Barn burning is centered on Abner Snopes and his actions. His actions throughout the story show a man full of anger. Snopes seems to be angered by the mere existence of other people. He reacts in unexpected ways exhibiting a lot of bitterness. When his neighbor, Harris, complained about Snopes pig getting to his corn farm, Abner ignored him. He refused to fence his pen even after receiving free wire from Harris (William 4). This can be interpreted to show that Snopes wanted to continue disturbing the peace of Harris by letting his pig loose. When the court judge asks him to leave the county to avoid more trouble, Abner does not take it as a privilege because he has not been fined for burning the barn but only asked to leave.
He sees it as an unwelcome order. This is shown by his response to the judge’s statement. He quickly explained that he already had plans to leave the county even before the order from the judge (William 5). He even adds some vilifying words addressed to the people present but to no one in particular. In this scene, Abner wants to defy the authority of the judge by showing everybody that he is moving according to his plans and not because of the judge’s order (Hans and Faulkner 11). His defiance of authority is also seen when he appears to court again. The judge finds him guilty of spoiling De Spain’s rug and orders him to pay 10 bushels of corn instead of 20. He declares that he will not pay any corn to his employer right outside the courtroom. His anger is also portrayed by his actions in De Spain’s house. He knowingly drugged dung with his feet despite warning from Sarty and smeared it on the white dust rug at the entrance to De Spain’s house (William 16). Faulkner developed the angry character to help him build the main themes in his story. While Abner’s anger seems to be a personal problem, a closer look into the story reveals that the source of Abner’s anger lies in problems that have been deeply embedded in society. In this essay, the themes of class difference in society, racism and betrayal as experienced in the Southern region after the 1890s civil war are discussed as the main sources of Abner’s anger.
Class difference is painted all over Faulkner’s story. From the beginning of the story, the reader is introduced to the economic state of Abner’s family. The family is depicted as a low-class family in society with an economic ability that does not allow the family to lead a very comfortable life. The first instance showing the state of Abner’s family is in the courtroom when Sarty, Abner’s son constantly thinks about food instead of concentrating on the court proceedings (William 3). He believes he smells some cheese and meat and when he peeped at the shelves he saw fish adding to his yearning. Despite the room being filled by people, the young Sartys is the only one who is disturbed by the smell and sight of food. This indicates that he does not have these expensive foods at home often enough. Again, it can be said that Abner owns just one pig. This is because it is only one pig that escaped to Haris’ corn farm despite Abner’s pen having no fence to restrain any other pigs in it from going with it.
It later comes to the attention of the reader that Abner works at the farms of wealthy people as a farm aid an example being the work he secured at De Spain’s farm. There is a conspicuous difference in the life of Abner and his rich neighbors and employees. Harris, for instance, has money to buy Abner a free roll of wire to fence his pen (Hans and Faulkner 9). De Spain, the new employer lives in a big mansion in his plantation. There is a stark difference between Abner and De Spain’s houses despite them being on the same plantation. The two men and their families live in different social classes. De Spain belongs to the upper class while Abner belongs to the low class (Matthew 83). The difference in social class makes Abner feel inferior. Because Abner feels inferior to his upper-class neighbors and employers, he becomes bitter and makes it his business to annoy them as a compensatory behavior. Faulkner, therefore, used the character of Abner to address the effects of social class difference in the South.
Another social issue that has been well addressed in Faulkner’s story is racial segregation and prejudice. In the story, it is noted that there were white sharecroppers in the south. A majority of the sharecroppers were black slaves. This declaration shows the first degree of racism. After the civil war, black slaves who were brought to America resorted to working on the farms of wealthy whites for lack of better ways of earning income (Hans and Faulkner 8). In the hard economic era after the civil war, some whites found it hard to sustain their families. They also sought employment as sharecroppers at the farms of the wealthier whites. The idea brought here is that only blacks were meant to work in the poor standards of sharecroppers.
The narrator expresses that whites were not expected to work as sharecroppers and they only did that as a result of the war. This was a deeply rooted prejudice that placed the blacks as lesser people in society (Matthew 82). Viewing them as inferior made the whites distance themselves from the blacks. The racial segregation is also shown by Abner’s behavior. He thinks that he is superior to the other sharecroppers just because he is white and they are black. He proudly says that his sweat cannot mix with that of the niggers (John 21). Faulkner has tactfully used Abner’s anger to show how the whites despised the blacks and believed they were better than them even when they are of the same socioeconomic status.
Part of Abner’s anger is a result of betrayal. Being white, Abner expected to have an easier way through life. He, however, found himself in a predicament working as a sharecropper amongst black slaves. He feels betrayed by the world and tries to get even with anyone he feels has been unfair to him. After the first court session, Abner is very angry at his son. He struck Satrys on the side of the head (Hans and Faulkner 12). Such anger towards a ten-year-old is unexplainable until the reader understands the reason for Abner’s actions. Earlier on, the young Sartys had shown signs of telling the judge the truth about his father’s burning of the barn. When confronted, he admits that he was going to tell on his father.
Abner is angered by his son betrayal. He warns him to learn to stand with blood relations when they are in trouble so that they can stand with him at the moments of need (Jane 331). The young Sartoris is however adamant about his principle of honesty. He shows his decision to betray his father when he runs to the courtroom and shouts he burnt it’ before being dragged out (Hans and Fulkner 6). Another case of betrayal is seen later when Sartys runs to warn De Spain about his father’s plan to burn his barn. The warning is however too late. Although Sartys is the protagonist in the story, Sarty’s actions of betrayal are good reasons for Abner to express anger and dissatisfaction towards his son and any other person who seems to be against him.
Although Barn burning is a book of many twists, putting the story in the contest of the Southern region after the civil war is a good way of understanding the meaning that the author intended for his audience. The book addresses some of the critical issues that affected society at that time. He uses two main characters to build the enchanting story which highlights the betrayal, social class differences, and racial segregation and prejudice. Abner’s social status places him together with black slaves which is not good for his ego. He is bitter towards everyone who seems to be doing better than him and does things to hurt the people that try to do things against his wishes.
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