the social portrait of the people of his world: the aristocrats, represented by the Sartoris family; rural farmers and hunters, represented by the MacCallums, themselves descended from the gentry that migrated from the Eastern Seaboard during the nineteenth century and the descendants of slaves who made up a large part of the population of the area.


*Virginia. Southern state about 450 miles northeast of Mississippi. A set narrative piece in the novel is the story told by Virginia DuPre about an episode that occurred in Virginia during the Civil War. Her story demonstrates the close connection between Mississippi and the southern states on the Eastern Seaboard. The scene and the locale of the story she tells also reflect significantly on the setting and action of the novel.

BibliographyHoffman, 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.
Categories: Places