As this story opens, we find our antihero struggling to support his family as a tenement farmer in an unnamed Southern county. The story explains that some 30 years prior, Mr. Snopes was making a living as a mercenary and a fugitive horse thief during the Civil War. These facts set the story sometime around 1895, just around the end of the "Gilded Age". This was a time of significant social turmoil caused by reconstruction efforts in the South, the beginnings of an economic boom in the North, a massive influx of European Immigrants, and the political and social disenfranchisement of racial minority groups and the poor.
Mr. Snopes' entire life has been spent on the losing side of a class war that is invisibly waged by those of means against those who have no idea it is occurring, or have no idea how to resist. The life of a tenement farmer, or sharecropper as the dominant class may try to euphemize it, is not a beneficial one. Under this system of agriculture a usually wealthy landowner hires farmers to live on their land and farm it. They then charge rent, usually payable in a portion of the harvested crop. The tenement farmer operating at the time of this story, lacking the convenient access to equipment available today, was forced to rent equipment from the landowner. This placed the already impoverished farmer further in debt to the landowner.
This is an age old strategic tactic used in class warfare. In class warfare, unlike most wars, the object is not to destroy, or eliminate the enemy. In class warfare it is very important to the dominant class that the subordinate class not realize that the war exist. Lulled into labor by the myth of meritocracy these groups of underprivileged and working poor constantly stru...
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... for eight months and must find some other work when the winter comes.
Abner Snopes is not by any means a saint. He is a mean and ornery old horse thief turned barn burner. He is also, however a champion for the little guy. While he is uneducated he is the only character wise enough to see the system for what it is, an arbitrary means of distributing benefits and burden. He is the only one brave enough in the story to stand up for what he believes is right. For these reasons this writer believes that Abner Snopes with his unconventionally if not questionable methods, is a real American Anti-Hero, and as such, if he is not worthy of praise, he at the very least cannot be dismissed as a simple villain.
Faulkner, W. "Barn Burning." (2013) Baym, N. (Ed.). The Norton Anthology of
American literature. (Shorter 8th ed.). Vol. A. New York: Norton.
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