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William Faulkner's Short Story Barn Burning

Essay by review  •  October 18, 2010  •  Essay  •  993 Words (4 Pages)  •  1,187 Views

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William Faulkner's short story "Barn Burning" describes a typical relationship between wealthy people and poor people during the Civil War. The main character, Abner Snopes, sharecrops to make a living for his family. He despises wealthy people. Out of resentment for wealthy people, he goes and burns their barns to get revenge. Abner's character over the course of the story is unchanging in that he is cold hearted, lawless, and violent.

First, Abner's unchanging character shows his cold heartedness. After being sentenced to leave the country for burning a man's barn, he shows no emotions to his family. During the story, there was not a time when he apologized or offered a word of encouragement to them. His tone of voice when talking to them is bitter and bossy, and he never said thank you. Later in the story after they had arrived at their next house, he orders his wife, her sister and his two daughters to unload the wagon. He walks with his son to DeSpain's house where he entered without given permission, and proceeded to wipe his feet that was covered with horse manure, thus staining the rug. "Abner moves through life with no regard for his fellow humans and with no respect for their right to material possessions" (731). After being told to clean the rug, Abner took a rock and further ruined it. His coldness is shown when he demands his two daughters to clean the rug in pots of lye and then hanging it to dry. Later in the evening Abner calls his son to get to return the rug to DeSpain. When Abner returned to DeSpain's house he threw the rug on the porch instead of knocking on the door and returning it to DeSpain properly. Abner was later charged for the damages he did to the rug. "This is enough to satisfy Abner yet again that the social system only works in behalf of the rich, and he sets out that night to redress this wrong by burning DeSpain's barn" (855).

Abner's unchanging character is evident not only in his role as being cold-hearted but also in his role as being lawless. "Barn Burning" makes an interesting case for Abner Snopes as the pitiable creation of the landed aristocracy, who seeks dignity and integrity for himself, although his only chance of achieving either would seem to lie in the democratic element of fire as the one defense available to all, regardless of social class"(855). Abner's act of breaking the law begins when he was supposed to be fighting in the Civil War, but instead he stole horses from both sides of the lines. When Abner returned home, he continued his act of breaking the law by committing arson. At the beginning of the story, Abner is in a makeshift courtroom where he is being tried for burning Mr. Harris' barn. There was no evidence to rule against Abner so he was advised to leave the country. "I aim to. I don't figure to stay in a country among people who..." (217). After sly remarks of "barn burner"(218) from a group of people standing near, Abner tells his family to get in the wagon and get ready for travel. Abner and his family traveled to their next house where things got off to a bad start. Just a few days had gone by and Abner took Major DeSpain to court claiming his fine was to high for the damage he did to his rug. The court ruled in DeSpain's favor fining him, "to

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