Faulkner Barn Burning

9 September 2016

In the story, “Barn Burning,” Faulkner explores southern social themes, what happens when individuals lose their connection to this society and its values, and the significance of the “barn burning” phenomena, and how psychologically stimulating it is to Abner, and how this affects his son Sarty. “Barn Burning was written in the early1930s this was a decade of the Great Depression and social and economic turmoil. This story offers readers insight into the years of the early South.

In these readings, society is blamed for Abner’s ‘s barn burning, rebellious personality (Loges). He is struggling against the oppressive economic restraints placed on him, and at the same time represents the new face of the South, rising against the old aristocratic order (Loges). The second courtroom scene in which de Spain exacts a payment of “twenty bushels of corn against your crop” for the ruined rug can be discussed in the context of de Spain’s use of the words “contract” and “commissary. The economic and legal authority exerted by the owner in this system of repressive, old-fashioned privilege which creates the near impossibility of the tenant’s ever “getting out from under” will then become more understandable for readers to grasp the context and comprehend what was going on in the 1930s. This illustrates the oppressive factor going on with Sarty and Mr. Snopes as well as many other poverty-stricken individuals during that time. The contrast between the de Spain mansion and the Snopes tenant farmer shack highlights the terrible divide between owner and tenant in the ’30s.

Faulkner Barn Burning Essay Example

Here in “Barn Burning” the small, impoverished and illiterate ten-year-old boy, ill-nourished on cold food and dressed in clean but faded, patched jeans, has experienced home as a succession of identical “unpainted two room houses, “tenant farmer hovels, for the Snopeses have moved a dozen times through poor country. What was more evident to me of the social divide, was very prominent in the 1930s was the class distinction. Especially in the encounter at the white aristocrats mansion, which draws attention to the superior status of the black house servant over the poor white tenant farmer.

Here the finer quality of the black’s attire, his position within the house, and his power to deny the white entrance heighten the racial tensions. Poor “white sweat” may mix with “nigger sweat. ” The quality of life of the poor whites and that of the blacks are too similar: whites may now claim a racial superiority but not class superiority. Poor whites, too, can be “owned” as blacks were. The racial element in the doorway encounter only fuels the father’s rage all the more. The black servant who obviously holds a superior position in the doorway challenges his supposed supremacy as a white man.

The black’s appearance and his authoritarian position over Snopes within the confines of the house mock the Synopses’ claims to racial superiority. Mississippi’s was one of the poorest states in the 1930s, a state with an unmatched record of racial atrocities, a state where poor whites and blacks scraped at the bottom of the economic barrel, and where the racial tensions exploded in rage and violence. These historic facts can lead to a clearer understanding of why Abner Snopes acts as he does here.

Yet equally the cluster of words like “ruthless,” “bloodless,” “stiff,” “cut from tin,” and “iron like” surrounding Abner Snopes suggests the metallic, inhuman, mechanical identity Faulkner also recognizes in Snopes. Any love, pity, and compassion are now gone from the father; only the “frozen ferocity” and the “cold, dead voice” remain. In Abner Snopes Faulkner captures the toll to the human spirit that the oppression, deprivation, and injustice of the Great Depression exacted. Furthermore, the relentless defiance by the underclass extracts an even greater human cost.

The situation and system dehumanize the individual in ways that Abner Snopes graphically exemplifies. Abner Snopes, a rebellious sharecropper with a “barn burning” past, is the main character who acts as antagonist in the story while being a victim in his mind. Abner Snopes, who was a thief and coward even before the end of the Civil War, is now isolated from his previous pride, identity, and sense of self by the new equality and values that invade his world. As a result, Snopes feels free to completely blame the world for his actions, and violates moral rules without regret in the society he no longer accepts.

Abner is a violent and primitive force of destruction. When interacting with his family he is emotionless and stiff. Snopes’ physical presence fully reflects the inner corruption and love of revenge that he embodies. His leg, shot in the war when he was stealing confederate horses for personal profit, drags lamely behind him, an external indicator of his warped inner life. Because Snopes is solely unable to express himself articulately or intelligently, his sole remedies for self-expression are violence and cruelty. These tactics have overtaken his worldview so completely that they have infused his sense of who he is.

