The Injustice of Class Distinction


An Analysis of Faulkner’s Barn Burning



Sept. 9, 2004


Engl 320


Essay #2









Abner Snopes faces the undignified position of sharecropper with uninhibited yet calculated bitterness and fury. In relation to class, his family has little more status than a servant. Abner feels he has been done an injustice in being handed a life of servitude. This reality is contrasted with his yearning to be in the position of power, a desire that he indulges at the expense of his family. Faulkner’s short story, “Barn Burning” clearly confronts the theme of conflict between classes.


The Snopes family owns one wagonload of possessions, which are referred to as the “sorry residue of the dozen or more movings… (375).” They include what was once the mother’s small dowry: a clock, inlaid with mother-of-pearl that long ago stopped running. The fact that Mrs. Snopes’ dowry is now broken emphasizes how poorly she has fared since her marriage. The stopped clock is a recurring symbol of perpetuation in the story. Abner despises the life he leads is the lower class, yet his actions prevent him and his family from any enjoyment their life could create. The survival of the family and continued ownership of their goods are by no means assured, as the family and pitiful wagon move from place to place following the unstable and unreliable breadwinner they depend on.


After moving to a new plantation for the 12th time in Sarty’s ten years, Abner and his son Colonel Sartoris go to meet the master of the plantation on which they will sharecrop. The encounter at the doorway of the de Spain mansion between the Snopes father and son and the de Spain black house servant exemplifies the social injustice that Abner feels so constantly. It is this social inequity, class distinction, and the economic inequality against which Abner Snopes\' barn burning strikes. At this moment young Sarty becomes conscious of the reality of class differences, the root of separation within the local community. He responds to the big house with a "surge of peace and joy." He thinks to himself, “hit\'s big as a courthouse” and the mansion, to his innocent eyes seems to guarantee safety, dignity, and peace from the ferocity and vengeance of his father (377). The old black servant, “ with neat grizzled hair, in a linen jacket bars the door with his body and commands Abner, who has deliberately put his foot down in a pile of fresh horse droppings, to "wipe yo foots, white man”(377).


Sarty experiences the interior of the house, “…deluged as if by a warm wave by a…pendant glitter of chandeliers and a mute gleam of gold frames…” (378). Sarty is taken by the house, its possessions and its security, but while Sarty imagines the house as a sanctuary, secure against his father’s malevolence, Abner Snopes sees the house as a symbol of his inferiority. He describes it to Sarty as "pretty and white," and he draws the parallel between his position in society and that of the Negro servants, saying “…that’s sweat, nigger sweat. Maybe it ain\'t white enough yet to suit him. Maybe he wants to mix some white sweat with it” (378).


The encounter at the door of the white aristocrat’s mansion not only accentuates class distinctions within the white race, but also emphasizes the superior position of the black servant over the poor white tenant farmer. At the de Spain mansion, the finer quality of the black’s garments, his position within the house, and his power to deny a white man entrance increase the racial tensions. In Abner’s time, the quality of life of the poor whites and that of the blacks are too similar: whites may claim racial superiority but not class superiority. Poor whites can now be owned as blacks were. The racial element in the doorway only fuels Abner’s rage. His supposed supremacy as a white man is challenged by a black servant who obviously holds a position of superiority in the doorway.


Abner Snopes understands too well the hardships, deprivation, and ignorance that the Southern social system has brought about. At the heart of Abner\'s defiance is his awareness that de Spain, in a way, is his master who will own him, “…body and