Life in South America had unique conditions. This was because of the unusual race relations, conflicts, problems and its history. Life was different for the descendants of the white aristocrats and of the poor whites. This paper will endeavour to discuss the South and Southerners as they appear in the short stories, “Barn Burning” and “The Life You Save.
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Burning Barns is a short story by William Faulkner. He penned it during the period after the Great Depression. The story gives us an insight in the way of life in the south as well as the southerners’ lives. It deals with issues such as class, race and economic hardships that were some of the conditions in the south. On the other hand, is the story The Life you Save May be Your Own by Flannery O’Connor. Its setting is in South America. In this story, O’Connor addresses the issues in the south. These were issues such as morality, religion, class issue and cruelty (Skein and Faulkner 57).
The author uses the families of Abner Snopes and Major de Spain to show values in this society. The society was an agrarian one because we see Abner working on a farm. Faulkner also uses a family that lives on the farm and this shows that the people were at the agrarian stage. The family in the story lives in a desolate place. The two women are lonely as live far from the public roads. Just like in Faulkner’s story, Lucynell is a landowner as Major de Spain.
Major de Spain’s family represents the aristocratic class. This class is rich and can afford to live a good life. They are the owners of land and rent out their land to poor farmers in a system called sharecropping. The sharecroppers are poor and depend on this rich class for employment. They employee the poor who get low wages and continue to live in poverty. The de Spain family life is good and the kind of property they own proofs it. The kind of the life they live is one of opulence. They manage this because their exploit the poor due to social inequality. This leads to class segregation and the boy Sarty makes us aware of this discrepancy because he desires the security and lifestyle of the rich. Through the eyes of the boy, we are able to see the inside of Major de Spain’s house; there are gold frames, carpeted stairs and glittering chandeliers. The boy Sarty reacts to the bigness of Major de Spain’s house with amusement because it evokes a sense of security and he can manage to forget about his father’s menace of burning barns (Skei and Faulkner 68).
On the other hand, we can see the stark contrast of the living conditions for the underclass tenant farmers and the landowners. The tenant farmers live in small shacks. The Snopes family lives in an unpainted two-roomed house. Sarty is malnourished and illiterate (Skei and Faulkner 62). He is also dressed in faded patched jeans. This is due to poverty and his family is unable to afford the basic needs in life such as food or even education. In addition, the Snopes family has been moving from one area to another (Skei and Faulkner 65). This depicts the kind of migration that was common with the poor southerners as they looked for better chances. In Faulkner’s work Mr. Shiflet moves looking for meaning in his life, he comes to the old woman’s house and marries her daughter. Later, he abandons her and thus, continues wandering without a direction in life. He fails to save his life by failing to stay with his wife and save her life as well.
In Faulkner’s work, we have a family that is not badly off as they have land and a car even though it is broken down. The old woman asks Mr. Shiftlet to stay on her farm as she realizes that he could be a handy man. He repairs many things in the farm and he is not concerned about money though at the end he does the opposite. He represents the poor whites just like Abner in Burning Barns.
The author depicts the race relations in the south in his short story through the characters of the black old servant who works for Major de Spain. The servant is dressed neatly and we see him commanding Abner to wipe his shoes before he steps on the door rug. He goes ahead and blocks the door using his body. He calls Abner “Whiteman” and Abner responds by calling the black servant a nigger. The kind of words they use show that they see each other in terms of their colour. They have no respect for each other and this encounter shows us the tension in racial relations that existed in the south. Abner refuses to wipe his shoes and smears the rug with the fresh horse dug Skei and Faulkner 66). The black servant in the story alludes to slavery practiced in the south.
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Abner Snopes sees the house of his boss as a symbol of oppression. He says that nigger’s sweat was used in its construction and this goes on to show us that the rich white used the blacks. Through Abner we see that the white aristocratic class did not only take advantage of the blacks, but the white poor as well as Abner says that Major de Spain also wants to use white sweat to make his house “whiter.”
Abner Snopes understands the social stratification in his society. He is aware of the hardships that the lower class faces. The southern social organization is unequal yet, the people seem oblivious to this fact. The reason why Abner is defiant and refuses to wipe off dirt on his shoes before stepping on the rug is a protest against the rich oppressive class. He is aware that his soul and body will belong to his boss while he works for him for eight months. This shows that the labourers in the south went through oppression and some protested. Abner protested by burning barns as it was the only way he could get to the rich and feel powerful. His destruction of the rug also shows that he was challenging the social organization in his society.
Due to oppression and hardship experienced by the low class, we can have an explanation for the violence unleashed by the underclass as depicted by Abner Snopes through his act of burning barns, beating his son and flinging his wife against the wall (Skei and Faulkner 64).
In this story, southerners are simple people. Through Mr. Shiflet, we see this characteristic as he mends a fence, builds a hog pen, repairs the back steps and more importantly teaches Lucynell how to speak, as she was mute.
O’Connor also addresses morality. In her story Mr. Shiftlet preaches morality yet he does the opposite (Whitt 53). We see him asking for more money and when we saw him, first he said he did not care about money. He abandons his bride on the same day he marries her at the Hot Spot and takes off. He is the kind that preaches water yet takes wine (Kenyon Review 1).
Through these two authors, we are able to see life in the south. The southerners were concerned about morality because it was a value in the society. In Barn Burning Sarty has to choose between betraying his father and telling the truth or lie in court to save his father from imprisonment. He eventually breaks from his father’s bondage when he decides to warn Major de Spain of his father’s intention to burn his barn. On the other hand, O’Connor deals with morality through the character of Mr. Shiflet who is morally bankrupt to show how some of the southerners were morally corrupt. Hence, one gets a deeper understanding about the way of life in the south through these stories.
Kenyon Review. Flannery O’Connor. “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” The Kenyon Review 2009. Web.
Skei, H. Hans and Faulkner, William. Reading Faulkner’s best short stories. Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.
Whitt, Earley, Margaret. Understanding Flannery O’Connor. Carolina: University of South Carolina Press, 1997.