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Crossing the Line in Faulkner's Barn Burning Essay

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Crossing the Line in Faulkner's Barn Burning

    The American author Joyce Carol Oats, in her Master Race, wrote that "our enemy is by tradition our savior" (Oats 28).  Oats recognized that we often learn more from our enemy than from ourselves.  Whether the enemy is another warring nation, a more prolific writer, or even the person next door, we often can ascertain a tremendous amount of knowledge by studying that opposite party.  In the same way, literature has always striven to provide an insight into human nature through a study of opposing forces.  Often, simply by looking at the binary operations found in any given text, the texts meanings, both hidden and apparent, can become surprising clear.  In William Faulkner's famous short story "Barn Burning," innate binary operations, especially those of the poor versus the rich and the society versus the outsider, allow the reader to gather a new and more acute understanding of the text.

            The most important binary operation in Faulkner's masterpiece is the projected idea of the rich versus the stark reality of the poor.  Throughout the entire work, the scenes of the Snopes family are constantly described in detail and compared to the richness that appears abundant around them.  For example, at the very beginning of the story, the young Colonel Sartoris Snopes is described as "small and wiry like his father" wearing "patched and faded jeans" which are later described as too small (Faulkner 1555).  This poor child, with his tattered clothing, bare feet, and scared-to-the-bone look is juxtaposed against the wealth of the Justice of the Peace's borrowed courtroom--its "close-packed" shelves filled with cans of food, aromatic cheese, and "the silver curve of fish"--th...


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...lty, or even the normal versus the audacious.  But, the entire story seems to be focused on two: those of the poor versus the rich and society versus the outsider.  Those two operations allow for, and even demand, a different reading of the text giving us a young Colonel striving to break out of his limitations and become the opposite of what he was.  In the end, Faulkner allows him to succeed.  After his father's death, the young man runs through the woods, forever leaving his family.  The text ends with the powerful line, "he did not look back" (Faulkner 1566).

Works Cited

Oats, Joyce Carol. "Master Race." The History of Dramatic Theory      and Criticism. Ed. John Dukore. New York: Harper Collins,    1992.

Faulkner, William. "Barn Burning." The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter. 3th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. 1554-66.



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