An explicit or implicit argument presented in a short story
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Due to the fact that society is greatly stratified and each class has its own distinct social characteristics, social class also shapes human worldview, including beliefs, stereotypes, prejudices and priorities. Social class also determines the person’s attitude towards individuals from higher and lower circles as well as the degree of submission to the societal hierarchy. In “Barn Burning”, William Faulkner implies that social class is among the defining factors of human behavior, as socioeconomic background is associated with certain culture and social practices, which might become pathological when the person fails to develop commitment to community or family.
The short story narrates about a poor rural family through the eyes of a young boy. The main focus is placed upon the family’s head, who appears to have pyromania and given his impulsive nature, he uses his passion for burning to revenge his offenders. His unusual pride as for such a lazy person from the social bottom is hyperbolized; for instance, after being treated by his employer without proper respect, the protagonist soils his carpet “haute couture”. Further, as the conflict develops, he attempts to burn the master’s burn, but his young son, the narrator, manages to warn him. As a result, the protagonist is killed.
Speaking about Abner Snops, it is important to provide his basic social profile. In fact, the father of the protagonist in “Barn Burning” is a so-called proletarian, which could be translated from Latin into English as “a person who has nothing to lose except their children”. As for the American society with its inherent interpersonal boundaries, defined precisely by class, Abner can be described as a marginal: “He (the father) always did. There was something about his wolflike independence and even courage, when the advantage was at least neutral, which impressed strangers, as if they got from his latent ravening ferocity not so much a sense of dependability as a feeling that his ferocious conviction in the rightness of his own actions would be of advantage to all whose interest lay with his” (Faulkner, 2005). As one can understand, the man’s anarchism is obvious: given that he was probably brought up by the family, in which individuals achievements, career progress and hard work for the accumulation of resources were viewed as “humiliating”, he nowadays experiences almost animal hatred for wealthy of successful people like his employer: whereas Abner himself never recognized any rule or management over himself as well as the social hierarchy in general, he might view those, who have upgraded within the system, as basically its devoted servants. As for his lifestyle, Abner, in spite of the presence of a considerable family, never tries to settle down, since his underage son notes that he has lived in dozens of shanty two-room houses already, so one can conclude that he engages with certain employment only for the purpose of earning his own and his household’s living. Examining the characters of his children, it is possible to assume that he is essentially passive, lazy and not ambitious, as minors in the situation of the Snopes can learn exceptionally by parental role models.
As for the characterization of Abner’s behavior, it is possible to assert that it refers to classical Marxism and thus can be identified as antagonism. In each village where he performs his seasonal works, he necessarily bloats a conflict with a person of higher social background and consequently commits an arson of their barn or another supplementary building; as his son further reflects, “And older still, he might have divined the true reason: that the element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being, as the element of steel or of powder spoke to other men, as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity, else breath were not worth the breathing, and hence to be regarded with respect and used with discretion” (Faulkner, 2005). Therefore, he is prejudiced against those committed to society and regards them as oppressors and rebels against them in order to keep his personality intact, unchangeable and insensitive to any of their influences: “And now the boy saw the prints of the stiff foot on the doorjamb and saw them appear on the pale rug” (Faulkner, 2005). Visiting his employer, Snopes dirties de Spain’s carpet, probably wishing to put accents and assert his perceived independence in their working relationship. When Snopes’ employer wishes to have the rug cleaned, the man simply burns it in several places, demonstrating that he tolerates no power, no social rules and even no law over him. Marginalization necessarily implies deviance, and due to the fact that Snopes’ alienation from society was deliberate and took place a long ago, he consciously considers transgression his lifestyle, as economic inequality as a social phenomenon once deeply traumatized him, causing to develop hypertrophied, exaggerated feeling of independence.
It needs to be noted that Abner is authentic and extremely reserved in his nature, which makes him inflexible and blocks any personality-shaping influences from outside; in the past, he participated in the war only because it allowed him to release his violence and hatred as well as for the purpose of looting: “for booty–it meant nothing and less than nothing to him if it were enemy booty or his own” (Faulkner, 2005). Therefore, his criminal activity results from the barely conscious view that prosperous individuals threaten his freedom, as their path to affluence itself was marked with self-restraint and development of social interest.
As open can assume, the argument is rather implicit than explicit, due to the fact that it is not stated clearly, yet appears to be one of the major lines of reasoning developed in the story. The major criterion to be used in the evaluation of the argument is its consistency with the reality. In fact, individuals from lower social class, as most relevant studies confirm, are more likely to fall into deviant or antisocial behavior and to voluntarily marginalize themselves from the community. In psychological terms, Faulkner’s position can be considered to make sense, since the individuals who fail to succeed in career and social life begin to de-valuate them; this defensive mechanism is known as rejection. Faulkner probably perfectly new the distinctive features of human soul and thus skillfully described all mental pathologies (violent attitude towards children, laziness, pyromania) which directly originate from the failure to thrive socially.
As one can conclude, the argument, offered by William Faulkner, is both effective and credible, since it allows explaining the plot of the narrative and can be corroborated by the findings of modern science. Moreover, when looking more attentively at others, one would realize that they daily face the empirical manifestations of the specified argument, as social marginals can be found anywhere in urban settings.
Faulkner W. (2005). Barn Burning. In Literature for Compositions: Essays, Fiction, Poetry and Drama, edited by W.Cain, W.Burto and B.Sylvan. Pearson Education Limited. Also available online at ; http://www.nku.edu/~peers/barnburning.htm;