The Town is the second of Faulkner’s “Snopes” novels about the rise to power of Flem Snopes in Jefferson, Mississippi. Written in a style that is remindful of a bunch of old Southern men sitting on the porch swapping stories, it is narrated by three different alternating voices. As a pioneer in novels with multiple narrators, Faulkner is a master.
One of the narrators is a character we met already in The Hamlet, V. K. Ratliff, the itinerant sewing machine salesman who is most knowledgeable about Snopes’ true character, having been deeply scorched by him. Ratliff enlists the Jefferson city attorney, Gavin Stevens, in his observations of Snopes. The third narrator is Charles Mallison, Stevens’ nephew, who tells us himself that he wasn’t even alive during the times of his first tales but was told the stories by his cousin Gowan.
The novel covers the events of nearly 20 years, from the arrival of the Snopes family in Jefferson to the events shortly following the death of Flem’s wife Eula. Although some of the events are tragic, the tone of The Town is more comic than that of The Hamlet, perhaps because the lives of the folks in Jefferson are not as grim as those of the poor sharecroppers in the first novel.
The novel focuses first on the young Gavin’s infatuation with Eula Snopes. Rumor has it that Snopes’ appointment as power-plant supervisor–highlighted by his attempted theft of all the plant’s brass fixtures accompanied by an effort to frame the plant’s two black firemen for the theft–is in return for him closing his eyes to his wife Eula’s affair with Manfred de Spain, the town’s mayor. Young Gavin, newly returned from university at the time, is incensed by this rumor and determined to protect Mrs. Snopes’ reputation. Later, as Eula’s daughter Linda grows up, Gavin tries to save her from “Snopesism” by helping educate her and trying to get her a place in an eastern university.
These two novels are fascinating because of Faulkner’s ability to make central a character who barely has a line of dialogue in either book. He effectively makes Snopes the major presence in the novels by having the other characters observe the results of his actions while endlessly speculating about what he actually does and why he does it. As always with Faulkner, the prose is beautiful.