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’s Barn Burning Essay, Research Paper

William Faulkner’s ” Barn Burning ”

William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” presents a dichotomy of thought. On one hand, it is a heroic tragedy about Sarty Snopes growing into awareness and morality. On the other, it is a story describing a moribund southern aristocracy built on a tainted ante-bellum foundation of slavery and decaying on a post-war economic oppression of white agrarians. Sarty rightfully looks at this old order of life as a symbol of hope. However, to Abner Snopes, this way of life represents a bad crop lying system that kept sharecroppers in debt to merchants from birth to death and ask for extreme labor as the price for existence. Faulkner frequently reveals his sympathies with the characters who come of poor, white stock, who do not have enough resources and no money at all. People whom others rule and whose very existence is stolen from them and governed by others. Faulkner talks about racism and how one kind should try to stick to its own so that no one can try to take them apart. He shows us the motive in form of Sarty and Abner, both characters of the same family.

The story focuses on two members of the Snopes family: Abner Snopes, a poor sharecropper who takes out his frustrations against the post-Civil War aristocracy by burning barns, and his adolescent son, “Sarty,” who dislikes his father’s destructive behavior and ultimately must choose between family and morality. Sarty is torn between doing the right thing, which is telling the truth about his father, and staying loyal to his family. He does not want to lie for his father anymore, but feels like he has to because the right thing to do would be staying loyal to his family. What Sarty does not realize is that Abner does not really care about his family or what happens to them and that he only cares for himself. By Sarty running away, that is his way of showing that he really cares for his family, but he is not going to lie for his father anymore.

“Barn Burning” is a sad story because it very clearly shows the classical struggle between the “privileged” and the “underprivileged” classes. Time after time emotions of despair surface from both the protagonist and the antagonist involved in the story. This story outlines two distinct protagonists and two distinct antagonists. The first two are Colonel Sartoris Snopes as “Sarty” and his father Abner Snopes as “Ab”. Sarty is the protagonist surrounded by his father antagonism whereas Abner is the protagonist antagonized by the social structure and the struggle that is imposed on him and his family.

The economic status of the main characters is poor, without hope of improving their condition, and at the mercy of a quasi-feudal system in North America during the late 1800’s. Being a sharecropper, Abner and his family had to share half or two-thirds of the harvest with the landowner and out of their share pay for the necessities of life. As a result of this status, Abner and his family know from the start what the future will hold — hard work for their landlord and mere survival for them. No hope for advancement prevails throughout the story. Sarty, his brother and the twin sisters have no access to education, as they must spend their time working in the fields or at home performing familial duties. Nutrition is lacking “He could smell the coffee from the room where they would presently eat the cold food remaining from the mid-afternoon meal”. As a consequence, poor health combined with inadequate opportunity results in low morale. A morale that the writer is identifying with the middle class of his times “that same quality which in later years would cause his descendants to over-run the engine before putting a motor car into motion”. The Snope family manages to survive and find work. However, the work offers little other than a chance for survival “I reckon I’ll have a word with the man that aims to begin tomorrow owning me body and soul for the next eight months”. Like nomads they were forced to move constantly. Due to seasons and crop rotation, in order to secure work they had to reserve land with different landowners.

Abner’s emotional instability is a predominant factor contributing to his erratic behavior throughout the story. The family has moved a dozen times from farm to farm, and at times forced to forfeit their agreement with the landlord due to Abner’s unacceptable behavior. A behavior which throughout the story is transformed into a rebellion, by Abner smearing the landowner’s carpet with horse manure and then suing him for charging him too much for the damage. These acts symbolize frustration with the system and a radical approach to rebel against it. Knowing that punishment could not be avoided when committing such acts, Abner’s actions take on a more dramatic meaning as if he is trying to convey a message. He is aware of the economic injustice and he must respond even at the risk of him and his family being prosecuted or ostracized.

Abner’s constant rebellion is displayed by a rough, sour character and exemplified when he burns his landlord’s barn down. He feels despair and loss, and inflicts damage to whomever he happens to be working for. Although the story centers on the feelings and thoughts of Abner’s youngest son Sarty, the economic implications of his entire family play a vital role in justifying (not condoning) his father’s behavior, which is the pivotal reason for Sarty’s controversial feelings on which the whole story is based. Sarty’s main dilemma is his loyalty to his family that collides with his disappointment and suppressed dislike of his own father. He tends to hide his feelings by denying the facts, “our Enemy he though in that despair; ourn! mine and hisn both! He’s my Father!” and “The boy said nothing. Enemy! Enemy! he thought; for a moment he could not even see, could not see that the Justice’s face was kindly.”

The story’s emotional turns are clearly defined by Sarty’s thoughts and Abner’s actions.