Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 731
Mink Snopes, convicted of Jack Houston’s murder, receives a life sentence. Mink killed Houston over a one-dollar pound fee. He learns parole is possible if he behaves and does not attempt escape. Mink accepts this, planning to return in twenty years to murder Flem. Being close kin and powerful, Flem, Mink thinks, should have helped him.
After seventeen years, through Flem’s manipulations, Montgomery Ward Snopes is imprisoned at Parchman prison for possession of bootleg whiskey. Flem tells Montgomery to set Mink up to escape and be caught. Montgomery tells Mink that Flem wants him to wear a girl’s dress for the escape. Mink, caught and sentenced to twenty additional years, does not fault Flem for tricking him but sends word that “he hadn’t ought to used that dress.” Two years before Mink’s release date, Linda Snopes Kohl initiates a petition, securing his release. With $13.85, he leaves Parchman and hitchhikes to Memphis.
V. K. Ratliff reviews the history of Eula, Flem, Manfred de Spain, and himself, interpreting aspects of the story. Eula, de Spain’s mistress, stays with Flem to give Linda respectability, and Flem secures the bank presidency from de Spain after Linda, who, for the chance to get away from the town of Jefferson, has signed over to Flem her part of her maternal grandfather’s wealth. Flem goes to Will Varner, offering to exchange the paper for the bank presidency. Will’s resulting confrontation with de Spain forces Eula to decide between Linda’s living as the daughter of a suicide or of a whore; she chooses suicide.
Linda leaves for Greenwich Village, begins an affair with a communist—Barton Kohl—marries him, and together they go to fight in Spain. Gavin and Ratliff, recently returned to Jefferson from Linda and Barton’s wedding, receive word that Barton’s plane is shot down. Linda, an ambulance driver on the front lines, remains in Spain until a bomb explodes near her, deafening her. Linda returns to Jefferson. Gavin helps her improve her “dead-duck” voice, pleads with her to quit trying to educate black students, shields her from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (which had learned she was a card-carrying communist), and gets her a job as a riveter with the Pascagoula Shipyards. He marries a former sweetheart to please Linda.
After delaying adventures, Mink reaches Memphis, haggles at a pawn shop for an old pistol and three rounds, and hitchhikes toward Jefferson. Linda, back in Jefferson, drinks bootlegged whiskey and walks incessantly. She has Gavin initiate a petition to release Mink. Gavin, certain Mink will murder Flem, tries to dissuade her without telling her his fears. He believes her innocent of any conspiracy, but wants to avoid complicity in the murder. He has the warden offer Mink the pardon if Mink takes $250 (with the promise of $250 quarterly) and never return to Mississippi. Mink goes along with the plan but gives the money to a trustee to give back to the warden, and then he leaves.
Ratliff goes to Parchman, misses Mink, and calls Gavin to report. Gavin warns Flem, who seems undisturbed, and alerts the Memphis police. The police discover the pawn shop and report to Gavin that the gun is useless. Mink reaches the mansion while Flem is unguarded, enters the house (passing by an open door by which Linda sits), and goes into Flem’s room. Flem swivels around and watches Mink fumble until the gun fires, killing Flem. Flem and the chair fall, Mink runs toward a closed door, and Linda speaks behind him. He throws the gun at her; she tells him to take it and leave.
The day of Flem’s funeral, Gavin learns that Linda had ordered a Jaguar after Mink’s pardon was assured. Gavin confronts her, aware, then, that she had maneuvered Flem’s murder, making Gavin an accomplice. She agrees, and, perhaps not as contrite as she could have been, assigns Gavin three more tasks: put a monument on Flem’s grave, give the deed to the de Spain mansion to the two surviving de Spains, and give Mink $1,000.
Sickened, Gavin leaves the mansion, not seeing Linda again. Ratliff and Gavin go to Frenchman’s Bend, find Mink, and give him $250. Gavin says he will send him money quarterly. Ratliff and Gavin leave. Mink, feeling equal to any and all, stretches himself peaceably upon the ground.