He compensates for these shortcomings by being a silent tyrant, ruling his family with threats and the promise of violence, as well as by destroying the livelihood of those individuals he believes have insulted him by way of fire. From the beginning of the story Abner rejects society’s values. During the Civil War, he doesn’t not fight alongside the Confederate Army; instead (never admits to) but shows his selfishness of stealing from both sides for his own gain. When he tries to escape on a stolen horse a policeman shoots him in the heel, the policeman representing “society. He does not like upward mobility of “rich” society it is evident in the passage “Pretty and white, ain’t it? … That’s sweat. Nigger sweat. Maybe it ain’t white enough to suit him yet. He wants to mix some white sweat with it. “(969) By tracking poop on the de Spain rug Abner is sending a powerful message to de Spain. Abner shows him just what he thinks of a man who gets rich on the sweat of the poor. There is something admirable about that Unfortunately, Abner’s class war has devastating consequences on his family. They live in terror and fear of Abner’s next strategic fight against power and privilege.

Abner’s impotent rage and search for vengeance push him to lash out violently at almost anyone with whom he comes in contact, but his actions are framed (in his mind) as revenge, not as evil. His method of destruction comes in the form of fire, which he uses to threaten, not to kill. Snopes’ does not use fire to kill because he still has to participate in society, and in his mind he is always the victim, not a criminal: barn burning is justice in his mind, and Snopes’ still sees himself as a man forced to function in a corrupt world.

His method is to allow a situation to provoke, create an imagined wrong, then conveniently forget that he started the situation, so that he might vent with barn burning in the name of symbolically righting all the wrongs done to him in life. From the small fires made at camp to the larger ones that burn down barns, Abner is the boss. Abner as a fiercely independent spirit who flouts aristocratic oppression. Abner tyrannizes his wretched family mercilessly; adheres selfishly to his own designs, heedless of his family’s welfare; and squelches any attempt for social reform or communal identity (Ford).

From this passage stated by Ford that hates the predicament that he is currently in and is almost compelled to lash out in the very distinct act of barn burning. Not even evaluating what this does to his family let alone their personal welfare. According to Loges, the narrator suggest that the fire to Abner, has mystical powers “the element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being, as the element of steel or of powder spoke to other men, as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity, else breath were not worth the breathing, and hence to be regarded with respect and used with discretion”(966).

This suggests strongly that without fire, Abner would feel completely powerless and out of control. Fire is the one thing in his life he can control, and use to kind of heal the wounds of his depressed ego. Furthermore, Fire to Snopes represents his powerlessness and his quest for power and self-expression. Snopes and Sarty’s relationship is not of a normal father-son relationship filled with love, respect, loyalty and admiration. From the beginning you can conclude that their relationship lacks all except the loyalty, which I feel Sarty has for his father only because of the fear of consequence for not obeying his fathers orders.

During the scene at the De Spain mansion you really get a sense of who he is, because this is when you read his inner most thoughts. Interestingly, the first thing the mansion reminds him of is “a courthouse” (965). This suggests that Sarty has not only seen a real courthouse, but also that he has some positive feelings about the legal system, which his father is so adept at thwarting. The mansion gives Sarty a sense of “peace and dignity” (965). In Sarty’s experience the legal process of justice is messy and unfair and has little to do with peace and dignity.

Sarty thinks the mansion will shield the de Spain barn from being burned. Not only that, but the sight of the mansion might even change his father so that he doesn’t even want to burn barns anymore. That gets more to the heart of the matter. Sarty doesn’t understand that the southern mansion was probably built on activities worse than barn burning, but he knows it wasn’t built by living the way his father lives. Unlike anything he’s ever seen, the mansion represents an extreme alternative to his father’s way of life. Sarty’s reaction paints him as naive.

Even as he watches his deliberately father track horse poop on the de Spain’s white rug, destroying all that “peace and dignity” with one move, he holds out hope. Still, when Sarty sees his father treated with contempt by de Spain, he realizes that maybe there is more to the mansion than meets the eye. This growing awareness allows Sarty to sympathize with his father, at least for a time. The experience of living by the de Spain’s mansion is a positive experience, event though Sarty’s idealization of the mansion ultimately vanishes.

It reminds him that there are many alternatives in between the two-room shack and the mansion, and gives him reason to hope. Though Snopes feels no remorse in what he does, society will eventually not stand for his blame game as justification for his barn burnings. Abner Snopes’ son, Sarty, is a firsthand witness to the next barn burning and is put in the role of societal judge. Sarty is caught in a moral dilemma, pulled between the values of the community and his loyalty to his father. Rather than inherit the alienated condition of his father, Sarty chooses society, turning his father in to plantation owner Major De Spain.

Sarty realizes what Abner Snopes does not: you can function at the edge of a society, defy a society and violate a community’s rules to a point because you feel you are a special case, specifically a victim, but you cannot escape responsibility forever. Society now will remove Snopes’ delusional, selfish, victim-seeking-revenge status and force him to face reality: he is a petty evil man who rejecting, but still working in society, must now face real laws and punishment for his “blame game” justified crimes.

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