A Fathers Legacy Essay, Research Paper
A Father’s Legacy
The cruel dominance of a father, can distinguish any flame of hope that builds in the people around him. In William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning,” Abner is that father. The story portrays a nomadic life of a family driven from one home to another. Abner had a craving hunger to belittle those around him that thought they were “better than him.” Although the family accepts the nomadic life, Sarty (the son) dreams of having peace and stability. To have this peace, it only requires a lack of conflict. The Snope family was doomed to struggle due to Abner’s constant instigation of conflict, the ongoing domination of his family and his complete lack of respect for the law.
Abners instigation of conflict, gives him justification to destroy the center of livlihood (the barn) of those he envies. The “ravening and jealous rage” he feels when seeing DeSpains home for the first time, leads to his desire to destroy it in some way. After deliberateley stepping in horse droppings, he forces himself in the home past the Negro. “The boy saw the prints of the stiff foot on the doorjamb and saw them appear on the pale rug behind the machinelike deliberation of the foot.” Upon being asked to leave, “the boy watched him pivot on the good leg and saw the stiff foot drag round the arc [...] leaving a final long and fading smear.” Although Abner had not appeared to be aware of the destruction he was doing, the intent of his actions became obvious when he carefully scraped off his boot on the front porch. There is no doubt that Abner expects a confrontation with De Spain. The response he recieves, however, is not the one he is expecting, De Spain only wants him to clean the rug. With the bubbling wash-pot and the corrosive lye soap Abner’s daughters began to scrub at the stains. Abner watches the progress and decides that the soap is not doing the level of destruction he desires. “[Sarty] saw his father raise from the ground a flattish fragment of field stone.” Even through his wife had pleeded with him to stop, the result of Abner’s work was displayed that evening over the backs of two chairs. “The tracks of his father’s foot were gone. Where they had been were now long, water-cloudy scoriations resembling the sporadic course of lilliputian mowing machine.” The instigation of conflict that started with the rug, would again lead to the family’s shattered dream of peace.
Abner’s consistent and ongoing domination of his family left them unable to stop the continuing cycle of strife. His cold, emotionless responses coupled with his tendancy for quick, savage blows left his family in a state of apprehensive anticipation. A good representation of this is Sarty’s confrontation with his father after the hearing in the store. “[Abner's] voice [was] harsh like tin and without heat like tin. ‘You were fixing to tell them. You would have told him.’ [Sarty] didn’t answer. His father struck him with the flat of his hand on the side of the head, hard but without heat.” Abner continued with a subtle threat. “You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got ot learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood stick to you.” Although Sarty had been struck before, it was never followed with an explanation. The altered character of his father, frightened him more than physical contact did. With Abner’s decision to burn De Spain’s barn, his true character is again revealed. Sarty’s mother attempts to intervene: “while the mother tugged at his arm until he shifted the lamp to the other hand and flung her back, not savagely or viciously, just hard, into the wall, her hands flung out against the wall for balance, her mouth open and in her face the same quality of hopeless despair as had been in her voice.” Abner’s domination had held his family helpless from stopping the completion of another cycle.
Abners complete lack of respect for the law is at the center of the family’s discord. His history of breaking the law begins when he is supposed to be fighting during the Civil War. “That niggard blaze was the living fruit of nights passed during those four years in the woods hiding from all men, blue or gray, with his strings of horses (captured horses, he called them)”.
Following the war Abner’s escalation of lawlessness took on a more personal level. He uses the weapon of fire to attack the people who’s status or achievments he most envies. Abner’s last act of defiance against the social elite, causes his son to break the barrier of dominance. Sarty runs to De Spain to warn him of his fathers plan. “He was out of the room, out of the house, [...] reaching the gate at last and turning in, running, his heart and lungs drumming, on up the drive toward the lighted house, the lighted door. He did not knock, he burst in, sobbing for breath, incapable for the moment of speech. [...] ‘De Spain!’ he cried, panted. [...] ‘Barn!’” Sarty’s warning allowed De Spain to mount his horse and ride to the barn to confront Abner. In an attempt to stop the lawlessness, Sarty assumes he has caused the death of his father and brother due to the gunshots echoing from the barn. Abner’s lack of respect for the law has led to the final disintegration of his family.
Because of his constant instigation of conflict, the ongoing domination of his family and his complete lack of respect for the law, the Snope family was doomed to a continual life of conflict. His desire to build his own self worth by the pain of others, has a profound effect on his family. The respect he desires was not to be found in his own home, his family responds to his wishes out of fear rather than respect. The break up of his family is his only legacy.