Professor Michael Lewis
American Literature II
30 April 2013
Faulkner’s Abner Snopes: Historical and Psychological Analysis
In many of his works of fiction, William Faulkner explores the lives of characters that live in the closed society of the American South, particularly at the point in time when its traditions and values are being changed and challenged by new, urban, sometimes Northern values. In the story, “Barn Burning,” Faulkner explores southern social themes, what happens when individuals lose their connection to this society and its values, and the significance of the “barn burning” phenomena, and how psychologically stimulating it is to Abner, and how this affects his son Sarty.
“Barn Burning was written in the early1930s this was a decade of the Great Depression and social and economic turmoil. This story offers readers insight into the years of the early South. In these readings, society is blamed for Abner’s 's barn burning, rebellious personality (Loges). He is struggling against the oppressive economic restraints placed on him, and at the same time represents the new face of the South, rising against the old aristocratic order (Loges). The second courtroom scene in which de Spain exacts a payment of "twenty bushels of corn against your crop" for the ruined rug can be discussed in the context of de Spain's use of the words "contract" and "commissary." The economic and legal authority exerted by the owner in this system of repressive, old-fashioned privilege which creates the near impossibility of the tenant's ever "getting out from under" will then become more understandable for readers to grasp the context and comprehend what was going on in the 1930s. This illustrates the oppressive factor going on with Sarty and Mr. Snopes as well as many other poverty-stricken individuals during that time. The contrast between the de Spain mansion and the Snopes tenant farmer shack highlights the terrible divide between owner and tenant in the '30s. Here in "Barn Burning" the small, impoverished and illiterate ten-year-old boy, ill-nourished on cold food and dressed in clean but faded, patched jeans, has experienced home as a succession of identical "unpainted two room houses, "tenant farmer hovels, for the Snopeses have moved a dozen times through poor country.
What was more evident to me of the social divide, was very prominent in the 1930s was the class distinction. Especially in the encounter at the white aristocrats mansion, which draws attention to the superior status of the black house servant over the poor white tenant farmer. Here the finer quality of the black's attire, his position within the house, and his power to deny the white entrance heighten the racial tensions. Poor "white sweat" may mix with "nigger sweat." The quality of life of the poor whites and that of the blacks are too similar: whites may now claim a racial superiority but not class superiority. Poor whites, too, can be "owned" as blacks were. The racial element in the doorway encounter only fuels the father's rage all the more. The black servant who obviously holds a superior position in the doorway challenges his supposed supremacy as a white man. The black's appearance and his authoritarian position over Snopes within the confines of the house mock the Synopses' claims to racial superiority.
Mississippi's was one of the poorest states in the 1930s, a state with an unmatched record of racial atrocities, a state where poor whites and blacks scraped at the bottom of the economic barrel, and where the racial tensions exploded in rage and violence. These historic facts can lead to a clearer understanding of why Abner Snopes acts as he does here. Yet equally the cluster of words like "ruthless," "bloodless," "stiff," "cut from tin," and "iron like" surrounding Abner Snopes suggests the metallic, inhuman, mechanical identity Faulkner also recognizes in Snopes. Any love, pity, and...