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The Actions Of Characters In Abner Snopes

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1717 words Published: 4th May 2017

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Faulkner uses selective diction and the actions of characters to present Abner Snopes as a sympathetic character. Abner is static, but can be interpreted as very deep, troubled, and justified in his actions as a man with little power who cares for his family and their honor.

Abner Snopes is not a model husband, parent, or individual. Nor is he a ruthless abuser in the mold of Mark Twain's Pap Finn. Crocker and Evans note that "Barn Burning" is seen through the eyes of a son struggling for independence from a domineering parent. Abner was the dominant figure, as his wife Lennie was hardly mentioned and had a fear and respect for Abner's wishes. But this was the way of the times, not to mention Faulkner placing little importance on his traditionally weak female characters anyway. Abner wanted so much more than he had and wanted to do so much more than he was able. His envy of the De Spain house and what it represented to him does not excuse his defiling of the rug, but it does explain his logical and emotional processes in doing so. Abner seeks control in any way he can get it, and be it a small act of disrespect or a dangerous arson; he needs to feel like he has that control to offset the degradation he feels in his everyday life. When Abner says "Well, I guess it's time to go see the man who'll be ownin' me body and soul for the next eight months" it is the emotional highlight of the story and the reader feels the helplessness, desperation, and drudgery with which Abner lets out this tired sigh of a statement. Again, this is an opportunity for the reader to feel sympathy for Abner, but he is difficult to like because of his many personality flaws and abusive behavior. This does not take away his appeal as a multifaceted, interesting, and indeed sympathetic figure.

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Abner's method of operation when it came to seeking control is to use fire. He strikes his family, hits them, as well, but that doesn't offer the widespread and lasting damage that fire does. He is a frail man and can't outmuscle everyone he conflicts with. He is a poor man and can't afford a gun or even ammunition. But fire is easy and readily available. Jim McCue writes that Abner's fires are a psychological affliction and "[To Abner], this appears to have no more than novelty value."This may be true. Abner may be simply a deranged man who enjoys setting fire to barns and the act has little meaning towards the rebellion of his socioeconomic status. But Faulkner writes that "The element of fire spoke to the mainspring of his father's being […] as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity […], and hence to be regarded with respect and used with discretion. (1193)." This explains why Abner would build such small fires to heat his home, because fire was too precious to be use liberally. These heating fires were described as shrewd, that is they were designed to burn for as long as possible with as little wood as possible. The word shrewd has a negative connotation when describing a human being, implying greed, underhandedness, and scheming. Shrewd is a word that could describe Abner surely, but he is shrewd in the sense of the fires he builds, not in the sense of the modern-day connotation. He gets as much as he can from what he has and is not beyond sacrificing his popularity to do what he feels is best. These home fires were also described as niggard, meaning provided in limited supply or grudgingly granting heat. But one cannot help notice the mechanics of the word and place it akin to the slaves Abner would come in contact with. Matthew Lessig expounds on this, saying Faulkner purposely chose this phrase to create a likeness of Abner Snopes the poor, white sharecropper and the slaves he shared a job with. Abner Snopes was clearly not an abolitionist, but it is unclear whether or not he was a racist when compared to what a racist was in the Reconstruction South. He did not so much oppose black rights as he did get angered by the idea that a group of people who had no rights had seemingly become equal to him, and in some cases like the house slaves of the De Spain plantation, passed him up. But Abner's acts of rebellion cannot be associated with the world views of the Confederacy, which he showed no loyalty to when the opportunity to further his own gains showed itself. No, as Lessig explains, "he senses that a white tenant who destroys a planter's goods cannot do so in the name of his whole class, because that acknowledgment would render his class body more black than white." Faulkner describes Ab's silhouette walking back from the De Spain house as "black, flat and bloodless as though cut from tin." This is again an example of Abner's multifaceted character presented by Faulkner, because flat, bloodless, and cut from tin move Abner back into his preconceived character traits of hard, unfeeling, and tough. But to describe the shadow as black, which shadows are, shortly after Abner has both desecrated a planters luxury rug, but previously insulted a house slave, reinforces Abner's strongest and most enduring trait: no affiliation with anything that will not further his own honor, his own family, and his own legacy. He cannot associate himself with the upper class white planters because he is poor, and he will not associate himself with the slaves because he is white.

