Trying to raise my kids the best I can

Thursday, June 28, 2007

My kick-ass literary assessment

If there is anyone (?) reading this who cares about literary assessments I wrote a really good one.
It's based on the short story "Barn Burning".

A Marxist Criticism of “Barn Burning”

Faulkner’s own personal bias would not allow him to portray Abner Snopes as the working class hero that he was. His portrayal of Snopes as “graceless and greedy” was so thorough that the word Snopes, itself, became synonymous with that definition. What his world-view failed to allow him to recognize was that Abner Snopes was a socialist revolutionary, born 100 years before his time.

As Karl Marx and Friedrick Engel’s point out, in a capitalist society it is only a matter of time before the working class over throws the middle class. In the mean time the working class will be used and exploited for monetary gain. The beauty of democracy is that it gives equal vote to people of all classes. It allows the larger numbers of lower class citizens band together and demand basic human rights. Basic human rights are best defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; a declaration (the driving force behind which was our very own Eleanor Roosevelt) was ratified by the United Nations in 1948. It includes such rights as these:

Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable

remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence

worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by

other means of social protection.” [Article 23 (3)]

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the

health and well-being of himself and of his family, including

food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social

services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment,

sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood

in circumstances beyond his control. [Article 25 (1)]

Both of these human rights are being violated by the share cropper system. The Snopes family is denied these basic human rights in a system that only makes the land owners richer. Their family possessions consisted of a battered stove, broken beds and chairs, and a broken clock (320). They didn’t even own a saddle (325). Abner wore a coat “which had not been made for him (321).” His son Sarty wore “patched and faded jeans even too small for him.(321)” They moved to a house not fit for hogs (322). Sarty, the aunt and two sisters slept on pallets on the floor (325).

Contrast this life with the scene at the landowner’s home. “a fence massed with honey suckle and Cherokee roses came to a gate swinging open between two brick pillars and now beyond a sweep of drive he saw the house for the first time. (322)” “A suave turn of carpeted stair and a pendant glitter of Chandeliers and a mute gleam of gold frames (323)”

Was this extreme poverty merely due to Abner’s anti-social behavior? No. It was a direct result of the unjust system he was living in. Even the judge, who did not know of Abner’s past declared: “You never had a hundred bucks. You never will. (325)” A share cropper could never hope to have the equivalent amount of money as a land owner’s parlor rug.

It is only a matter of time before the masses grow unhappy and demand more; but it does take time. America was still a young country when Abner was in his prime. It had only recently abolished slavery and the class divide was yet to be addressed. Abner saw the class divide for what it was, when others were blind to it. He called the landowners what they were: his enemy. He used their white washed fence as an object lesson for his son: “Pretty and white, ain’t it? That’s sweat. Nigger sweat. Maybe it ain’t white enough to suit him yet. Maybe he wants to mix some white sweat with it. (324)”.

Abner Snopes did not have the political backing for his beliefs. There were no masses to lead at that time. If there were, he would have been a great leader. “There was something about his wolf-like 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 action would be of advantage to all whose interest lay with his. (321)”

Abner had little to fight with. He had little to lose. He fought his battle for social equality one barn burning at a time. “The element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being… as the weapon for the preservation of integrity.” Abner made his point one mutilated carpet at a time. When he could, he used other means for justice. Abner sued his land owner, apparently an uncommon practice at that time. “He wore an expression, not of rage but of amazed unbelief which the boy could not have known was at the incredible circumstance of being sued by one of his own tenants. (327)” When all else failed, he relied on the most basic methods of self-preservation. “He won’t git no twenty bushels! He won’t git none! We’ll gether hit and hide hit!”

The irony in Abner’s fight for economic equality is that if the safety net of socialism were in place, his beloved wife would almost certainly have left him and his unstable life behind. His family was made miserable by his endless crusade and they wished for nothing more than the stability of the simple life. When Abner was merely deep in thought, his wife knew what he was thinking and pleaded “Abner. Abner. Please don’t. Please, Abner (324)”. His son wished for nothing more than for peace. “People whose lives are a part of this peace and dignity are beyond his touch (322)”, Sarty hoped. Abner’s life was a tragedy, not only because he was a victim of his class, but also because his crusade for social equality would have been given an audience but a hundred years later.


  • At 1:51 PM, Blogger B. Salazar said…

    This IS kick-ass. I like your analysis, especially the acknowledgement that Faulkner himself didn't realize the hero he was creating in Abner.

  • At 6:24 PM, Blogger Deena said…

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm so excited that someone actually read that.


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