William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” symbolizes the destructiveness of the human ego through the character, Abner Snopes. Throughout the story, Snopes functions and communicates based on his own logic. He has no regard for his family, superiors, or the judicial system. His unrelenting effort to live according to what he deems as “right” creates an atmosphere of fear and oppression.
Following the barn trial, Snopes’ demeanor towards his son, Colonel Sartoris, clearly demonstrates his use of fear and intimidation to gain respect and conformity within his family. Although, the young boy experiences physical and emotional trauma as a result of the trial, Abner fails to and will not allow his wife to express any form of empathy. However, he chastises his son by striking him and giving him a lecture about manhood. “You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you. Do you think either of them, any man there this morning, would? Don’t you know all they wanted was a chance to get at me because they knew I had them beat?” (Faulkner 501). Zender argues,
He is a dark imposing obstacle to his son’s development into his
own man. (28)
Abner’s attempt to provide fatherly guidance is actually an opportunistic moment to justify his strong beliefs. This domineering attitude not only affects Satoris but the entire family. Pinion suggests:
He gathers his family close about him, for they are the only
truth he knows, and attempts to make them see the world as
he does. (3)
He continues to validate his behavior as the story progresses. His effort to filter Sarty with his way of thinking continues. For example, when Snopes decides to converse with Major De Spain, he takes Sarty along with him. His actions toward Major de Spain’s family send an unnerving message about his perception of them. “He just stood stiff in the center of the rug, in his hat, the shaggy iron-gray brows twitching slightly above the pebble-colored eyes as he appeared to examine the house with brief deliberation. Then with the same deliberation he turned; the boy watched him pivot on the good leg and saw the stiff foot drag around the arc of the turning , leaving a final long and fading smear (Faulkner 505). He actually revels in the fact that he enters De Spain’s home disrespectfully and damages the rug.
As Snopes fights to control the dynamics of his family, he drives them into a state of oppression. He controls every entity of their lives. For instance, when he purposely stains Major De Spain’s rug, he assigns his daughters the duty of removing the stain. “From the
woodpile through the rest of the afternoon the boy...