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Barn Burning

William Faulkner

Setting

Structure and Style

Dialect and Diction

Faulkner uses setting to evoke the class distinctions that fuel Snopes’s deep resentment. The Snopes family lives in dire circumstances that are vastly different from the lifestyles of the landowning families for whom they work as sharecroppers, and the story hinges on Snopes’s destruction of property and violation of the home. Once content with avenging perceived injustices by burning a landowner’s barn, thus compromising his livelihood, Snopes begins avenging the vaguer wrongs that he feels he has endured simply by virtue of his poverty. At the de Spains’ opulent home, for example, he rudely forces his way inside, staining the rug with manure and then destroying it when he is ordered to clean it. He is avenging nothing: the de Spains were strangers when he walked into the house, strangers who had chosen to allow Snopes to reside on their property and sharecrop on their land. The story’s setting, including the Snopeses’ packed wagon and the expansive de Spain estate, highlights the outsider status of the Snopes family and ignites Snopes’s rage.

Another unique aspect of setting in “Barn Burning” is the courthouse, which is simply a general store that is used for legal proceedings. This is the place where justice is meted out to Snopes, where he is punished for avenging the injustices he believes he has endured. The fact that the courthouse isn’t a real courthouse just augments Snopes’s perception that he isn’t treated fairly, and it highlights his status as a rogue outsider—his own vigilante justice is punished in a haphazard fashion, within the law but also outside it. The idea of a courthouse that isn’t a courthouse appears again when Sartoris first sees the de Spains’ home. “Hit’s big as a courthouse,” he thinks to himself as the house comes fully into view. Because the only courthouse Sartoris has seen is likely the inside of the general store, the courthouse to which he compares the house is simply an image he has created in his imagination. His comparison suggests how removed Sartoris is from the world beyond the small sharecropping community in which the Snopes family lives.

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