Page 176. " I told Dilsey she had leprosy and I got the bible and read where a man’s flesh rotted off "
Leprosy sufferer
Public DomainLeprosy sufferer - Credit: Pierre Arents

Leviticus 13 contains a detailed description of the symptoms of leprosy. The section Jason reads is no doubt “But when raw flesh appeareth in him, he shall be unclean. And the priest shall see the raw flesh, and pronounce him to be unclean: for the raw flesh is unclean: it is a leprosy“ (13.14-5).


Page 184. " the old Merchants’ and Farmers’ Bank when it failed "

This was the name of a genuine Oxford-based establishment which, according to John Faulkner’s (auto)biography My Brother Bill (1963), went bust in 1912 or 1913. This reference neatly demonstrates the strange dance which Faulkner makes figures from his actual and fictional worlds perform around each other. In his novels about the Sartoris family, the Colonel (see note for page 149) is the President of this bank. In real life, its closure opened the way for Faulkner’s grandfather — the son of William Clark Falkner, upon whom the Colonel is modelled — to establish his own First National Bank (see note as page 78).

Page 185. " ‘Well,’ I. O. Snopes says. "

I. O. Snopes features in several Faulkner novels, most prominently The Hamlet (1940) and The Town (1957), as a thoroughly pernicious character. His career is marked by successive failures, bigamy and swindling, and he is ultimately ordered to leave Jefferson by his cousin Flem. He also appears in Flags in the Dust (1927; published 1973) and The Mansion (1959).

Page 185. " I’m not running a bucket shop "

Crowd outside the Mallers Building during a bucket shop raid, c.1905
Public DomainCrowd outside the Mallers Building during a bucket shop raid, c.1905 - Credit: Chicago Daily News, Inc
Bucket shops were dubious establishments which, operating under the guise of stock exchange businesses, essentially functioned as bookmakers. Customers would wager money on the rise and fall of stocks or commodity prices. Though they flourished from the 1890s onwards, by the 1920s they were illegal.

Page 187. " I haven’t seen you in the poor-house yet. "

Britain’s poor-house system was imported into America during the second quarter of the 19th century. Shelters funded by public money housed communities of those who were unable to work or support themselves financially. Residents contributed to the maintenance of their poor-house through gardening, growing vegetables, carrying out repairs and cleaning. This was intended not only to assist the poverty-stricken, but also to cure them of the ‘immorality’ that had supposedly landed them in their situation. The system was discontinued after the introduction of Social Security in 1935.

Page 187. " the wages of sin "
Rossetti's 'Found' portrays a man coming upon a former sweetheart. Her fallen status is symbolized by the faded roses on her dress
Public DomainRossetti's 'Found' portrays a man coming upon a former sweetheart. Her fallen status is symbolized by the faded roses on her dress - Credit: Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The second Book of Peter contains this condemnation of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, whose sexual depravity and refusal to repent incur the wrath of God:


Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin; beguiling unstable souls: an heart they have exercised with covetous practices; cursed children: Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness. (2 Peter 2.14-15)


In Mrs Compson’s imagination, this assocation of sexual sin and money underscores Caddy’s status as a ‘fallen woman’. Several critics have taken it to imply that Caddy is working as a prostitute; Faulkner, however, doubtless intended to show the extent to which women who had ‘fallen’ from their ideal condition of purity and those who charged for sex were relegated to the same social category.

Page 189. " I think I know a place where they can take her too and the name of it’s not Milk street and Honey avenue either. "
Moses Viewing the Promised Land
Public DomainMoses Viewing the Promised Land - Credit: Frederic Edwin Church

A reference to the Promised Land of the Israelites, the agricultural abundance of which is described in such terms throughout both the Old and New Testaments. See for instance Leviticus 20.24, in which God declares to his chosen people “Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey”. The tribal groups already resident are to be cast out for their sexual iniquity, an indication that the destination Jason has in mind for Caddy is one of the ‘homes for fallen women’ established by the W.C.T.U. (see note for page 82).

