1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 23: Spotted Horses, by William Faulkner

Spotted Horses is one of William Faulkner’s short novels, but it is still a layered, meticulous work that speaks to the savagery of humanity and man’s inability to tame his inner beast (and I say man specifically with purpose here, as the women presented in this novella seem very much able to control their inner animal, if one does exist in them). It tells the story of a Texan who aims to auction off a set of wild spotted horses, and in the process speaks to man’s inhumanity to women, man’s inability to tame his inner beast, and the inefficiency of the Hobbesian arm of government, who asserts progressive and modern standards in a community that one would assume is largely illiterate considering the contracts they make are often spoken and not written.

When a Texan arrives in town in hand with an excommunicated native named Flem Snopes and a group of wild spotted horses, many of the townsfolk believe the horses to be Flem’s and the Texan man who is meant as a go between of sorts, though the relationship between the two is never clearly defined. A reluctant crowd refuses to start bidding on horses they can’t catch, even within as they are confined within a gate, so the Texan gives one away to Eck Snopes (a relative of Flem) on the condition that he start the biding on the next horse. A Mrs. Armstid sees her husband give away money she had earned to place a bid on one of the horses, and as he tries, with his wife assistance to coral the horse, it proves to difficult a task and Mr. Armstid ends up using knotted rope, which was meant to be used to hit the horse in the head in order to stun and in turn calm him and make him more manageable to catch, to hit his wife instead. It is an interesting juxtaposition and it seems that Faulkner has a sensitivity toward women, and a brutal view of men, as he seems to suggest that men treat women like animals, a fair assessment consider the era and the region of which Faulkner was writing.


As the narrative moves a long, the horses end up escaping their coral. In one scene a horse crashes through a house, (perhaps a metaphor for how man’s untamed inner beast destroys the domestic sphere?) and the horse given to Eck causes damages to a Mr. Tull, leaving Mrs. Tull to tend to their farm. She naturally sues who she sees to be the owner of the horse for damages, but once at court the community finds that even things upon which they can agree are superseded by the courts. Eck admits the horse was his, but upon hearing testimony the judge declares he did not, because no papers were exchanged, and that the horse, belonging once to the Texan whose name was unknown and is now long gone, now belongs to the Tull family as a reimbursement of their injuries, making the victims responsible for the very horse that caused them damage. Mrs. Armstid, who saw her money given to Flem and was told that it would be given back to her, finds that Flem declares he doesn’t have the money, and that the Texan took it and fled town. Mrs. Armstid tries to sue Flem, but Flem refuses even to show up at court because nobody has proven that the horses were his. This inefficiency of the law is comical at best, and illustrates how out of touch the law can be with the communities which it aims to assist.

There is a depth to this work, and a simplicity all at once. The inability of man to tame his innate nature, which would place him in a natural state of war were it not forcibly tamed by the Hobbesian social contract is clear, as is the fact that the Hobbesian social contract is ineffective and fails to serve its purpose for communities that are not in tune with contemporary law and politics. But there are feminist interpretations available in this text as well, speaking to the domestic sphere and how the patriarchal system, which works hand-in-hand with the Hobbesian social contract with the state, undermines certain aspects of progress in the name of progress. Ultimately the Hobbesian social contract shared with the state is meant to tame man’s beastly nature, but instead gives allowances to embrace that nature to those who have the ability to manipulate laws, and even in instances where one has no intention to manipulate the law, they can find themselves freed of responsibility they were prepared to readily accept.

If you liked this, try:


Catch-22, by Joseph Heller: I know I have mentioned this book a couple of times, but the court scene in the final passage of this novella seems to share a sense of the ineptitude of American bureaucracy with Heller’s work.

All the Pretty Horses, by Cormac McCarthy: This is like an expansion and a sequel at once of Faulkner’s Spotted Horses. In the novel the protagonist is hired for his ability to tame a group of wild horses, illustrating a kind of progression from Faulkner’s era, and there is a strong feminist/post-modern reading to the novel as well as the protagonist falls in love with a young woman whose aunt has fallen prey to patriarchal standards and will not allow her niece to be a victim to it as she was, and there is even a parallel court scene, where rather than an issue being handled ineffectively, it comes out quite smoothly and fairly for all those involved. There remains a sense of the wild bestial nature of man, and the book is not without tragedy that far outweighs anything present in Faulkner’s Spotted Horses, and it is very much worth reading.

Up Next: Stones, by Timothy Finley

Words I thought I’d look up:

Cerulean: Of deep blue, from the Latin for sky.

Transmogrified: A grotesque transformation.

Contagion: Spread of disease by physical contact, from the Latin for contact.

Celerity: Quickness, from the French for swift.

Mazy: Confusing or maze like (I think I looked this one up already?)

Lapidary: Dignified or elegant, or engraved in stone.

Periwinkle: A type of plant, or a colour (lavender blue or pale shade of indigo). Used to describe the colour of a boy’s eyes in the book.

Unerring: Unfailingly accurate.

Ineffable: Indescribable.

Undulant: Wavelike, resembling waves in terms of motion.

Palladium: Soft, silvery-white metal.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

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