Abner's relationship with his family is typical, if not functional. He is the alpha male, the provider, the disciplinarian. He wants to teach his boys the value of blood, hard work, and dignity. He wants to provide for his family with the work of his own back. He is not overly successful at any of these things, but it is the fault of his abilities, not his intentions. His set of morals are powerful guidelines for him, they just are not the same set of morals Sarty has. Sarty's morals can be described as an abstract sense of what is right and wrong, as opposed to Abner's small set of rules and guidelines that like his idiom, "you got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain't going to have any blood to stick to." This is attributable to the generational gap between most children, who are more idealistic, and adults, who seek stricter, more structured plans. Thomas Bertonneau explains that "Sarty now understands that the blood-bond entails his acquiescence in his father's violence and his own submission to an authority whose demonic character he begins to recognize… The nature of that authority is suggested by his mother's pathetic cries when she divines that Abner is about to go incendiary again." Sarty's objection to Abner's violent ways may outweigh his father's belief of sticking to one's own blood, but that is not a demonization of Abner. It is merely a comparison of two characters' dissimilarity in priorities. Joseph Flora explains the relationship between Abner and his sons' in his overview, saying that for Sarty; there may be things that go beyond family loyalty. Abner disagrees and takes Sarty with him to see Major DeSpain-intending to make his son see DeSpain as the oppressor. Sarty of course did not see the De Spain house this way, rather it was as Bertonneau says, "Sarty sees the manor as an image of order, 'as big as a courthouse', and exuding a 'spell of peace.'" The notion of peace contrasts with Abner's imposition of constant movement or relocation such that he is a terror on his family. Sarty views Abner's acts as a willful disruption of the manorial serenity. This failed action of attempting to gain sympathy from his son and shed light on what he felt was an oppressive system is again an opportunity for the reader to feel sympathy for Abner, but he dismisses that chance by disrupting what Sarty saw as a vision of beauty. But it is impossible for Abner to remove every chance the reader has to pity him or even identify with him simply by flaunting his darker side.

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It is a difficult task to view Abner Snopes in a positive light. He is by no means likeable. He was called a hero, but shows little signs of being heroic. But to feel sympathy for someone, one must identify with them on a personal level, understand their plight, and believe in the validity and importance of their cause. Abner Snopes was a participant in the Great Civil War, but he cannot be quantified as a soldier despite serving in Colonel Sartoris' cavalry. Faulkner says that Abner was "a private in the fine old European sense . . . giving fidelity to no man or army or flag." His time as a horse trader robbed him of that. After the gunshots and Abner's supposed death, Sarty screams his acceptance of Abner as his Father, more than his Pap. He cries out that Abner "was brave." Zender qualifies Sarty's claim as being a prisoner of the moment, explaining that the positive attributes Sarty gives to Abner are terms without positive content, because such terms so casually alluded to can encompass the after-trauma of inadvertent father-slaughter or the injustice of Sarty's family's subjection to the experience of tenant farming. This is one of two interpretations that Sarty was simply building up his father as what he wanted him to be, but that is giving both Sarty and Abner very little credit. Were it true that Sarty was simply in the moment, it is very unlikely he would begin creating a false persona for Abner when he could simply be mourning his father-figure. It is more likely then, that Sarty believed his statements to be true. And if Abner had made the impression on his son that he was indeed a hero, brave, and justified in his actions, and if the reader does give Sarty the credit both as a 10-year-old boy and as a man years later in his positive interpretation of looking back at Abner, then it is fair to say that Faulkner does intend to present Ab Snopes as a deeply flawed and conflicted character, but one with enough positive values and traits that survived a sad, oppressed living to educate his sons in his concept of family and loyalty when applied to their own sets of priorities. It is sad to think how different Abner's life could have been had he been a more willing communicator. Where can the reader find sympathy invested in "Barn Burning?" Faulkner cruelly provides it in Sarty, and in Ab, but never, sadly, in the two of them together.


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