What might Faulkner's opinion be of his character Abner Snopes in the story "Barn Burning"?  How does he convey his attitude? 

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Faulkner meant to create an unlikable, irredeemable character in Abner Snopes.  Snopes is cruel and remorseless.  Despite a life of poverty and hard-knocks, it is impossible to have empathy or sympathy for this character.  Snopes has no love for anything or anyone.  For example, consider the nuances of cruelty taking place in this passage, as the narrator describes the content of the families heaped-up belongings in the wagon: "a  clock inlaid with mother-of-pearl, which would not run...which had been his mother's dowry. She was crying, though when she saw him she drew her sleeve across her face and began to descend from the wagon. "Get back," the father said.

He's hurt. I got to get some water and wash his. . .

"Get back in the wagon," his father said.

Later, near the end of the story, the reader learns what Sarty did not know.  While he desperately wanted to think of his father as once being honorable and brave, the truth of the matter was that his father was a mercenary, his "service" done for nothing more than "booty--it meant nothing and less than nothing to him if it were enemy booty or his own." 

Sarty takes a inexorable turn to maturity at the end, trying to warn of his father's intentional crime of barn burning.  He realizes too, what in his heart he'd known for years:  that his father was a coward and cared for no one, not even himself, much less for Sarty. 

kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If one were compelled to put words into the mouth of the late American author William Faulkner regarding Abner Snopes, the antagonist of the short story "Barn Burning," one could surmise that those words would be decidedly negative. Abner Snopes is presented as having no redeeming qualities. It is quickly established in the early passages of "Barn Burning" that Snopes is the titular barn burner, an especially-loathed crime in the agriculture-dependent American South.

Additional hints as to Snopes's character include the reference to his having fled on a stolen horse 30 years earlier, an event that involved his being wounded by a musket fired in anger. Horse thievery happened to be another deeply-hated criminal activity. Snopes is a perpetually angry and violent individual whose efforts at indoctrinating his young son in the ways of the world are tinged with antipathy towards those with whom they are not related through blood. He barges into the home of Major de Spain, pushing aside the elderly African American who greets him at the door while saying, "Get out of my way, nigger." In short, it would be difficult to imagine that Faulkner envisioned this character as being anything other than despicable.

Faulkner displays his attitude towards Abner Snopes by presenting this character as a thoroughly loathsome individual. There is no way this highly esteemed author wrote “Barn Burning” with any degree of admiration for Snopes.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Abner Snopes is the antagonist or villain of the story "Barn Burning." He is a brutal and violent man. At times, we can empathize with his class resentment as readers. However, rather than making him a fundamentally decent person, Faulkner generally shows him to have been irredeemably warped by the Southern class system, living more to satisfy his anger and resentment with acts of control and revenge than seeking to change the system. 

By setting up the contrast between Snopes and his son Sarty, Faulkner makes an implicit argument that Snopes's cruelty and vicious character are not the necessary outcomes of his environment, as Sarty, despite being raised by Snopes, has instinctually has good morals. 

Next, by starting the story with a retrospective account of one barn burning and then moving forward to another, Faulkner shows us that this is not simply a one-off response to an intolerable situation. Rather, Snopes has a habitual pattern of trying to provoke his employers so that he has a "cause" for harming them. 

Snopes's history as a mercenary and horse thief, the way he treats the African American slave, and his harsh and authoritarian treatment of his own family all illustrate his bad character.  

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Barn Burning

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