How do the actions of aggression and oppression affect "Barn Burning"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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What is clear in this story is that the aggression and oppression comes from Abner Snopes, and that the main victims of his self-imposed cycle of anger and destruction are his family. It is clear that the way that his actions force them to become itinerant workers where they experience rootlessness and isolation and shunning from others. Note the way that after leaving the courtroom Sarty sees his family ready to move once again:

His two hulking sisters in their Sunday dresses and his mother and her sister in calico and sunbonnets were already in it, sitting on and among the sorry residue of the dozen and more movings which even the boy could remember--the battered stove, the broken beds and chairs, the clock inlaid with mother-of-pearl, which would not run, stopped at some fourteen minutes past two o'clock of a dead and forgotten day and time, which had been his mother's dowry.

See the way that Sarty, even though he is a child, remembers a large number of forced moves that he and his family have had to make, and as a result they hoard fragments of their belongings that have been broken and rendered useless through constant movings. Abner's inability to operate in the world without feeling perceived slights that cause him to engage in acts of arson obviously impact his family greatly. Of course, it is this suffocating, claustraphobic rage and bitterness that consumes Abner Snopes that leads his son to finally revolt against him and break away from his strangling force, telling the de Spain's of his father's plan to burn their barn and then to leave his father's influence for ever. Sarty is literally restricted through being held by his family at his father's command to prevent him revealing his father's plans. Even though this is a betrayal as he is forced to choose between his conscience and family loyalty, the way in which the story ends with Sarty leaving and not turning back upon his old life as he strides out into the unknown future suggests that escaping his father's aggression and oppression is an overwhelmingly positive step for young Sarty.

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bethole | High School Teacher | (Level 1) eNoter

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Abner Snopes is a very aggressive person. He is a bully who beats and terrorizes his family along with anyone else who doesn't agree with him. The family is poor, sharecroppers who live and work on a farm in order to pay their rent. In the begining of the story, Abner is ordered to leave one town for burning down a barn in an argument over a pig. In the next town, Abner gains work at the de Spain farm where he visits the main house of the de Spain farm. He refuses to clean off his boots after he had stepped inĀ  cow manure. The de Spain's expensive carpet had been ruined by the cow manure. An argument pursues, where Mr. de Spain brings the carpet over to the Snopes' for the women to clean. Abner ruins the carpet. He returns it, the two men have words, and again Abner sets fire to the barn.

What happens here is that Abner's son, Sarty, knows that dad is setting fire to all the barns. He is tired of this. He wants to tell the truth. However, dad, being the bully he is, slaps Sarty. Sarty decides he has had enough. He decides to leave the family and live on his own. Sarty feels he can live honeslty on his own than continue living with his bully, mean, and fire maniac dad. It is a believable ending because back in those days, boys did run off at a young age to live and take care of themselves because there families didn't have a lot of money to take care of all the kids in the family.

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