Will Varner, owner of the Old Frenchman place and almost everything else in Frenchman’s Bend, Mississippi, is aging and has begun to turn many of his affairs over to his thirty-year-old son, Jody. One day, while Jody sits in the Varner store, he meets Ab Snopes, a newcomer to town, and Ab arranges to rent one of the farms owned by the Varners. Jody is then told by V. K. Ratliff, a salesman, that Ab is suspected of having burned barns on other farms where he has been a tenant. Jody and his father conclude that Ab’s unsavory reputation will do them no harm. Jody becomes afraid, however, that Ab might burn some of the Varner property; as a sort of bribe to prevent such burning, he hires Ab’s son, Flem, to clerk in the store.
Ratliff explains Ab’s grievance against the world: Ab once struck a horse-trading deal with Pat Stamper, an almost legendary trader. Ab drove a mule and an old horse to Jefferson, and, before showing them to Stamper, he skillfully doctored the old nag. Stamper accepted the doctored horse and the mule in exchange for a team of mules that looked fine. When Ab tried to drive them out of Jefferson, however, the mules collapsed. To get back his own mule, Ab had to spend the money his wife had given him to buy a milk separator. Stamper also forced him to purchase a dark, fat horse that looked healthy but peculiar. On the way home, Ab ran into a thunderstorm, and the horse changed from dark to light and from fat to lean. It was Ab’s old horse, which Stamper had painted and then fattened with a bicycle pump. Ab was embittered by the experience.
Meanwhile, Will Varner has a daughter, Eula—a plump, sensuous girl who has matured early. The new schoolteacher, Labove, falls in love with her the first day she comes to the schoolhouse. An ambitious young man, Labove rides back and forth between Frenchman’s Bend and the university, where he is studying law and plays on the football team. One day after school, he attempts to seduce Eula; he failed and later is horrified to discover that Eula has not even mentioned the attempt to Jody. Labove leaves Frenchman’s Bend forever.
As she grows older, Eula has many suitors, the principal one being Hoake McCarron, who literally fights off the competition. When the Varners discover that Eula is pregnant, McCarron and two other suitors leave for Texas. Flem Snopes steps in and marries Eula. The newlyweds leave town on a long honeymoon.
Ab and Flem prove to be part of an entire clan, and the Snopes clan gathers in Frenchman’s Bend in the father and son’s wake. The clan begins to have troubles: An idiot Snopes boy, Isaac, is neglected and mistreated by his family. When he falls in love with a cow, his behavior becomes a town scandal. Mink Snopes, another...
(The entire section is 1130 words.)