The narrative of community: The politics of storytelling in Faulkner's Snopes trilogy

Susan Storing Benfield, Fordham University


This dissertation demonstrates that in the Snopes trilogy, The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion, William Faulkner offers us significant political insights into modern liberal communities, the problems that threaten them, and the resources available to support them. Faulkner examines the nature and ground of community, specifically in the changing Southern towns of the first half of the twentieth century. Faulkner sees the conflicts arising out of the demise of traditional social structures and values in the post Civil War South as paradigmatic of the political situation in the modern world. In order to explore these issues, Faulkner, in what many consider one of his greatest strokes of genius, created the Snopes family and Flem Snopes. The Snopeses are poor white tenant-farmers who scratch their way up to become part of a new rising class of entrepreneurs The central member of the family, Flem Snopes, is a frightening and unique character with a genius for taking advantage of the weaknesses of others. Faulkner contrasts Flem with shrewd and decent salesman V. K. Ratliff, from the same tenant-farming background, but who provides a very different face for democracy. Ratliff is a vigorous defender of the political community, as well as a great storyteller or artist. Faulkner's pairing of Flem and Ratliff constitutes one of his most powerful statements about the nature of democratic politics. In the trilogy, Faulkner portrays the potential weakness of democratic society in the face of the selfish and destructive aspects of human nature manifested both by outsiders and community members. In The Hamlet , he focuses on the dangers of individualism, the vulnerability of liberal institutions to individuals who don't share their fundamental respect for rights, and the support that appropriate storytelling can provide. In The Town, he emphasizes the problem of conformity and depicts a community without effective storytelling. In The Mansion, Faulkner portrays the conflicts between the Snopeses and their adversaries as a permanent part of the political landscape. He shows us that storytelling has the potential both to strengthen opposition to Snopeses and to mediate the on-going tensions between the community and the individual.

Subject Area

Political science|American literature

Recommended Citation

Benfield, Susan Storing, "The narrative of community: The politics of storytelling in Faulkner's Snopes trilogy" (2004). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3125003.