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In Barn Burning, as in many of William Faulkner’s other novels, behind the immediate plot lies a history of slavery and racial oppression. Slavery produces a hierarchy based on colour in which whites are presumed to be masters and blacks slaves, leading to a mindset among whites that can be arrogant and oppressive, presuming a certain level of entitlement due simply to skin colour. In Abner Snopes, we see the effect of this psychological predisposition in a white sharecropper, a man of the lowest class of whites in the post-Civil War south, who thinks himself entitled to wages and a social position (despite being somewhat of a sociopath). He resents the families he works for because he feels “entitled” to their goods, and resents black who have the stable secure position he as a white man feels he deserves. His response to this is aggression, in the form of arson and other types of aggressive behaviour (ruining the carpet, e.g.). For Faulkner, aggression is inherent both in oppression and in responses to oppression.
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