Page 190. " in the event of that circumstance of which man is ever the plaything and the sport "

Laws, Plato’s final dialogue, asserts that man “is made to be a plaything of God”. Meanwhile, in Shakespeare’s King Lear, Gloucester says  “As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods: They kill us for their sport” (IV. i. 32-37).

Page 190. " purest ray serene "
Thomas Gray
Public DomainThomas Gray - Credit: Benjamin Wilson

This is a reference to Thomas Gray’s ‘Elegy written in a Country Churchyard'. Contemplating the humble rural graves and how their occupants' lives are obscured by the legacy of the wealthy dead, the narrator reflects:  


Frontispiece for the illustrated 1753 edition of
Public DomainFrontispiece for the illustrated 1753 edition of "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" - Credit: Richard Bentley

Full many a gem of purest ray serene, 

The dark unfathom'd caves of ocean bear:

Full many a flow'r is born to blush unseen,

And waste its sweetness on the desert air.


That Maury applies this meditation on the overshadowed virtues of the poor to the finacial promise of his dubious schemes highlights his gauche character.

Page 191. " Move all of bedlam in here if you want to. "
Bedlam scene engraving from
Public DomainBedlam scene engraving from "A Rake's Progress" - Credit: William Hogarth

Bethlehem Royal Hospital in London was the first institution for the mentally ill. Originally a priory for the Order of St. Mary of Bethlehem, it became a hospital in 1329 and began admitting ‘distracted’ patients in 1377. For much of its history, the conditions were grim and treatment meted out brutal. In the 17th century it became a popular diversion for the leisured classes who turned up in droves to watch the antics of the inmates. Reforms introduced from the late 18th century onwards improved conditions and treatment of patients but it endures in the popular imagination as the archetypal ‘madhouse’; a gothic dungeon of gibbering lunatics.

Page 192. " They must have sent the news out over the Western Union. "
Western Union telegram sent to Jackson, Mississippi’s capital, in 1930
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeWestern Union telegram sent to Jackson, Mississippi’s capital, in 1930 - Credit: Allstarecho

The Western Union Telegraph Company, which formed through a merger in 1856, was phenomenally successful and dominated the telegraph industry in the 19th century. Having opened the first telegraph system to stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, the company then pioneered a new innovation in 1866, being the stock ticker used to convey information about stock prices. Though by the 20th century Western Union’s lines stretched into every state, the stock tickers were predominantly located in the offices of New York bankers and brokers, hence Jason’s cynicism.

Page 194. " I reckon he thinks they’d net him on the usury law if he netted more than eight per cent. "

Mississippi’s laws included an anti-usury statute, stating that the highest rate of interest that could be charged on a loan was ten per cent per annum. If it exceeded this, the extra money was deemed to be a repayment of the loan. The individual received the same amount by way of compensation, so usurers effectively paid the surcharge twice. 

Page 195. " she’d be wearing haircloth or probably sandpaper at that rate "
Hair shirt of St. Louis in the church of St. Aspais of Melun
GNU Free Documentation LicenseHair shirt of St. Louis in the church of St. Aspais of Melun - Credit: LecomteB

Haircloth shirts, or cilices, are garments made from coarse animal hair. They are worn by religious groups, most notably Catholics, in order to mortify the flesh and as a symbol of penance.

Page 196. " And then a Yankee will talk your head off about niggers getting ahead. "

With the shift in social demographics that occurred in the early decades of the 20th century, northern attitudes towards blacks became fractured along class lines. Northern support for the emancipation of southern slaves contributed to a myth of northern equality that led thousands of African Americans to migrate thither (see note for page 69). Though the upper classes maintained a paternalistic interest in elevating blacks, poorer strands of society found themselves in fierce competition against them in the job market. This provoked such intense racial hostility that riots broke out in several major northern cities from the late mid-1910s to 1920s.

Page 196. " Get them so far ahead you can’t find one south of Louisville with a blood-hound. "

Louisville, the largest city in Kentucky, is the county seat of Jefferson on the northern perimeter of the state and thereby marks the upper reach of the South. The idea of pursuing ambitious African Americans with blood-hounds is evocative of the slaveholding era, when these keenly-scented dogs would be used to track runaways heading for the free states in the North.

