Barn BurningBarbarity in Disguise
Some of things that people think are built on a righteous foundation are often the result of actions or events that are completely dishonorable. Aspects like wealth and influence can be gained by means that are immoral and inhumane. This is the case with Sarty Snopes’ fascination with the wealth of Major de Spain. He cannot see through the huge house and vast estate to the barbarity by which it was gained. In William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” the de Spains are barbaric, because their wealth was gained through the inhumane institution of slavery and is maintained by cheap labor. Because of the de Spains barbaric nature, Sarty Snopes’ feelings towards the de Spains are misplaced.
William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” takes place in the south during the post-Civil War era. During this time many people were adjusting to a life without slaves. Before the war, people gained wealth at the expense of cheap labor from slaves. Slavery was one of the few ways that people could manage a huge estate like the de Spain’s and still be able to turn a profit. It is evident in the story that the de Spain’s were possible slave owners given the fact they still have Negro help now. The de Spains probably owned many more slaves before the end of the war when the institution was outlawed. These slaves probably lived in inhumane conditions in which they worked for little or nothing based on the amount of worked they performed. Based on these facts the barbarity of the de Spains is clear.
The de Spains can also be considered barbaric in the way they maintain their wealth during the time Sarty and his family move onto the de Spain’s holdings. Because of the absence of slavery, the de Spains now maintain their land by means of sharecropping. Sarty father states, “Pretty and white ain’t it? That’s sweat. Nigger sweat. Maybe it ain’t white enough yet to suit him. Maybe he wants to mix some white sweat with it” (1252). Sarty and his family are now some of de Spain’s modified slaves. The fact that Major de Spain can force any race into cheap labor shows his complete lack of care for human welfare.
This lack of care for human welfare is evident when Sarty’s father damages the de Spain’s rug. Major de Spain orders Mr. Snopes to pay twenty bushels of corn on top of what he already owes for the land. Such a punishment is unjust for a rug and it will keep Sarty’s family on the land longer. The Justice states, “Twenty bushels of corn seems a little high for a man in you circumstances to have to pay” (1256). This shows how clear it is to everyone except Sarty how unjust Major de Spain is. Major de Spain is willing to keep Sarty’s family inhumanely on his land merely because of his wife’s attraction to a rug.
Sarty’s attraction to the de Spains is based on the grandeur of all he sees. What makes the de Spains barbaric is what Sarty doesn’t see. Sarty describes the de Spains as having “peace and dignity” (1251). However, this peace and dignity was gained through the violent and dehumanizing institution of slavery. The de Spain’s peace and dignity is now maintained now by a new form of slavery that Sarty and his family will now take part in. Given Sarty’s character, but probably not his upbringing, one can believe that if Sarty knew the barbarity through which the de Spains gained their peace and dignity the de Spains lifestyle would not have such an appeal to him.