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Written as it was, at the ebb of the 1930s, a decade of social, economic, and cultural tumult, the decade of the Great Depression, William Faulkner's short story "Barn Burning" may be read and discussed in our classrooms as just that--a story of the '30s, for "Barn Burning" offers students insights into these years as they were lived by the nation and the South and captured by our artists.This story was first published in June of 1939 in Harper's Magazine and later awarded the 0.
We can focus on the description of the de Spain home and property, with its opulence and privilege, as representative of the Agrarians' version of "the good life." Early we need to emphasize and discuss the attraction of the young boy Colonel Sartoris Snopes to the security and comfort of this style, his attraction to his namesake's heritage.
In his rendition of the Sartoris-like agrarian society, Faulkner acknowledges its dichotomy: the injustice, the lack of fair play, the blacks' subservience, and the divisiveness within the community which empire builders like the Sartorises and the de Spains wrought.
This depiction of the agrarian society of the Sartoris family connects Faulkner to the nostalgic yearnings for a past expressed in I'll Take My Stand, the Fugitives' manifesto of 1930, a book opening the decade yet echoing sentiments of past decades.
At the start of our classroom discussion of "Barn Burning," we can explain the tenets of the Fugitives, their traditional, aristocratic attitudes, and their reverence for the landed gentry life style.
The boy Sarty responds to the big house with a "surge of peace and joy." Its bigness-"Hit's big as a courthouse"-to his fresh eyes seems to guarantee safety, dignity, and peace from the barn-burning menace of his father.
But the old, neatly dressed black servant in his linen jacket bars the door with his body and commands the father, who has deliberately put his foot down in a pile of fresh horse droppings, to "wipe ya foot, white man." Saying "Get out of my way, nigger," the father enters the house and imprints his besmeared footprints on the rug.
His supposed supremacy as a white man is challenged by the black servant who obviously holds a superior position in the doorway.
The black's appearance and his authoritorial position over Snopes within the confines of the house mock the Snopeses' claims to racial superiority.
Sarty experiences the interior of the house as a swirl of glittering chandeliers, gleaming gold frames, and curving carpeted stairs. de Spain is one of a woman "wiping cake or biscuit dough from her hands." Young Sarty falls under the spell of the house, its possessions, its security.
While the son imagines the house as a citadel secure against momentary stings from his father, "the buzzing wasp," the father Abner Snopes sees the house as "pretty and white," built on "sweat, nigger sweat. Maybe he [de Spain] wants to mix some white sweat with it." Abner Snopes understands full well the hardships, deprivation, and ignorance that the Southern social system has exacted.