The maroon circle on this map of Kentucky indicates Louisville
Public DomainThe maroon circle on this map of Kentucky indicates Louisville - Credit: Geographicus Rare Antique Maps
Page 197. " Ef dat uz a crime, all chain-gangs wouldn’t be black "
Chain gang prisoners and guards, Thomasville, Georgia, c.1890
Public DomainChain gang prisoners and guards, Thomasville, Georgia, c.1890 - Credit: Library of Congress

Chain-gangs are a southern invention that first appeared in the early 20th century. They were envisioned as part of a progressive reform programme that would also answer the public need for improved transportation. Shackled together by their ankles, prisoners were set to work laying roads and digging ditches under the vigilant watch of an armed white overseer. For many southerners, chain-gangs represented a comforting continuation of slavery whereby forced black labour came under state control rather than that of plantation owners. Correspondingly, they began to lose public favour as an increasing number of whites joined their ranks. The Great Depression also contributed to their decline as those struggling to find employment argued that prisoners were taking work that should rightfully be offered as wage labour. By the 1940s, most had been discontinued.


A black chain-gang demolishing rocks
Public DomainA black chain-gang demolishing rocks - Credit: Alan Lomax

This Mickey Mouse cartoon from 1930 offers a quirky take on the hardship and drudgery of chain-gang life.




Page 197. " Gayoso or Beale Street "
Aerial view of Gayoso Avenue and Beale Street
Public DomainAerial view of Gayoso Avenue and Beale Street

These two streets run parallel to each other in the Downtown section of Memphis, Tennessee. They formed the heart of the well-known red light district until around 1940 when Mayor Edward “Boss” Crump shut down the city’s brothels .

Page 199. " with the whole damn delta about to be flooded again and the cotton washed right out of the ground like it was last year. "
Map showing the areas affected by the Mississippi flood
Public DomainMap showing the areas affected by the Mississippi flood - Credit: Coast and Geodetic Survey

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 remains the most destructive flood in America’s history. It occurred after a prolonged period of heavy rain hit the central basin of the Mississippi. The waters burst through the levee system in 145 places, flooding an area of 27,000 square miles that reached into seven states. In Mississippi itself, the river swelled to a width of 60 miles. Damages were colossal: homes, livestock and crops were swept away; at least 246 people lost their lives; and estimates of financial cost run from $230 to $400 million. It took eight months before the waters finally ebbed away from land that was by then little more than a despondent expanse of mud and ruin.


Watch a slideshow of photographs of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

Page 199. " Of course it’ll overflow again, and then cotton’ll be worth thirty cents a pound. "
Cotton prices 1895-1930, not adjusted for inflation
Public DomainCotton prices 1895-1930, not adjusted for inflation

After the Great Flood, the price of cotton rose to 20.2 cents per pound from 12.5 the previous year. For over a decade, the damage wrought by the boll-weevil and floods had taken their toll on cotton production and, as this resource grew scarce, it accordingly soared in cost.

Page 199. " them up there in Washington spending fifty thousand dollars a day keeping an army in Nicaragua or some place "
Relief map of Nicaragua
Public DomainRelief map of Nicaragua - Credit: Central Intelligence Agency

The U.S. Marines occupied this pivotal country from 1912 to 1933. Nominally, this was in order to protect the lives and property of foreign nationals in the conservative-led rebellion against liberal President José Santos Zelaya (two American mercenaries had been killed in the uprising). In reality, the motives were largely economical. Zelaya was a menace to U.S. control as he had threatened to pass responsibility for the construction of the Nicaraguan Canal to German, rather than American, hands. Private investment, which had ploughed huge amounts of money into the development of the country’s natural resources, was also in peril. The occupation maintained a fragile peace for fifteen years until Augusto César Sandino, a Nicaraguan revolutionary, led a rebellion against the conservatives from 1927. The occupying forces also became a target and withdrew in 1933.