By Judyth Willis
A few weeks ago, an act of vandalism was committed against a resident’s house in Civano. The remains of a bucket of paint left on the sidewalk in front of the house seemed to say, “There, I did it!” It was a senseless act of vandalism: paint thrown all over the front door, a wall, and the floor of the porch.
This senseless and cowardly act brought to mind a short story written by William Faulkner in 1939. It is the story of a man eaten up by hate and determined to commit revenge against a world of his own making. Perhaps you read “Barn Burning” during your school days. If not, here is the Wikipedia summary:
Abner Snopes, the father of young “Sarty” Snopes, is being driven out of town after burning down his landlord’s barn. In the court case that opens the story and in which Sarty is initially called to testify, no palpable proof can point to Abner as the culprit, but the Snopes family is ordered to leave the county. They move to a new place where Abner is to work as a sharecropper for Major de Spain, but Abner cannot seem to control his pyromania and hatred for society.
Shortly after arriving at his new position, Abner visits Major de Spain’s house and tracks horse droppings on a blond rug. Major de Spain orders Abner to clean the rug, which he does by using a harsh lye soap, ruining the rug beyond repair, before throwing the rug onto Major de Spain’s front porch. Major de Spain levies on Abner a fine of 20 bushels of corn against the price of the rug. At court, a Justice of the Peace reduces the fine to ten bushels of corn. Feeling once again wronged, Abner makes preparations to set fire to Major de Spain’s barn. Sarty warns Major de Spain of his father’s intentions to burn down his barn and then flees in the direction of his father. He is soon overtaken by Major de Spain on his horse and jumps into the ditch to get out of the way. Sarty hears three gun shots, but who gets shot is never revealed; the father and the brother appear in works set after “Barn Burning”. Profoundly affected by his father’s legacy, the boy does not return to his family but continues on with his life alone.
The question is how did the boy, Sarty, come to his own sense of right and wrong? What kept him from being ground down and turned into a violent, ignorant animal like his older brother, John. In my opinion, it was Sarty’s mother, Lennie. There is evidence in the story that Lennie, who had lived her married life under the violent hand of a bitter man, one who was unable to provide even the basics for his family, had managed to convey to Sarty the idea of living his own truth. There is evidence also that Lennie came from a better life than the one she endured married to Abner. The wagon loaded with their meager belongings held an old, non-working mother-of-pearl-inlaid clock. Perhaps it was Lennie’s one reminder of who she truly was. The wagon also held Lennie’s sister. I like to think that Abner felt the judgment of those women for his despicable acts of hatred and violence.
All of this makes me think about the person who committed the vandalism in Civano. Acting out, as Abner Snopes did and the person who committed the vandalism in Civano did, does not resolve anything. It does, however, put the angry person outside the law.
What has happened here is just an enactment of an old and rather sad story and I sincerely hope there is no young boy or girl, like Sarty, who will have to choose between the teaching of his/her parents in order to find the truth of right and wrong.
For another neighbor take, read Susan Call’s “What’s Happening Here?”