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William Faulkner And Barn Burning

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“Rebellion, against not only rationalism but also against all traditional modes of understanding humanity, is the attitude forming the artistic backdrop as the twentieth-century begins. The perspective of the “modern” and of modernism in literature is that the rationalist project fails to produce answers to the deepest human questions, is doomed to failure, and that we are on our own for seeking answers to questions about human meaning.” (Mr. John Mays) Sarty Snopes in William Faulkner’s Barn Burning, explores these questions of human meaning, which ultimately classifies this modernistic short story. The dichotomy and differences between Sarty and Abner Snopes creates an undeniable tension within the character of Sarty, while he battles himself in order to decide which is more important: that which is right, or sticking to your own blood. The characters of Sarty and Abner embody the renewed modern man and his flawed predecessor respectively; once Sarty understands this, he is then able to see that he has the ability to break the blood bonds which are holding him back, and in this, realizes the fragile state of his power and powerlessness.

The story begins with Abner Snopes on trial for barn burning. Faulkner immediately establishes the character of the predecessor as a vile man, characterized by his “ravening and jealous rage.” (2182) And predictably, his business with barn burning was not an uncommon offense. Faulkner says, “But he did not think this now and he has seen those same niggard blazes all his life.” (2180) Ab Snopes tries ruthlessly to also make his son his equal, “You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you.” (2180-81) This blood bond between Sarty and Abner proves to be their only form of connection, and causes the conflict which Sarty confronts in Barn Burning. Abner embodies the flawed predecessors which give way to defining the modern man. The constant criticism and ultimate demise of Abner implies his flawed nature, and is a critique on the world by Faulkner. Abner does not think before he burns, he simply does. His ravenous character produces wanton acts of provocation and retribution, and his tyranny causes this need to control his son. In addition to this, Abner clearly has an overwhelming desire for his son’s affection. Each time he says to his son that he must “stick to [his] own blood,” it is a cry for his son to be proud of his heritage and of himself. Abner assigns himself the role of the teacher, and Sarty is the pupil. WHOEVER writes, “When Ab takes Sarty into the de Spain house for the first time, he engages in two acts of instruction, both of which are aimed at overthrowing his son’s naÐ"Їve, inarticulate view of the house as exhibiting вЂ?peace and dignity… beyond [Ab’s] touch.’ The house is not beyond his touch, Ab says, because whiteness can always be marked by the merde of his anger. It is not beyond his touch in a more profound way as well, one that holds the possibility of creating allegiance not simply through fear, but through empathy, and shared understanding.” (52-53) Abner is unable to establish this allegiance because he uses fear instead of empathy. However, the characteristics of Abner, and his failing as a teacher-figure are essential in the development of Sarty, who indeed has the ability to overcome the pressure to become like his father, embodying the characteristics of Abner, and realizing that his heritage is not something to be proud of.

The plot of Barn Burning entails the struggle Sarty undergoes to achieve freedom. This struggle can be seen in Sarty’s refusal to wipe the blood off of his face after the trial, “’Can’t you wipe off some of the blood off before hit dries?’ вЂ?I’ll wash to-night,’ he said. вЂ?Lemme be, I tell you.вЂ™Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (Faulkner, 2180) Sarty obviously struggles with his family ties, and does not know whether the abuse is worth standing up for someone simply because they are family. He nearly gave up his father to the authorities just prior to this incident, which further implies his struggle. Barn Burning “affirms the possibility of the transmission of values from one generation to the next, but at the expense of avoiding one of the more important questions about family life in our time: how fathers may legitimately and successfully teach their sons.” (56) Sarty is reluctant to take his father’s advice because of Abner’s fallen nature, and through this Faulkner explains his view on the modern man: man has the ability to break away from the past, and the past is vile and crude, according to the character of Abner. And although Sarty may have the ability to break free, he is presented with a horrible decision: to tell

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