Faulkner created the mythological county of Yoknapatawpha in his third novel, Flags in the Dust. This particular novel, however, was not published during Faulkner's lifetime; it appeared posthumously in 1973. As a result, Faulkner's readers were introduced to Yoknapatawpha County in Sartoris (1929), a heavily edited and much shorter version of Flags in the Dust. The name "Yoknapatawpha" is a word Faulkner devised by combining the Indian words for the two rivers, the Yokna and the Patawpha, which form the southern border of this county. Faulkner called the county seat Jefferson and, later, drew a map of the county (which can be found in all editions of his novel Absalom, Absalom! 1936), showing where many events in the various novels take place.
In Flags in the Dust, Faulkner deals with later generations of the Sartoris family (the central family of The Unvanquished, 1938). Bayard Sartoris is an old man, Aunt Jenny Du Pre still looks after the Sartoris mansion, and some of the black servants (Joby, Louvinia, and Simon) are still employed. In fact, even though Colonel Sartoris has been dead for over forty years, Simon still talks to him about the changing times.
One of the greatnesses of Faulkner's mythological county is that many of the same characters are found in many of the different novels; a character who appears in a minor role in one novel might later be a significant character in another novel. Many of his characters, thus, appear in numerous novels in varying roles, and, therefore, in reading more than one of Faulkner's novels, we come to know a great deal about all of the various people who live in Yoknapatawpha County. For example, after having read about Granny (Miss Rosa) and having come to feel that we actually know her in The Unvanquished, we are then prepared for certain types of actions or reactions from her in a short story published many years later, entitled "My Grandmother Millard and General Bedford Forrest and the Battle of Harrykin Creek." In fact, this story has only a few characters in it that are not found in The Unvanquished.
In Flags in the Dust, the presence of Colonel Sartoris still pervades the entire countryside. His memory is constantly evoked by various characters in the novel, and his deeds and exploits are still recounted. Likewise, some of the old blacks are still with the Sartons family. Louvinia, who in "Retreat" helped Colonel Sartoris escape from the Yankees by holding his boots and pistols for him, is still working for the Sartorises in 1919. Likewise, Joby, her husband, is still there. And, even though Colonel Sartoris has been dead for over forty years, Simon still talks to him and complains about how things are changing.
In addition to Simon's reminiscing about Colonel Sartoris, other characters evoke memories of him. Aunt Jenny Du Pre also likes to narrate past episodes of the Sartoris family, especially some of the antics of Colonel John Sartoris and his brother, Bayard I. For example, she delights in telling about a raid on a Yankee camp which Bayard I led, stealing most of their provisions and capturing a Yankee colonel, who casually mentioned that at least Bayard I did not capture the anchovies. Upon hearing this, Bayard I foolishly charged back into the camp and was killed in an attempt to capture the anchovies. This type of foolhardy bravado in the midst of a serious war characterizes the actions of many of the Sartorises. Thus in Flags in the Dust, the presence of Colonel John Sartoris, who has been long dead, and that of his brother, Bayard I, pervade the entire novel and the modern-day Sartorises seem to live in the shadow of the past greatnesses of the Sartorises.
Several more characters from The Unvanquished also appear in Faulkner's other novels. Uncle Buck McCaslin and Uncle Buddy, for example, become central characters in Go Down, Moses, 1942, and the same type of radical social philosophy that was discussed in The Unvanquished is further developed in that novel.
In the story "Skirmish at Sartoris," we hear about Colonel Sartons killing two carpetbaggers in order to keep the blacks from voting. There, the episode is told from the viewpoint of Bayard Sartoris. In an earlier novel, Light in August, 1932, we hear the same episode narrated by a relative of the murdered men. Joanna Burden is the granddaughter and half-sister of the murdered men, and she explains how her relatives were only trying to raise up the status of the blacks. In still another story ("A Rose for Emily"), we hear about John Sartoris' paying the taxes anonymously for an aristocratic lady who has no money. He gallantly conceals his generosity and tells her that the city council exempted her of all taxes. Absalom, Absalom!, 1936, concerns Colonel Henry Sutpen, who was voted colonel of the regiment when Clonel Sartoris was voted out, and in The Unvanquished, Colonel Sartoris challenges him to a duel when Colonel Sutpen will not join the night riders. In The Unvanquished, Mrs. Compson, a minor character, is instrumental in getting Drusilla Hawk, an important character, married; not surprisingly, the Compson family is the subject of an entire novel, The Sound and the Fury, 1929. In addition, Ab Snopes, as will be noted below, is the progenitor of a family that will occupy three novels and many short stories.
