Faulkner believed that, "the past conditioned every feature of human existence, from the most apparently instinctual of our feelings to the texture of the very soil we tread and the objects we handle" (Matthews 77) . For Abner Snopes' actions to be understood his history and the myriad of changes the South was encountering during the post Civil War epoch must be unraveled. He is a man who looks takes advantage of a system or even to make a personal gain. In doing so he ignores the values of society and he lives by his own rules selfish rules which are in place to protect his family and himself from the injustices others may place upon him. In the war, he belonged to no army, "wearing no uniform, admitting the authority of and giving fidelity to no man or army or flag" (Faulkner 1716). It is never mentioned if Abner Snopes wanted African Americans to remain enslaved but he often feels enraged when he sees an African American in a position higher than himself. Despite his feelings of superiority regarding African Americans the reasons behind him going to war are not to unite with his nation and rise up against the North and stand up and fight for what he believes in rather his greed drove him to steal from both sides. He never had the experience of taking part in defending the social order of his nation. Instead, when the South lost the war, the North began to force the South to par take in a social change that Abner Snopes played no part in defending. After the war he became a tenant farmer, a position in his mind that was meant for African Americans and a position that to Matthews was thought of as being lower than a slave because blacks were considered better tenant farmers than poor whites because they were vulnerable to the Jim Crow Laws (127). . He was insulted but can be seen as a man who is, "struggling against the oppressive economic restraints placed on him, and at the same time represents the new face of the South, rising against the old aristocratic order" (Johnston 199).
With the drastic social changes of the South, Abner is forced into, "he uses fire as a great equalizer of affairs, to bring the rich down to his level after they have so long sat above him" (Pinion 2). It didn't matter that Mr. Harris had given him the supplies to keep the pig from escaping or that Mr. de Spain had given him a chance to fix the rug. He was tired of the rich man being able to decide his fate. During the Civil War the rich didn't have to fight. The poor could be bought to fight their battle. Even though the wealthy were the ones who had the most to lose because if the South lost then the profits they were making off slave labor would decrease. Abner Snopes was tired of being accountable to the rich. In his eyes they were committing injustices by exploiting the poor. Abner is also insulted by the new social order that the North was forcing upon the South and he begins to live, "in a state of impotent paralysis as his employers have owned him 'body and soul' for the better part of his life and he finds himself unable to resist or change the course of his harsh desperate existence" (Miles 4-5). Even the African American at the de Spain mansion believes himself to be in a higher position of power than Abner because, "Abner clearly falls beneath the necessity of addressing him as sir or mister" (Duvall 114). The demeaning greeting from the servant only encourages him to fall back into his destructive habit in an attempt to make his statement about the injustices he is feeling. This is why he turned to fire, because he had control over it. "Fires were [his] habit and custom always, even in freezing weather. The elements of fire spoke some deep mainstream in his being" (Faulkner 1706).
Abner Snopes is a complicated character. He deliberately provokes his superiors, with Mr. Harris it was the pig and with Major de Spain it was the rug. He provokes these men to show them despite them. "Owning him body and soul" (Faulkner 1708) he does not respect them and will show his disgust at their thoughts of their superiority over him. However, to an extent he does succumb to their wishes. He gave the dollar to Mr. Harris and he did make an attempt to clean Major de Spain's rug even if he did it by using harsh lye soap. It is almost as if he is attempting to make his superiors feel as if he is sorry for his actions before he burns down their barns. It is after he has "reconciled" that Abner turns to the destructive weapon of fire as a symbol of the loathing he feels toward them and a method to even the playing field. Fire was the poor man's weapon. It was simple yet would leave the rich feeling at a loss.
While his actions are foolish they were not heedless, "likely his father already arranged to make a crop on another farm" (Faulkner 1706). Fire was a weapon that spoke to Abner Snopes, "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 breathing, and hence regarded with respect and used with discretion" (Faulkner 1707). Despite what it may seem, Abner Snopes did use fire with respect. He didn't use it to injure or kill but to protest the rights of those that were important to him. His destructive tendencies were centered on the importance of family. He tries to instill this in Sarty when he says; "you got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain't going to have any blood to stick to you" (Faulkner 1707). He speaks from his past of war and his own nation surrendering and giving up their way of life. He wants Sarty to know there is a reason behind his delusional actions and his motives are protecting his families from the exploiting of the rich and he wants Sarty to understand that he is going about this the only way that he knew how but he wanted it to end. Before they went out to burn Major de Spain's barn Abner Snopes could have tied Sarty like his brother suggested but he did not. He knows that Sarty is having an inner battle with morals and loyalty to family and he says, " 'If he gets loose don't you know what he is going to do? He will go up yonder' " (Faulkner 1714). Abner Snopes wants to stop living his life constantly seeking revenge. He wants to escape from his actions but he was helpless to his past way of living and Sarty was the only one with enough courage to stop him.
Abner Snopes is an example of the destructiveness a man can accomplish when he feels that he is backed into a corner with only one way out. He represents the desperate struggle of a man faced with new advisories with only limited knowledge on how to deal with problems. He is a complex character who is understood differently by every reader based on the areas that the reader takes into account for Abner Snopes' personality.
Matthews, John. William Faulkner Seeing Through the South. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.
Faulkner, William. "Barn Burning." 1939. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter et al. 6th ed. Vol. D. Stanford: Cengage Learning, 2010.
Duvall, John N. "A STRANGE NIGGER": FAULKNER AND THE MINSTREL PERFORMANCE OF WHITENESS."Faulkner JournalÂ 22.1/2 (2006): 106-119.Â Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 20 Feb. 2011
Miles, Caroline. "Little Men in Faulkner's "barn burning" and the Revivers."Â Literature Online. The Faulkner Journal, 1999. Web. 14 Feb. 2011.
Pinion, Randy. "Literary Analysis: Faulkners Barn Burning - by Randy Pinion - Helium."Â Helium - Where Knowledge Rules. 16 Dec. 2006. Web. 14 Feb. 2011. <http://www.helium.com/items/103300-literary-analysis-faulkners-barn-burning>.
Johnston, Kenneth G. "Time of Decline: Pickett's Charge and the Broken Clock in Faulkner's Barn Burning'." Studies in Short Fiction (1974): 434-6.Â