William Faulkner: Barn Burning: Violent Relationship Dynamics William Faulkner’s Barn Burning is reflective of the dynamics domestic violence plays in family relationships and this is shown in the traits exhibited in the characters in the story. This is evident in the relationship between the children with their parents, the wife with her husband and Abner with his employers. Abner’s controlling nature creates constant conflict throughout the story. Abner, who is cold, violent and emotionless is known for his independence and anger.
He is convinced of his right to unleash his destructive revenge on anyone who has wronged him. Almost as soon as the story opens Abner’s nature is deliberate. When Abner speaks for the first time in court his voice is cold and harsh. His response also conveys an attitude of verbal abuse when the Judge tells him to flee the country he responds “I aim to. I don’t figure to stay in a country among people who…” (127). The sentence ends abruptly because as the author states, what was said next is unprintable indicating something extremely derogatory has been said.
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Then Abner takes his rage out on his son by jerking him back and demanding he go get the wagon (128). Abner had obviously been stewing over what happened in court when the Judge called Sarty up to testify against his father. Abner accuses Sarty of almost betraying the family blood by telling on him for burning the barn. Because of this Sarty feels torn when making decisions between right and wrong and maintaining a loyalty to his family. Another way Abner’s abusive behavior is displayed is through neglect. It is not standard for a father to disregard that a quality of living is a necessity for his wife and children.
He barely provides a place for his family to live and the children are always starving. The family is constantly being uprooted due to Abner’s emotional instability. Therefore the only provision of material possessions the family has are that of a battered stove, broken beds and chairs and a mother of pearl clock that would not run (128). Who would find comfort in coming home to such low standards? When the family prepares to leave the first home they have in the story they all choose to follow behind Abner without asking where they are going. This implies they id not have the freedom to discuss things of that nature or the freedom of discussion at all with their father. Throughout the story we see this behavior continued. Abner, because of his lack of self control tried to control everyone else around him. Lennie Snopes character is sad, emotional and caring. She feels beaten down by the family’s endless cycle of flight and resettlement. She is nervous in the presence of her unpredictable husband. Lennie, the mother in the story is the one who tries to provide comfort and solace for the family thru the chaos created by Abner.
She does this by playing an exact opposite role from her husband. Her demeanor is cooperative and quiet. She tries to appease her husband when he is yelling at his two girls to pick up a rug that he had ruined. The girls were lethargic due to a lack of nourishment from not eating and barely had the strength to comply with Abner’s request. Lennie, trying to keep the peace, begs Abner, “Let me do it”(132). Abner denies the request and sends her back to get dinner. At this point no disagreement or discussion takes place. Lennie just obeys her husband without confrontation.
She also does her best to encourage her husband to stop burning barns and lashing out at the families landlords. Although without success, her character shows her children what is right and ethical and how to live and flourish in society. It provides them, especially Sarty, with the strength and courage they need to be able to make some very hard decisions as the story plays out. Sarty is a young boy trying to learn from his father and find his way in life. His character demonstrates that regardless of age you can stand for what is honorable.
Sarty character is always in a state of conflict because of the his desire to do what is right and the fact that his father continues to break the law by setting fire to barns. Sarty finally makes a decision to stand when his father is attempting to burn the barn of Mr. de Spain. Once again because of the conflict over the rug, Abner sets out to get revenge on Mr. de Spain by burning his barn but while this is happening Sarty alerts Mr. de Spain. When this takes place Sarty believes because he hears gun fire that his father and possibly brother has been shot and killed.
Sarty does not return home after this incident showing that his choice to do what was right was also a betrayal to his family. The way the family relates to each other presents the idea that just as Abner was violent with his employers, he was violent and controlling with his family. Abner’s wife, Lennie, lived in constant submission to her husband and his ways. Sarty was controlled and physically abused by his father. The entire family was subjected to Abner’s impulsive behavior of barn burning which cause the family to lack comfort and stability.