"By the People" (Text Key 1335)

short story

Faulkner wrote this story about the conflict between democratic politics and demagoguery while visiting New York City in October, 1954. Perhaps it was being away from the South that allowed him to make one of his most plain-spoken statements about its patterns of racial bigotry and ethnic intolerance. For example, this is his only story to mention the Ku Klux Klan by name. His focus, however, is not on the victims of prejudice, but on the way an electorate's prejudices can be manipulated by ambitious, unscrupulous politicians for private gain. Faulkner originally called the villain of this story "Homer X. Yarbry," but ended up identifying him as Clarence Snopes, who first appeared in Sanctuary (1931). After serving 25 years in the Mississippi legislature, Snopes is on the verge of running for Congress, and certain to defeat his announced opponent, a genuine hero with a Congressional Medal of Honor among other medals, but in the end is defeated by one of Faulkner's favorite characters, the peripatetic salesman named V.K. Suratt. Suratt is a man of the people. He is even a kind of redneck: the text mentions his "shaved" and "sunburned" neck (88). But in the end Suratt has to act as an individual; government "by the people" - or what the story calls "the voting competence of every sharecropper and tenant farmer not only in Yoknapatawpha County but in all Mississippi" (132) - remains unrecuperated.

Because of the particular way in which the dirty trick Suratt plays on Snopes is dirty, eight magazines rejected the story before it was bought by Mademoiselle for $750 in early 1955; the magazine published it in October, 1955. Faulkner incorporated it, with very few revisions, into the final volume of the Snopes Trilogy, The Mansion (1959). It was reprinted in Prize Stories 1957: The O'Henry Awards and 40 Best Stories from Mademoiselle, 1935-1960, but Joseph Blotner did not include it in his Uncollected Stories, so our representation is based on the Mademoiselle text.

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Mademoiselle Magazine
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October 1955
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Mademoiselle Magazine
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New York
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October 1955
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How to cite this resource:
Burgers, Johannes H., and Stephen Railton. "Faulkner's 'By the People.'" Added to the project: 2018. Additional editing 2021: Stephen Railton; 2022: Jennie J. Joiner. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu

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