Henry Memorial Award for the best short story of the year.Whether read alone, as part of a thematic unit on the Depression era, or as an element of an interdisciplinary course of the Depression '30s, "Barn Burning" can be used to awaken students to the race, class, and economic turmoil of the decade.The boy Sarty responds to the big house with a "surge of peace and joy." Its bigness-"Hit's big as a courthouse"-to his fresh eyes seems to guarantee safety, dignity, and peace from the barn-burning menace of his father.
During the 1930s, the Sartoris and Snopes families were overlapping entities in Faulkner's imagination.
These families with their opposing social values spurred his imagination at a time when he wrote about the passing of a conservative, agricultural South and the opening up of the South to a new era of modernization.
On their repetitious migrations from house to house, Sarty's mother carries her one surviving treasured possession, a remnant of her dowry, a "clock inlaid with mother-of-pearl, which would not run." In their photographs and words in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Walker Evans and James Agee captured just such tenant farmer shacks with their meager possessions.
Such cherished possessions of the tenant farm wife are highlighted in the ninth of Evans' photographs known as "The Altar" and are described by Agee in the "Altar" section of the text: on the altar are a green glass bowl in which sits a white china swan, two small twin vases, and a fluted saucer about which the wife "cares more dearly than for anything else she possesses." This is her last effort to make the house "pretty" (Agee 163).
Such migrations were a dominant social reality and theme of '30s artists.
Now we can dwell a while on migration, as both the narrative structure and theme of the '30s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath.The contrast between the de Spain mansion and the Snopes tenant farmer shack highlights the terrible divide between owner and tenant in the '30s.Here in "Barn Burning" the small, impoverished and illiterate ten-year-old boy, ill nourished on cold food and dressed in clean but faded, patched jeans, has experienced home as a succession of identical "unpainted two room houses, "tenant farmer hovels, for the Snopeses have moved a dozen times through poor country.His supposed supremacy as a white man is challenged by the black servant who obviously holds a superior position in the doorway.The black's appearance and his authoritorial position over Snopes within the confines of the house mock the Snopeses' claims to racial superiority.Here the finer quality of the black's attire, his position within the house, and his power to deny the white entrance heighten the racial tensions.Poor "white sweat" may mix with "nigger sweat." The quality of life of the poor whites and that of the blacks are too similar: whites may now claim a racial superiority but not a class superiority. The racial element in the doorway encounter only fuels the father's rage all the more.Foremost as such an example of social injustice is the encounter at the doorway of the de Spain mansion between the Snopes father and son and the de Spain black house servant.At this moment young Colonel Sartoris Snopes (whose very names pit the aristocratic, land-owning rich against the tenant farmer poor) is ushered into the reality of class differences, that being the cleavage within the local community.This depiction of the agrarian society of the Sartoris family connects Faulkner to the nostalgic yearnings for a past expressed in I'll Take My Stand, the Fugitives' manifesto of 1930, a book opening the decade yet echoing sentiments of past decades.At the start of our classroom discussion of "Barn Burning," we can explain the tenets of the Fugitives, their traditional, aristocratic attitudes, and their reverence for the landed gentry life style.