Places: The Reivers

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1962

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: May, 1905

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedJefferson

Jefferson. Reivers, TheSeat of William Faulkner’s imaginary Mississippi county of Yoknapatawpha that is Lucius’s hometown. Jefferson is patterned after Faulkner’s own home of Oxford in northern Mississippi. Early in the novel Boon drives Lucius’s grandfather and the family past the typical small-town livery stable, which the advent of automobiles would eventually render obsolete, and then proceeds proudly through the town square.

Because the author chose the adult Lucius as retrospective narrator of the events of the novel, readers learn that Lucius’s home has since been replaced by a gas station and that his grandfather’s house across the street has been divided into apartments. As a result, readers share Lucius’s memories of a place and way of life that have been profoundly altered, to a large extent, ironically, by the automobile, the very conveyance that takes Lucius on his illicit trip away from home.

Winton Flyer

Winton Flyer. Automobile belonging to Lucius’s grandfather that Boon appropriates and uses to take Lucius to Tennessee. Ned William McCaslin, the grandfather’s black handyman, also becomes an accidental passenger on the trip. One of the earliest cars in Jefferson, the Flyer is an object of great interest to Boon, the huge but childlike man who drives it for Lucius’s grandfather. Faulkner provides many examples of riding in automobiles around the turn of the twentieth century, such as a time when the grandfather, sitting in his car’s front seat, spits tobacco juice which, because of the great speed at which the car is traveling, strikes his wife sitting behind him. Much of the rich comedy of the novel derives from the three travelers’ discomfort in the unreliable Winton Flyer on primitive roads, alternately dusty and muddy, that they must traverse on the eighty-mile trip to Memphis.

Hell Creek Bottom

Hell Creek Bottom. Stream that is the most formidable obstacle on the travelers’ journey to Memphis. Boon, who has made the trip to Memphis before, although not in an automobile, broods on the difficulties of the unbridged stream long before the travelers reach it. After reaching the creek, the car sinks into the mud; comedy flows as the travelers attempt to extricate it and eventually pay a farmer what Boon regards as an exorbitant price to pull out the car with his mules. To Boon, Hell Creek Bottom is the boundary between the rural area to the south and what he calls “civilization” to the north. In reality, the creek is the effective border between the relatively unchallenging way of life Lucius has known and a more urbanized environment with its greater array of possibilities and seductions.

*Memphis

*Memphis. Tennessee city that is the largest urban center within reasonable traveling distance of Lucius’s northern Mississippi home. Although the novel says little about Memphis, other than its descriptions of Miss Reba’s establishment, the city is the magnet that draws restless young men like Boon into temptation and away from their ordinary and generally more wholesome lives in Mississippi.

Miss Reba’s house

Miss Reba’s house. Brothel on Memphis’s Catalpa Street. To Boon, Miss Reba’s is a familiar destination. To Lucius, the eleven-year-old grandson of the owner of the automobile that Boon has appropriated, it is initially simply a strange house populated by women whose activities are beyond his comprehension. Gradually, he comes to understand, though vaguely, that the house is a place of pleasure for men like Boon.

In the seventh chapter of the novel, Lucius shares a bed with Otis, the nephew of one of the prostitutes. In this setting, Otis tells Lucius that he not only is a peeping Tom but that he also charges admission for voyeuristic men to spy on his aunt at her work. When the appalled Lucius begins to pummel Otis, the latter cuts him with a knife. Order is soon restored, but the next day, as a result of these experiences, Lucius concludes that his childhood and innocence are over. The Memphis sojourn has given him a new appreciation of the decency of his own home in Mississippi.

Faulkner depicts the brothel realistically but not judgmentally. Its denizens, except for Otis and Miss Reba herself, who is primarily interested in maintaining a profitable business, are ordinary, weak people whose lives are shaped by circumstance. Otis is the only inhabitant of the house with no redeeming qualities; he is the one person who makes Miss Reba’s a truly bad place for an eleven-year-old visitor.

Parsham

Parsham. Small town near the Memphis area called “Possum” by several characters. There, at “Uncle Parsham’s” place, Lucius discovers the new responsibility that has devolved on him to recover his grandfather’s automobile. The racetrack at Parsham is the setting for Lucius’s initiation into the activities of a jockey. After Ned trades the Winton Flyer for a racehorse of dubious value, it falls to Lucius to win several races to make it possible to get the automobile back. In addition to providing excitement, the racetrack gives Lucius a chance to prove his manhood.

BibliographyBell, Haney H., Jr. “The Relative Maturity of Lucius Priest and Ike McCaslin.” Aegis 2 (1973): 15-21. Examines the heroic effort and coming of age. Ultimately finds the story “The Bear” to be a greater struggle toward maturity than that depicted in The Reivers.Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. Contains separate chapters on the most important Faulkner novels, including The Reivers, and provides description of plot and comparisons between the characters and subtexts of the works. One of the most helpful and accessible books on The Reivers.Vickery, Olga W. The Novels of William Faulkner. Rev. ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964. A thorough examination of all of Faulkner’s novels, summarizing Faulkner’s technique, style, themes, and the encompassing philosophy that unifies his works.Williams, David. Faulkner’s Women: The Myth and the Muse. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1977. Considers the women in Faulkner’s novels from the aspect of psychoanalysis and Jungian archetypes. Includes a discussion of male and female characters in The Reivers.Wittenbeg, Judith B. Faulkner: The Transfiguration of Biography. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979. Essentially a Faulkner biography, but one that draws on scenes from Faulkner’s novels to find his views on artists, family, and human responsibility. Lucius Priest of The Reivers is found to be exemplary in his heroic conduct.
Categories: Places