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Barn Burning: Abner Snopes Character Analysis

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 the amount of ten bushels of corn over and above your contract with him, to be paid to him out of your crop at gathering time” (226), thus setting off Abner’s anger. As a result he set out that night and put DeSpain’s barn on fire. Finally Abner’s unchanging character is revealed not only in his role as being cold-hearted and lawless but also as violent. It is seen throughout the story that Abner’s act of burning barns is violent.

Abner slaps his son when it is evident that he was about to tell the truth about Mr. Harris’ barn. His son’s simple reply of yes saved him from more torture beatings from his father. While paying a non-welcomed visit to Major DeSpain’s house, he enters the house, “flinging the door back and the Negro also and entering, his hat still on his head” (221). This showed that Abner has no remorse for anyone. This started the incident with the rug, which later led to the burning of DeSpain’s barn. He shoves his wife away when she tugs at his arm and tries to restrain him.

Intending to guard against Satry’s betrayal, he picks up his son by the back of the shirt and hands him to his wife. He orders he to hold on to him and not let him run away. After Snopes leaves the house with his older son and the can of kerosene, Sarty escapes from his mother and runs to the house of Major DeSpain. The Major, informed by Sarty of the danger, finds Snopes and his other son and shoots them before they can burn his barn (731). This event sparked the end of the violent acts of Abner, forever. The cold hearted, lawless, and violent roles Abner Snopes plays throughout the story, shows his unchanging character.

The story portrays how a poor man feel’s when the law is based on taking the rich man’s side. It follows him from being a cold-hearted father and husband to a lawless and violent man, which, towards the end of the story, leads him to the death of himself. Things today are better than they were back during the Civil War. People are still categorized by how much money they have. But, because of better law enforcement and court systems, people can not get away with the so-called revenge and hatred, as portrayed by the acts of Abner in the story.

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