Faulkner’s use of the character Abner Snopes in “Barn Burning” to illustrate the limits that society will tolerate the “blaming the world for one’s wrong actions”


By  Johndoe Student















Faulkner’s use of the character Abner Snopes in “Barn Burning” to illustrate the limits that society will tolerate the “blaming the world for one’s wrong actions”


In many of his works of fiction, William Faulkner explores the lives of characters who 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 what happens when individuals lose their connection to this society and its values.  Abner Snopes, a rebellious sharecropper with a Barn Burning past, is the main character who acts as antagonist in the story while being a victim in his mind.  Abner Snopes, who was a thief and coward even before the end of the Civil War,  is now isolated from his previous pride, identity, and sense of self by the new equality and values that invade his world.  As a result, Snopes feels free to completely blame the world for his actions, and violates moral rules without regret in the society he no longer accepts.


Abner Snopes voluntarily rejects his society’s values from the beginning of the setting of the story.  During the Civil War, he does not fight alongside the Confederate army; instead, he shows (but never admits) selfishness in stealing from both sides for his own personal gain.  He is finally caught by “society” when a Confederate policeman shoots him in the heel as Snopes tries to escape on a stolen horse.  Unable to see his own fault in that episode, Abner uses his injury as an excuse for a personal vendetta against society.  Because he has a wife and three children, Snopes must go back and interact in the society he would rather see razed to the ground.  To deal with this conflict, Snopes deludes himself, seeing every wrong and misery that happens as some injustice done to him, which he will fix with barn burning.


            The conflict between his rebellious nature, self-perceived “victim” status, and his need to work as a sharecropper make him unstable.  This inability to function in society, and hair trigger want to retaliate against anyone that points out when he is responsible for a situation, makes it easy for Snopes to feel free to violate society’s rules.  Snopes’ way of spitting in the face of society becomes his one answer to any perceived insult or attack: barn burning.


Abner’s impotent rage and search for vengeance push him to lash out violently at almost anyone with whom he comes in contact, but his actions are framed (in his mind) as revenge, not as evil.  His method of destruction comes in the form of fire, which he uses to threaten, not to kill.  Snopes’ does not use fire to kill because he still has to participate in society, and in his mind he is always the victim, not a criminal: barn burning is justice in his mind, and Snopes’ still sees himself as a man forced to function in a corrupt world.  His method is to allow a situation to provoke, create an imagined wrong, then conveniently forget that he started the situation, so that he might vent with barn burning in the name of symbolically righting all the wrongs done to him in life.


Both barn burnings in the story illustrate Snopes’ provoke, deny he started it, and avenge, justification.  In the first incident, Mr. Harris, a landowner, finds that Abner’s hog ate a section of his corn crop.  When Harris demands a dollar pound fee for the return of the hog, Abner sends him a threatening message: “Wood and hay kin burn.”  Despite Harris’ efforts to resolve the dispute, Snopes is determined to carry out his threat because Snopes justifies all his acts as justice or actions forced upon him, while the barn burning is actually his lashing out at the world for his many problems – something that feels good for Snopes.


Though Snopes feels no remorse in what he does, society will eventually not stand for his blame game as justification for his barn burnings. Abner Snopes’ son, Sarty, is a firsthand witness to the next barn burning and is put in the role of societal judge.  Sarty is caught in a moral dilemma, pulled between the values of the community and his loyalty to his father.  Rather than inherit the alienated condition of his father, Sarty chooses society, turning his father in to plantation owner Major De Spain.  Sarty realizes what Abner Snopes does not: you can function at the edge of a society, defy a society and violate a community’s rules to a point because you feel you are a special case, specifically a victim, but you cannot escape responsibility forever.  Society now will remove Snopes’ delusional, selfish, victim-seeking-revenge status and force him to face reality: he is a petty evil man who rejecting but still working in society, must now face real laws and punishment for his blame game justified crimes.




Comments:  Grade 91/100 = A.


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