Setting and Theme in Barn Burning Essay
1144 Words5 Pages
All stories, as all individuals, are embedded in a context or setting: a time, a place, and a culture. In fact, characters and their relationship to others are better understood in a specific context of time, place and atmosphere, as they relate to a proposed theme or central point of a story. Abner is revealed as a sadistic character who confronts his son with the choice of keeping his loyal ties to the family or parting for a life on his own with no familial support. Sarty is Abner's son, a young boy torn by the words of his father and the innate senses of his heart. Sarty is challenged by an internal conflict, he wants to disobey his father, yet he knows that if he leaves he will have nowhere to go and no one to turn to. We will…show more content…
Major de Spain lived the life of a wealthy southerner, a life that Abner would never have. When Major de Spain told Abner, "It cost a hundred dollars...but you never had a hundred dollars...you never will," it caused Abner to feel a greater sense of animosity toward de Spain because he knew himself that he was not the type of man fit to be the head of the household and probably never would be, which was why he felt that he had to burn down de Spain's barn. Sarty went along with all that his father did because of the impact of his father's words on him, "You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain't going to have any blood to stick to you." He also knew that they were of the poor class, struggling to put food on the table; as much as he disagreed he could not express himself. Sarty disagreed with everything his father did and wanted to tell him, but he knew that his father would leave him to fend for himself. Subconsciously Sarty admired de Spain's life, "peace and dignity were beyond his touch."
Faulkner himself defended Abner's character in an interview with Jane Hiles called "Blood Ties in "Barn Burning."" The Great Depression was a time when the poor felt "alienated from the politically and economically dominant groups" and focused primarily on the "feeling of blood, of clan, blood for blood." The family had to come together regardless of any criminal activity or immoral choices for the survival of the group. The interview
Faulkner uses setting to evoke the class distinctions that fuel Snopes’s deep resentment. The Snopes family lives in dire circumstances that are vastly different from the lifestyles of the landowning families for whom they work as sharecroppers, and the story hinges on Snopes’s destruction of property and violation of the home. Once content with avenging perceived injustices by burning a landowner’s barn, thus compromising his livelihood, Snopes begins avenging the vaguer wrongs that he feels he has endured simply by virtue of his poverty. At the de Spains’ opulent home, for example, he rudely forces his way inside, staining the rug with manure and then destroying it when he is ordered to clean it. He is avenging nothing: the de Spains were strangers when he walked into the house, strangers who had chosen to allow Snopes to reside on their property and sharecrop on their land. The story’s setting, including the Snopeses’ packed wagon and the expansive de Spain estate, highlights the outsider status of the Snopes family and ignites Snopes’s rage.
Another unique aspect of setting in “Barn Burning” is the courthouse, which is simply a general store that is used for legal proceedings. This is the place where justice is meted out to Snopes, where he is punished for avenging the injustices he believes he has endured. The fact that the courthouse isn’t a real courthouse just augments Snopes’s perception that he isn’t treated fairly, and it highlights his status as a rogue outsider—his own vigilante justice is punished in a haphazard fashion, within the law but also outside it. The idea of a courthouse that isn’t a courthouse appears again when Sartoris first sees the de Spains’ home. “Hit’s big as a courthouse,” he thinks to himself as the house comes fully into view. Because the only courthouse Sartoris has seen is likely the inside of the general store, the courthouse to which he compares the house is simply an image he has created in his imagination. His comparison suggests how removed Sartoris is from the world beyond the small sharecropping community in which the Snopes family lives.