Summary and Analysis: "Spotted Horses" Part I


Behind the extravagance of the narrative situations, the humorous narration itself, and the comic techniques, there is a more serious intent to "Spotted Horses." With all of the different character types found in the story — from the rational narrator, to the mild, meek, and down-trodden Mrs. Armstid, to the strong and determined Mrs. Littlejohn, to Ad, the half-wit son of Eck Snopes, and to the amoral Flem Snopes — we have a magnificent cross section of rural persons who inhabit Yoknapatawpha County. There are also strong implications that things are out of control in this particular community.

The narrator, V. K. Ratliff, is not named in this particular story, but Faulkner uses this itinerant sewing machine agent as a character in most of his stories involving the Snopes. The opinions Ratliff expresses are those felt by most readers — for example, his view of Flem Snopes: "That Flem Snopes. I be dog if he ain't a case, now." The story's unity lies partly in the fact that this same incredulity concerning Flem is expressed at the end of the story, first by I. O. Snopes — "You can't git ahead of Flem. You can't touch him. Ain't he a sight, now?" — and then by Ratliff, who maintains that if he were to do what Flem does, he would be lynched.

Among the things that surprise Ratliff is the cool manner in which Flem enters the community and immediately begins greedily accumulating money, first as a clerk in the Varner store, and then by marrying Varner's daughter, Eula. Once Flem has a foothold in the county, Ratliff believes that in ten years he will own everything.

After narrating the history of Flem's establishing himself in the county, Ratliff tells us about Eula Varner, describing her as "one of these here kind of big, soft-looking gals that could giggle richer than plowed new-ground." "Young bucks" swarm around her like "bees around a honey pot," but it is Flem who marries her. The couple disappears after their marriage, and when Eula returns without Flem — she has a child with her. Ratliff reports on the amazing abilities of this child: According to the marriage date, he is supposed to be three months old, but he can already pull himself upright, hanging onto a chair. Ratliff thinks that at that speed, the child could be "chewing tobacco and voting time it's eight years old." Obviously, Eula was already several months pregnant at the time of her wedding.

Soon afterward, Flem returns to the county with a Texan and about "two dozen of them Texas ponies, hitched to one another with barbed wire." This unusual tethering device showcases these animals as anything but typical "ponies." That evening, as people sit on Mrs. Littlejohn's boardinghouse porch and listen to the "spotted varmints swirling," the serenity of the community is interrupted forever.

Although Flem denies ownership of the ponies, it is clear to everyone that he is involved in the shady transaction of selling them. His ultimate desire is to control the village, and one way he goes about this is by introducing disorder — here, represented by the horses-into the peaceful community.

Faulkner's treatment of the Snopes family in this first section is most effective when we note the animal imagery associated with the Snopeses. Part of this imagery involves juxtaposing the horses' physical abnormalities with those of the Snopeses. For example, not only does the parrot-like, spotted coloring of the horses suggest that something is wrong with them, but Ratliff draws special attention to their mismatched eyes. He comments, "Nere a one of them had two eyes the same color . . ." These physical irregularities are matched by Eula's child, although the child's physical abilities are normal for a toddler older than three months. However, by exaggerating the child's physical abilities, Ratliff comically suggests that something is wrong with him.

The wild nature of the Snopes clan, most of whom are transient sharecroppers who "never stayed on any place over a year," is intensified by the extreme agitation of the horses. Readers should note how the Snopeses' birthing process is characterized: ". . . the twins of that year's litter" and "It was a regular nest of them." Every single thing and person is out of control in this section, including the Snopeses and horses alike.