Flem Snopes

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Flem Snopes
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Snopes, Flem
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Ever Present in Yoknapatawpha?: 

In the beginning was Flem Snopes. He is the very first character who appears in the very first fiction about Yoknapatawpha that Faulkner sat down to write. He is the "Father Abraham" in the title of that unfinished text, which was going to tell the story of Flem's rise from tenant farmer's son in Frenchman's Bend to bank president in Jefferson, from a sharecropper's cabin to The Mansion - as the final volume of the Snopes trilogy that Faulkner finished over three decades later is titled. From the start Faulkner imagined Flem's story as part of a larger sociological problem called 'Snopesism,' the displacement of the social order of the Old South by the forces of modernity: in the Yoknapatawpha fiction that Faulkner wrote when he put the "Father Abraham" manuscript aside, Flags in the Dust, Flem isn't seen, but the way, "like Abraham of old," he brings his 'tribe' - the other members of his poor white family - into Jefferson is referred to as a kind of rapidly spreading infectious disease (166). Altogether Flem figures in eleven stories and novels. The trilogy details the series of steps by which Flem climbs the ladder, though as a symptom of a social disorder he perhaps is most threatening when he himself remains outside the narrative as a kind of pervasive but underlying presence. He is calculating and completely unscrupulous in the way he exploits people, even his family members. As a step on his way up, he marries the mythically beautiful Eula Varner, but according to The Mansion, "the only thing he loved was money" (159). He even, as his cousin Montgomery Ward Snopes puts it, "parlayed his wife into the presidency of a bank" (92). But as he nears his goal - the life he associates with the planter aristocrats he's replacing - he discovers that respectability may matter more than money. In the end he is revealed to be sexually impotent, and is emotionally very much alone when he is killed. In her last conversation, Eula provides a strange epitaph for him when she tells Gavin Stevens in The Town, "You've got to be careful or you'll have to pity him. You'll have to" (347).