The Snopes family, which comes out of nowhere after the Civil War, successfully completes the invasion of Frenchman’s Bend. Now Flem Snopes, son of Ab Snopes, a bushwhacker, sharecropper, and horse thief, is ready for the next goal, the domination of Jefferson, the county seat of Yoknapatawpha County. Flem is ruthless, shrewd, uneducated, and possessed of a fanatic belief in the power of money. The townspeople, who saw him when he took over Frenchman’s Bend and then left it under the control of other family members, are wondering about Flem’s next move. Among those interested are Gavin Stevens, a young lawyer educated in Heidelberg, and V. K. Ratliff, a good-natured sewing machine salesman, who makes up for his lack of education with a great measure of common sense. Stevens feels a moral responsibility to defend the town against the Snopeses, and Ratliff was once the victim of Snopesism when, thinking that it contained a buried treasure, he bought worthless property from Flem for a high price. Another who becomes an assistant in the fight against the Snopes infiltration is Stevens’s nephew, Charles Mallison, who watches the Snopes invasion from his childhood through adolescence.
Flem realizes that more subtle methods for conquering Jefferson are necessary than those he used in Frenchman’s Bend. The greatest advantage for him is his marriage with Eula Varner, daughter of Will Varner, chief property owner in that community. When Eula is pregnant, impotent Flem marries her after making a profitable deal with Varner, who despises Snopes but wants to save his daughter’s honor.
In a small rented house, Flem and his wife make a modest beginning in Jefferson by operating a small restaurant of which Ratliff was a partner before he lost his share in the business deal with Flem. Later, the restaurant is transformed into a hotel. The first hint that Flem is aiming even higher comes when he is appointed superintendent of the local power plant, before the people even know that such a position exists. As the new mayor of Jefferson, Manfred de Spain is not in favor with the town conservatives, but he wins the election in a landslide when he declares himself against an automobile ban imposed by the former mayor. Soon it becomes known in the town that Eula and the new mayor are lovers. No one sees anything, but everybody seems to know about the affair except her husband.
Shortly after the war, during which Gavin serves overseas, the president of Jefferson’s oldest bank is killed in an auto accident. De Spain, named president on account of the bank stock he inherits, resigns as mayor. The election of a new president makes necessary a routine check by government auditors, who uncover the theft of a large sum of money by a defaulting clerk, Byron Snopes, who fled to Mexico. An announcement is made that the money was replaced by the new president and that Flem has been made a vice president of the bank. Flem’s appointment indicates to his opponents a new phase of Snopesism: The search for money and power is now tinted with Flem’s desire for...
(The entire section is 1258 words.)