Spotted Horses Summary
by William Faulkner

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Spotted Horses Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

As did “The Bear,” Faulkner’s “Spotted Horses” evolved over a period of years. As early as 1927 and 1928, he was writing about the Snopeses in a work titled “Father Abraham” (it was never published as such). In Flags in the Dust and Sartoris, Flem and Byron Snopes appear as minor characters. The first-published fuller treatment of Flem was in the short story version of “Spotted Horses” in 1931; originally titled “Aria con Amore,” it had been revised into this version for Scribner’s magazine. It was also enlarged into a novella and was included as a key episode in the first Snopes novel, The Hamlet, in 1940. Five years later, parts were included in Malcolm Cowley’s collection The Portable Faulkner.

“Spotted Horses,” then, marks the beginning of the Snopes stories (others include “Barn Burning,” 1939, and “Mule in the Yard,” 1934) and (as part of The Hamlet) the Snopes novels. Flem’s rise from obscurity to prominence and affluence is the subject of the Snopes trilogy (The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion); his first important stride is his gaining ascendancy over the Varners. By marrying the pregnant Eula, he gains not only a most desirable woman but also opportunities for advancement. “Spotted Horses” opens with Flem, Eula, and her baby returning from a honeymoon in Texas. They bring with them a stranger, the Texan Buck Hipps, and a string of wild pinto horses straight from the range.

In this work Faulkner uses some of the people and places of As I Lay Dying, including the farmers of Frenchman’s Bend. In addition to the Snopeses and Varners are the Armstids, the Littlejohns, and others. V. K. Suratt is an outsider but no stranger; he has already appeared briefly in Sartoris (by The Hamlet, his name will be V. K. Ratliff). Here, he is driving a wagon pulled by a mixed team. Buck Hipps is a congenial but tough man; he carries a pistol in his pocket and continually eats ginger snaps.

The setting, Frenchman’s Bend, is based on the region in and around Taylor, southeast of Oxford. One might consider the community the protagonist and Flem the antagonist. As elsewhere, Faulkner effectively blends violence with robust humor. The horse auction and the farmers’ attempts to claim their purchases cause inconvenience, injury, and property damage. Faulkner based the story on a real-life incident that had happened in Ripley. As a boy, after outgrowing his pony, Faulkner himself had purchased and tamed one of these very horses; it became his first horse.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Flem Snopes returns to Frenchman’s Bend after an absence of many months in Texas, accompanied by Buck Hipps and a string of wild spotted horses. The horses are confined in a lot next to the town hotel and put up for auction. On the day of the auction, people from the farms and surrounding countryside gather around the lot but at first are generally reluctant to bid on the animals, which have several times shown that they are unbroken and frankly dangerous. Hipps taunts the audience to no avail but finally succeeds in getting the auction going by giving Eck Snopes one horse for free if Eck will agree to purchase another for five dollars. At this moment, Henry Armstid arrives and demands to be allowed the same terms as Eck, but ends up bidding five dollars for another of the wild animals. Mrs. Armstid begs Hipps not to take her husband’s money because it is the last five dollars they possess.

The auction proceeds until all the horses are spoken for and Hipps has collected all the money. When Mrs. Armstid renews...

(The entire section is 930 words.)