University of Arkansas, Fayetteville


It has been said by wags that Memphis (Tennessee) is the largest city in Mississippi. Unquestionably, Memphis is the commercial and cultural capital of the Mississippi River delta country north of Vicksburg. As such it figures prominently in the works of southern writers, especially William Faulkner. Faulkner's characters seek out Memphis as a place of excitement and escape. This paper deals with Faulkner's description of Memphis as it existed in the early decades of the twentieth century; the focus is on passages of The Rievers, but passages from other works are included as well. Because so many of the events he portrays deal with the exploits of young male characters, the red light district of Memphis (called the Tenderloin) receives particular attention. However, other portions of the city-the downtown area and the cotton offices that filled the buildings on Front Street facing the river are included as well. An interesting picture of the mid-south's major Metropolis as it existed some one hundred years ago emerges.