Commentary by Karen Bernardo
The Southerner’s obsession with never allowing anyone to get the best of him drives Faulkner’s novella “Spotted Horses.” This story deals with the same family introduced in “Barn Burning”—the Snopses; in fact, its protagonist, Flem, is the brother of “Barn Burning” protagonist Sarty, although that relationship is not brought up in this tale. Flem, who like Sarty has exiled himself from his sharecropping family, is nonetheless an outcast by breeding, and consequently takes up with another outcast—a mysterious individual known only as “the Texas man.”
Flem is a born con man; Faulkner says “That fellow could make a nickel where it wasn’t but four cents to begin with.” Together with the Texan, he launches a scheme to auction off a lot of unbroken horses. They fleece four dollars from a dupe, Henry Armstid, who is so fascinated with the wild creatures that he is willing to give the con men the last money his family has. Later, when Armstid comes to collect his horse, he can’t even get a rope around its neck, and strikes his wife in frustration. The horse, of course, gets out and runs free, as all wild things will, injuring Armstid in the process; and Flem refuses to return Armstid’s money, although he does give Armstid’s wife a bag of penny candy.
At the time Armstid originally bid on the horse, his wife, who had raised that money herself, looked at the Texan squarely and told him that if he took that money “it’ll be a curse onto you and yourn during all the time of man.” However, it is she who has been cursed. She has been cursed with a husband who does not know his own limitations (unlike Flem’s cousin Eck, who refuses to bid on Flem’s horses because “I can git me a snapping turtle or a water moccasin for nothing. I ain’t going to buy none”). Armstid is doomed to spend his life vainly trying to come out on top, just as Flem Snopes will spend his life taking advantage of hapless men like Armstid.
"Spotted Horses" can be found in the collection "Three Famous Short Novels: Spotted Horses, Old Man, The Bear"
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