Clarence Snopes

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Clarence Snopes
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Snopes, Clarence
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On the Snopes family tree, Clarence - according to The Mansion, it's "pronounced 'Cla'nce'" (325) - is the son of I.O. and the half-brother of Montgomery Ward Snopes. He is one of the four Snopes named in Faulkner's first Yoknapatawpha fiction, Flags in the Dust, but appears only as the boy whose "hulking but catlike presence" makes Bryon Snopes nervous (235). It is in Sanctuary that his character as one of the most venal Snopeses emerges. It is ten years later, Clarence has become Yoknapatawpha's State Senator on the strength of his family's influence in the modern South, "without recourse to a public polling," and his "vast, puffy face without any mark of age or thought whatever" is also frequently seen in the bordellos of Memphis (173). In one of them he discovers the whereabouts of Temple Drake, and sells that information three times: to Horace Benbow, to Temple's father and to Popeye's Memphis lawyer - thus becoming the link between the Memphis and Jefferson parts of the novel's plot. Horace does pay him, but tries to keep Senator Snopes from getting any closer to the Benbow house than the front gate. In the late short story "By the People" and again in the last two volumes of the Snopes trilogy Faulkner develops Clarence's biography in more sordid detail. The narrator of the short story treats Clarence's rise as a nightmare perversion of the American dream. As a young member of the Snopes clan in Frenchman's Bend, he led a gang of "cousins and toadies" who "fought and drank and beat Negroes and terrified young girls" (89), until Billy Varner had him appointed a constable. While working for the law, he joined and became a leader of the "Ku Klux Klan" (130), until for political reasons he became "its mortal enemy" (131). Loyal only to his own ambitions, he joins another white supremacist organization called "the Silver Shirts" while also teaching a Sunday School class in the Baptist Church (132). Clarence "uses and betrays and makes capital of everything he ever touched" (138). Most pointedly, his success as a demagogue epitomizes the dark side of government "by the people." After 25 years in the state legislature, he is as "ruthless" and ambitious as ever (132), running for the U.S. Congress by exploiting the racism of his culture. Faulkner retells this story in The Mansion, but first, in The Town, he arranges for Clarence to be "the only Snopes or resident of Frenchman's Bend or Yoknapatawpha County either for that matter" to welcome Byron Snopes' wild children - who in turn try to burn him at the stake (387).