Consequently, the mere creation of a mythological county in which characters from one novel appear and then reappear in other novels is, in itself, a highly imaginative and creative accomplishment. No other author has created anything that equals it in modem literature.
For some critics, however, the characterizations are not always consistent. For example, the Bayard Sartoris we see at the end of The Unvanquished (in "An Odor of Verbena") is a highly courageous young man with strong moral convictions. Yet in Flags in the Dust, the same Bayard Sartoris is in his seventies. It is hard for some people to imagine that the young Bayard of The Unvanquished could have developed into the type of Bayard whom they see in Flags in the Dust.
If, then, throughout the Yoknapatawpha series, the name of Sartoris comes to represent the epitome of southern values — gallantry, generosity, valor, aristocracy, dedication to the ideals of the region, pride, and honor (in short, the essence of southern gentility and chivalry) — at the opposite pole of southern society are the Snopeses, with Ab Snopes being the progenitor of that clan. In Flags in the Dust, the Snopes family is mentioned as being a clan of hill people who gradually infiltrate every aspect of the town of Jefferson; it is here that Ab Snopes is mentioned as being the progenitor of that clan. Also in that novel, Faulkner shows various Snopeses involved in blackmail, embezzlement, draft dodging, and other shady deals. In a later novel, Sanctuary, more disreputable Snopeses appear in various, derogatory positions in Jefferson. The Unvanquished, then, presents an early picture of the father of this long line of Snopeses, a family which will ultimately become the main characters in Faulkner's famous trilogy (The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion), commonly referred to as The Snopes Trilogy. Ultimately, the Snopes family becomes synonymous with the rise of an amoral materialism which overpowers all other existing moral values. In Ab Snopes's wheedling, conniving, and lying, we see that those who descend from him will, by nature, represent the elemental and destructive forces of invincible rapacity which are opposed to all other forces of a decent and honorable society, such as the Sartoris family stands for.
The Sartoris family is honest in all its transactions, whether we approve of those transactions or not: Colonel Sartoris did confront the Burdens openly and did let the Burdens fire first; a Snopes would have sneaked up from behind and shot them. The Snopes family accomplishes its ends with a perverse and distorted vitality. Their ubiquitous inhumanity infiltrates every aspect of the community life, and their calculating and dehumanized exploitations leave their victims stupefied and in abject rage. Separately, Ab Snopes' descendants are inveterate liars, thieves, murderers, and the personification of every type of treachery. As a clan, they present an insurmountable and invidious exemplification of the horrors of materialistic aggrandizement. While Colonel Sartoris and Granny Millard are trying to raise up the entire country, Ab Snopes and, later, his descendants would destroy anything for their own personal gain. Perhaps worst of all, however, the Snopeses are able to accomplish their aims with complete imperturbability. Ab Snopes shows no remorse over the death of Granny. When asked at the University of Virginia about the relationship between Ab Snopes and Grumby, Faulkner responded that Ab Snopes "was a hanger-on, he was a sort of jackal. Grumby in a way was a lion — he was a shabby, sorry lion — but Ab Snopes was never anything but a jackal, and I imagine that Grumby would have had little patience with Ab Snopes. Ab Snopes hung around the outskirts of the kill to get what scraps might be left over."
Ultimately, all the Snopeses are so impersonal that their gruesome inhumanity can be viewed only in a comic fashion. We can't hate Ab Snopes. When he is caught by Bayard, he merely falls down in the mud and whines. The whipping he receives has no significance to him other than the immediate pain. There are indeed later Snopeses that one can hate, but this one is more pathetic in his wheedling and whining than he is loathsome. As a result, the Snopeses have lent their name to a modern social disease called Snopesism, a term which has come to mean an unprincipled, amoral materialism. It is, therefore, another measure of Faulkner's genius that he has created such vivid characterizations of the Snopeses that the modern, cultured, literary world uses their name to describe a modern illness of society.
In conclusion, The Unvanquished presents us with two of the dominant families of Yoknapatawpha County; the Sartoris family represents the most noble aspects of humanity, while the Snopes clan represents the worst aspects of humanity.