An of separation within the local community.
An Analysis of Faulkner’s Barn BurningSept. 9, 2004Engl 320Essay #2Abner Snopes faces the undignified position of sharecropper withuninhibited yet calculated bitterness and fury. In relation to class, hisfamily has little more status than a servant.
Abner feels he has been donean injustice in being handed a life of servitude. This reality iscontrasted with his yearning to be in the position of power, a desire thathe indulges at the expense of his family. Faulkner’s short story, “BarnBurning” clearly confronts the theme of conflict between classes.
The Snopes family owns one wagonload of possessions, which arereferred to as the “sorry residue of the dozen or more movings…
(375).”They include what was once the mother’s small dowry: a clock, inlaid withmother-of-pearl that long ago stopped running. The fact that Mrs. Snopes’dowry is now broken emphasizes how poorly she has fared since hermarriage. The stopped clock is a recurring symbol of perpetuation in thestory.Abner despises the life he leads is the lower class, yet hisactions prevent him and his family from any enjoyment their life couldcreate. The survival of the family and continued ownership of their goodsare by no means assured, as the family and pitiful wagon move from place toplace following the unstable and unreliable breadwinner they depend on.
After moving to a new plantation for the 12th time in Sarty’s tenyears, Abner and his son Colonel Sartoris go to meet the master of theplantation on which they will sharecrop. The encounter at the doorway ofthe de Spain mansion between the Snopes father and son and the de Spainblack house servant exemplifies the social injustice that Abner feels soconstantly. It is this social inequity, class distinction, and the economicinequality against which Abner Snopes’ barn burning strikes. At thismoment young Sarty becomes conscious of the reality of class differences,the root of separation within the local community. He responds to the bighouse with a “surge of peace and joy.” He thinks to himself, “hit’s big asa courthouse” and the mansion, to his innocent eyes seems to guaranteesafety, dignity, and peace from the ferocity and vengeance of his father(377).
The old black servant, ” with neat grizzled hair, in a linen jacketbars the door with his body and commands Abner, who has deliberately puthis foot down in a pile of fresh horse droppings, to “wipe yo foots, whiteman”(377).Sarty experiences the interior of the house, “…deluged as if by awarm wave by a..
.pendant glitter of chandeliers and a mute gleam of goldframes…” (378). Sarty is taken by the house, its possessions and itssecurity, but while Sarty imagines the house as a sanctuary, secure againsthis father’s malevolence, Abner Snopes sees the house as a symbol of hisinferiority.
He describes it to Sarty as “pretty and white,” and he drawsthe parallel between his position in society and that of the Negroservants, saying “…that’s sweat, nigger sweat. Maybe it ain’t whiteenough yet to suit him. Maybe he wants to mix some white sweat with it”(378).The encounter at the door of the white aristocrat’s mansion not onlyaccentuates class distinctions within the white race, but also emphasizesthe superior position of the black servant over the poor white tenantfarmer.
At the de Spain mansion, the finer quality of the black’sgarments, his position within the house, and his power to deny a white manentrance increase the racial tensions. In Abner’s time, the quality of lifeof the poor whites and that of the blacks are too similar: whites may claimracial superiority but not class superiority. Poor whites can now be ownedas blacks were. The racial element in the doorway only fuels Abner’srage.
His supposed supremacy as a white man is challenged by a blackservant who obviously holds a position of superiority in the doorway.Abner Snopes understands too well the hardships, deprivation, andignorance that the Southern social system has brought about. At the heartof Abner’s defiance is his awareness that de Spain, in a way, is his masterwho will own him, “..
.body and soul for the next eight months” (376). Hisoutrage at his plight as tenant farmer fuels Abner’s rebellion against theclass structure. To attack the aristocratic class, Abner Snopesdeliberately builds his fires to first destroy the expensive rug belongingto his mistress, and then burn the master’s property. Between the de Spainmansion and the Snopes tenant farmer possessions and vagrancy is a clearcontrast that highlights the terrible divide between owner and tenant.Faulkner’s Barn Burning portrays poverty, inequality, and lack offreedom and opportunity.
These were common issues after the Civil War andthe collapse of the slavery institution. Abner is obsessed with therealization that no matter how hard he works in the fields, he will neverbe able to earn enough to become a powerful, wealthy landowner like deSpain and the others who employ him. Abner’s family fall victim to hispatriarchal abuse and their subordination is parallel to their extremelyinferior position in society and the family power structure. Works CitedFaulkner, William.
Barn Burning. The Compact Bedford Introduction toLiterature. Ed. Michael Meyer.
Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003. 373-385