The Southern Social Themes of Barn Burning

2222 Words9 Pages
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. Henry Memorial Award for the best short story of the year. Whether read alone, as part of a thematic unit on the Depression era, or as an element of an interdisciplinary course of the Depression '30s, "Barn Burning" can be used to awaken students to the race, class, and economic turmoil of the decade. During the 1930s, the Sartoris and Snopes families were overlapping entities in Faulkner's imagination. These families with their opposing social values spurred his imagination at a time when he wrote about the passing of a conservative, agricultural South and the opening up of the South to a new era of modernization. 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. 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. It is, of course, this very social inequity, the class distinction, and the economic inequality against which Sarty's father Ab Snopes' barn burning rails. We now can lead our students to the evidence of these social injustices within the story by identifying exemplary moments and scenes.

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