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A critical approach to barn burning (by william faulkner)

A Critical Approach To "Barn Burning" (by William Faulkner)

"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 ("Sarty") and his father

Abner Snopes ("Ab"). Sarty is the protagonist surrounded by his father

antagonism whereas Ab 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, Ab 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, Ab 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" (PARA. 55).

As a consequence, poor health combined with inadequate opportunity results in

low morale. A morale which 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" (PARA. 20)

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" (PARA 40). 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.

Ab'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 Ab's unacceptable behavior. A behavior which throughout the story is

transformed into a rebellion, by Ab 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, Ab'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.

Ab'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 Ab'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 which 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!" (PARA. 1) 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." (PARA. 10).

The story's emotional turns are clearly defined by Sarty's thoughts and

Ab's actions. Sarty's dilemma and Ab's frustrations continually grab the reader,

serving up a series of emotionally laden dilemmas: Given the circumstances of

the story, is Ab's barn burning justified? Should Sarty tell the landlord that

Ab was responsible for burning down the barn? Is the outdated sociological "

Blaming the Victim" theory valid? Is the lose-win arrangement between

sharecropper and landowner a morally acceptable one?

Burning a barn or any act of economic despair in the form of vandalism

is definitely not condoned. However the strange thing is the all of these

questions need not to be asked, if economic injustice was not prevalent

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