Places: The Town

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1957

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1909-1927

Places DiscussedJefferson

Jefferson. Town, TheMississippi town that is home to aristocrats of the unreconstructed Old South, whose family names include the Compsons, de Spains, Sartorises, and Stevenses. The preserved culture and society of the old land-based, medieval class system survived in the American South well into the middle of the twentieth century. The town is the old order of an agrarian, white, Protestant social construct that has outlived its time and its use in the modern world.

Jefferson is also home to the poor white trash who come to populate it, personified by the members of the Snopes family whose numbers are endless. The new social order brought to town by the Snopeses causes the eventual collapse of the old, aristocratic order as the Baptist, illiterate, dirty, and immoral Snopeses take over Jefferson, first with their large numbers and later politically. Gradually, they take control of local businesses, become deacons and preachers in the churches, and get jobs as school teachers. Finally, one of them even maneuvers himself into being appointed president of the bank.

Water tower

Water tower. Ever-present symbol of Jefferson’s town’s hypocrisy. Standing on a ridge high above the town, the water in the tower contains pieces of stolen brass that Flem Snopes has taken from the city power plant where he works. Everyone in town knows the stolen pieces are there. Whenever they drink a glass of water, they can taste the brass–yet no one will remove the brass to expose Snopes and thereby bring scandal to the community.

Snopes photograph studio

Snopes photograph studio. Another symbol of the town’s hypocrisy. Montgomery Ward Snopes opens a photography studio where the town ladies go for free sittings. When it is revealed that Snopes is actually running a pornographic “magic lantern” show in the basement of the building, town officials arrest him on trumped up charges of bootlegging whiskey instead of what he is actually doing–showing sex films imported from Europe. The town cannot accept or acknowledge that its very own ladies have been in a porn store, even if they may have done so unknowingly.

Stevens’s office

Stevens’s office. Rented rooms serving as offices for the lawyer Gavin Stevens. There, Gavin, amid his legal books and treatises on justice and morality and even religion, struggles with moral questions as the old order around him collapses in the face of encroaching Snopesism. In fact, it is there that he abets the growing influence of the Snopes clan. Moreover, in this office, Eula Varner Snopes offers her body to him twice. Although Gavin declines, the old order is further besmirched and weakened.


Cemetery. Burial place for Eula Snopes after her suicide. After Eula is driven to her suicide and is buried by ministers of the town who want to pretend that she is not an adulteress because she is, after all, the wife of the president of the bank, the cemetery becomes yet another setting for hypocrisy. Gavin chooses a Bible verse for Eula’s tombstone with the reassuring text, “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband; her children rise and call her blessed.

BibliographyKerr, Elizabeth. William Faulkner’s Gothic Domain. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1979. Discusses Flem Snopes, Gavin Stevens, and Mink Snopes in reference to their respective roles in The Town. Lists and discusses interconnected themes in the trilogy. Fairly extensive bibliography.McHaney, Thomas L. William Faulkner: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1976. Good index provides references and cross-references, as well as a helpful, annotated source list for research in The Town.Marcus, Steven. “Snopes Revisited.” In William Faulkner: Three Decades of Criticism, edited by Frederick J. Hoffman and Olga W. Vickery. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1960. Discusses content, characterization, and criticism of The Town. Points out failings, but contends Faulkner wrote as he did so that the novel would represent truth, as art must. Extensive bibliography, including periodical sources.Meriwether, James B., and Michael Millgate, eds. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926-1962. New York: Random House, 1968. Indexed and coded to specific works and characters. Provides Faulkner’s own responses to specific questions about The Town and its chief characters. Text reports Faulkner’s views on themes in his fiction.Millgate, Michael. The Achievement of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1966. Millgate’s readable, discerning text must be included in any credible bibliography of Faulkner’s work. Discusses each work. Provides insight into Gavin Stevens, a central character of The Town. Notes and index.
Categories: Places