Places: The Unvanquished

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1938

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Bildungsroman

Time of work: 1860’s-1870’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedYoknapatawpha County

Yoknapatawpha Unvanquished, TheCounty (YOK-nuh-puh-TAW-fuh). Fictional county in northeastern Mississippi created by Faulkner and used as the primary setting for most of his fiction, including The Unvanquished. The name of the county and its southern boundary, the Yoknapatawpha River, is an earlier spelling of the actual Yocona River. Yoknapatawpha County is similar to, though larger than, Lafayette County in northeastern Mississippi, where Faulkner lived most of his life. In addition to the Yoknapatawpha River, Faulkner’s county is bounded by the Tallahatchie River to the north, hill country to the east, and thick woods and hills to the west. The terrain of this rural county contributes to the success of the protagonist Bayard Sartoris, his slave companion Ringo, and Bayard’s grandmother Rosa Millard (“Granny”) in their scheme to get and sell Union Army mules. On the other hand, when Bayard, Ringo, and Uncle Buck McCaslin turn into pursuers circling the county in search of Grumby, Granny’s murderer, they too are handicapped by the terrain even though they know it well. Centered in the heart of the Confederacy, Yoknapatawpha County also functions as a microcosm of the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Sartoris plantation

Sartoris plantation. Large plantation located in Yoknapatawpha County about four miles north of Jefferson. With its mansion, slave cabins, and farm buildings, Sartoris is initially an idyllic place for the young Bayard, whose limited knowledge of the ongoing Civil War is demonstrated in the imaginary battles he and Ringo fight. The plantation, and consequently life as Bayard knows it, changes rapidly, however, with the burning of the Sartoris mansion by Yankee soldiers and the family’s moving into one of the slave cabins. Although John Sartoris rebuilds the family mansion after the war, the innocence of Bayard’s youth vanishes with the original house.


Jefferson. Seat of Yoknapatawpha County. Similar in many respects to Oxford, Jefferson is arguably not Oxford but rather a composite of several small northern Mississippi towns that Faulkner knew well, including Oxford, Faulkner’s home for many years; New Albany, his birthplace; Pontotoc; Holly Springs; Batesville; and Ripley. Several times the action of the novel moves from the Sartoris plantation to Jefferson, the most crucial occurring at the end of the novel, when Bayard courageously decides to face his father’s killer unarmed, despite pressure from the townspeople to seek revenge. With his actions Bayard clearly rejects the town’s and the South’s values of violence and vengeance.


*Vicksburg. Mississippi river town that was the site of a major defeat of Confederate forces on July 4, 1863. More significant for the novel is the imaginary Vicksburg that Bayard and Ringo create with a handful of wood chips, a small trench dug with a hoe, and buckets of water. Only vaguely aware of the reasons for and the cruel consequences of the real war that is about to envelop them, they play their war games until the slave Loosh destroys their Vicksburg with a quick sweep of his hand. The destruction of their play world predicts both the fall of the Confederacy and the initiation of the children into a world of violence and evil.


Hawkhurst. Plantation of the Hawk family, located in northeastern Alabama approximately one hundred miles from Jefferson. After the Sartoris mansion has been burned, Granny, Bayard, and Ringo travel to Hawkhurst to visit relatives, only to find the destruction of Sartoris replicated. More disastrous in Bayard’s view is the demolition of the nearby railroad, a symbol for Bayard of the war itself. Though Bayard recognizes the total loss, he decides that the train (the war) is not really gone as long as people are around to remember it.


*Oxford. Site of the University of Mississippi, located about forty miles from Jefferson. By including Oxford in his imaginary world, Faulkner precludes complete identification of his fictional Jefferson with Oxford and also creates a physical distancing of Bayard from his family, which reflects his moving beyond their values and beliefs.


*Memphis. City in southwest Tennessee, just over the Mississippi border. Granny views Memphis as a place of potential refuge when law and order seem to be breaking down in Yoknapatawpha County, but an attempt to reach it is quickly foiled by Union troops. Later Memphis, with its size, provides a feasible location for Ab Snopes to sell the Union Army their own mules taken from them by Granny’s trickery.

BibliographyBrooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. Presents a favorable discussion of the novel, remarking on strong characterization and the importance of the female characters. Finds the last chapter strong as a coda for the novel’s themes.Hoffman, Daniel. Faulkner’s Country Matters: Folklore and Fable in Yoknapatawpha. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989. Contains a clear synopsis of the novel’s plot as well as discussions of Bayard’s maturity and his relationship with Ringo.Roberts, Diane. “A Precarious Pedestal: The Confederate Woman in Faulkner’s Unvanquished.” Journal of American Studies 26, no. 2 (August, 1992): 233-246. Notes that the novel does not endorse the more masculine roles of Granny or Drusilla.Taylor, Nancy Dew. “‘Moral Housecleaning’ and Colonel Sartoris’s Dream.” Mississippi Quarterly 37, no. 3 (Summer, 1984): 353-364. Concentrates on the last speech between the Colonel and Bayard; believes that only the methods, not the aggressive nature and goals, of the Colonel change.Walker, William E. “The Unvanquished: The Restoration of Tradition.” In Reality and Myth, edited by William E. Walker and Robert L. Welker. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1964. Deals with the maturation of Bayard Sartoris, the theme of the novel. Suggests that Bayard restores the Southern tradition by eschewing violence. Explores the different ways Bayard is influenced by Granny, Colonel Sartoris, Drusilla, and other characters.
Categories: Places