Places: The Wild Palms

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1939

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Tragicomedy

Time of work: 1927 and 1937

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Mississippi Gulf Coast

*Mississippi Wild Palms, TheGulf Coast. The first section of the “Wild Palms” part of the novel opens in a summer cottage on the beach in southern Mississippi. In the strong wind from the Gulf the characters constantly hear the rattling of the palm leaves along the shore. The setting is an appropriate backdrop for the tragic story that reaches its conclusion here.

*New Orleans

*New Orleans. Known as “the City that Care Forget,” New Orleans is a Latin city, a contrast to much of the rest of the United States, where the Protestant work ethic is generally stronger. Harry Wilbourne grew up in that small-town, restrictive, impoverished environment, and the easy-going moral attitude of New Orleans serves to free him from the conventional life he has previously lived. Charlotte Rittenmeyer in a sense represents the city’s sensual attitudes. Harry is an intern at Charity Hospital and lives in the quarters provided for him there. When he ventures downtown with his roommate Flint to attend a party in the French Quarter (“French Town” in the novel), he encounters an entirely new environment and a group of bohemians with a distinctively different slant on life.

*Chicago

*Chicago. It is to Chicago that Harry and Charlotte flee after they have begun their affair and she has left her husband. This thriving northern city is markedly different from the slow and languid life of subtropical New Orleans, especially during the frigid winter months. The environment there, as in New Orleans and on the Gulf coast, is a crucial element in plot and character development. From Chicago, Harry and Charlotte move to a cottage in a vacation community which is mostly abandoned because it is autumn. Afterward, they return to Chicago.

*Utah

*Utah. Rocky Mountain state in which Harry accepts a position at a mining camp when life in Chicago becomes too difficult for him and Charlotte. At the mining camp, he looks after medical needs of miners. It is even colder there than in Chicago, and the intense isolation of the site further separates it from the lush, warm climate of New Orleans, from which they have fled. In the harsh environment of Utah, their relationship begins to unravel as they move toward their tragic ending.

*Mississippi River

*Mississippi River. Many of the “Old Man” sections of The Wild Palms are set on or along the Mississippi River during its great flood of 1927. The tall convict and other prisoners are transported from Parchman to the Delta region of western Mississippi State, where they are assigned various tasks, including rescuing people trapped by the flood. The action of the “Old Man” section is set on the river, uncontrollable at floodtide and sweeping away all objects and people in its path. In southern Louisiana, the tall convict and his charges, a woman and her baby, survive as he works among the Acadians (known as Cajuns) until the flood ebbs and they can return north.

Parchman

Parchman. Mississippi state penitentiary, which is a large cotton plantation that employs the inmates as laborers. The first part of the novel called “Old Man” is set within the prison, where the protagonist, known only as the “tall convict,” is incarcerated. It is through Parchman that the two parts of the novel, “Old Man” and “Wild Palms,” are connected. It is to the prison where the tall convict is confined that Harry Wilbourne will be sent after the death of Charlotte following the botched abortion he performs.

BibliographyHowe, Irving. “The Wild Palms.” In William Faulkner: A Critical Study. 3d ed., rev. and expanded. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975. Provides a valuable, but dated, introduction to Faulkner’s life and work.Mchaney, Thomas L. William Faulkner’s “The Wild Palms”: A Study. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1975. Traces the origins of The Wild Palms and provides analyses of the themes and characters. Includes a chronology of the story.Mortimer, Gail L. “The Ironies of Transcendent Love in Faulkner’s The Wild Palms.” The Faulkner Journal 1, no. 2 (Spring, 1986): 30-42. In spite of the fact that this novel contains a love story, Faulkner’s use of language and imagery denies transcendent love as being anything but illusory.Privratsky, Kenneth L., ed. “The Wild Palms”: A Concordance to the Novel. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board, 1983. The concordance lists all the words used in the novel. Examines Faulkner’s patterns of word choice and usage.Zender, Karl F. “Money and Matter in Pylon and The Wild Palms.” The Faulkner Journal 1, no. 2 (Spring, 1986): 17-29. Projects Faulkner’s Hollywood experience onto The Wild Palms as a meditation on the theme of money. Reads the novel as a reflection on the plight of the artist in the world of wage labor and commercial art.
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