Barn Burning

by: William Faulkner

Abner Snopes

Characters Abner Snopes

Snopes is an influential, towering presence in Sartoris’s eyes, but he himself is simply a primitive, thoughtless force of violence and destruction. With his family he is stiff, without depth, emotion, or complexity. This stiffness makes him seem almost less than human, and Faulkner often characterizes Snopes in metallic terms, portraying him as ironlike, cut from tin, a mechanical presence whose lack of emotion underscores his compromised sense of morality. Snopes’s physical presence fully reflects the inner corruption and love of revenge that he embodies. His leg, shot in the war when he was stealing Confederate horses for personal profit, drags lamely behind him, an external manifestation of his warped inner life. Because Snopes is wholly unable to express himself articulately or intelligently, his sole recourses for self-expression are violence and cruelty. These tactics have overtaken his worldview so completely that they have infused his sense of who he is.

Not satisfied with confining his deep unhappiness to his personal realm, Snopes seems to befoul everything he touches, and he becomes almost bestial in his lack of regard for others. In the de Spain home, Snopes intentionally steps in horse manure and tracks it throughout the house. Later, Faulkner compares Snopes to a stinging wasp or housefly, and Snopes lifts his hand “like a curled claw.” These images suggest that Snopes is not actually human but instead simply resembles the form of a man. Fed by jealousy and rage, Snopes’s need for revenge is borne of his sense of inferiority, lack of power, and gradual emasculation by the dismal sharecropping system. He compensates for these shortcomings by being a silent tyrant, ruling his family with threats and the promise of violence, as well as by destroying the livelihood of those individuals he believes have slighted him.