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Critical Anaylsis of Willaim Faulkner’s, “Barn Burning”

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    “Barn Burning”, by William Faulkner shows how conflicting obligations to family loyalty can affect the decisions that are made and the responsibility that comes with making them. However, the story concentrates on how a 10 year old boy is faced with the dilemma of choosing to be loyal to his father and family or do what he feels is morally right and just by being able to be free as his own person and leaves his sorrow, grief and family behind.

    The readers are introduced to the protagonist and main character, 10-year old Colonel Sartoris at the opening of the story where the setting is a court for the justice of peace and Sarty is to testify against his father the, antagonist, Abner Snopes, who is an angry, destructive, and a morally dysfunctional man who has been accused of burning a barn. In the beginning of the story, Sarty is certain that the man who accused his father of burning his barn is his and his father’s enemy. He stands behind his father, his own blood with loyalty instead of supporting the justice of the court.

    For example, “…our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! Mine and hisn both! He’s my father! ” (262). Although, Sarty is convinced that his father’s enemy is his as well, he also is scared because he has a loss of hope and sorrow as he knows his father was wrong for having the “enemy’s” barn burned, but didn’t want to betray his father. Upon, Sarty’s discovery of being called to testify he didn’t want to lie, but knew he would be forced to do it based on his father’s expectations; this bothered Sarty as his heart was full of sorrow and pain.

    When Mr. Harris calls Sarty to testify before the court, this is where Sarty’s conflict occurs. Sarty states his full name when requested by the justice, Sarty stated his full name, “Colonel Sartoris Snopes”, the justice stated, “I reckon any boy named for Colonel Sartoris in this country can’t help but tell the truth, can they? ” (263). However, the Justice and Mr. Harris realize that calling Sarty to testify against his own father was not a good situation for the boy and so Mrs.

    Harris grumble to have the boy removed. Although, the Justice let the boy’s father off the hook and dismisses the charges against Mr. Snopes, the Judge tells Mr. Snopes to leave the country and never come back. This is the first time the readers hear the antagonist speak, by replying he attends to do just that. The readers are then introduced to the rest of Sarty’s family. Sarty’s thoughts reveal the central conflict of him being loyal to his father and family versus what is right.

    Although Sarty would have betrayed his father if the Justice would of question him, the boy took advantage of the opportunity to show his father that he was loyal to him and so as a demonstration to convince his father who’s side he is on he fights in his father’s “defense”, when called the name barn burner . This fight although, lost with the loss of blood was the narrator’s way to convey to the reader the importance of “blood and kin,” and the protection of his father’s name as well as his own.

    However, Sarty’s intentions could not be truly sincere as he is constantly pressured by his father that blood is thicker than water, that he should remain loyal to his “blood,” or he will find himself alone. Abner knew that Sarty would confess his wrong doing if the Justice had ask him; this is the reason (second conflict) the antagonist took him down the dark road when they were in route of their new home (for the 13th time,) and hits Sarty on his head, telling him that he must know to stay behind his family and the importance of family blood and the duty it involves.

    The reader knows this from the statement Abner made, “You were fixing to tell them. You would have told him. ” (265). Fearful of his father’s abusive ways, Sarty knows that there is no need to answer, the reader knows this by Sarty’s statement: “If I had said they wanted only truth, justice, he would of hit me again. ” (265). When his father demanded an answer Sarty at first, was reluctant, spoke in a low voice and replied yes. The rising action occurs after Sarty’s father soiled his landlord De Spain’s rug and instead of cleaning it per his landlord request, he delebretly destroys it by rubbing a hole through it with a rock.

    This decision resulted in a trial in which Abner was ordered to pay his landlord 10 bushels of corn instead of 20 for the cost of the rug. At this point Sarty still shows loyality to his father and say’s, “He wont git no ten bushels neither. He won’t git one. ” (272). Although, this statement may convince the reader that the boy will not betray his father, on the contrary, Abner’s intent to take justice in his own hands put Sarty’s loyalty to his father and family to the test once again ; Abner plans to burn another barn.

    When Abner commanded Sarty to get the oil, Sarty was hesitant this resorted to his father yelling at him to get the oil It is at this moment the author shows the readers Sarty’s internal conflict. He could support his father and par-take in the crime; he could “run on and on and never look back, never need to see his face again. ” (274). Sarty knows he can’t leave at this point as there is still hope if he can prevent his father from actually doing it maybe there is still hope for his father after all.

    In this attempt Sarty nervously asks his father “Aint you going to even send a nigger? ”, “At least you sent a nigger before! ” (274). When Abner did not respond, it is at this point what “breaks the camel’s back”, Sarty’s finally realizes that there is no cure for his father’s bad habits and his repeative violent behavior which forces his hand to make the ultimate decision . Sarty is filled with sorrow and grief once again; he can no longer tolerate his father’s behavior. How much power can a child have over their parents?

    In this case none, growing up in a sheltered family where individuals only have each other for support and protection where “blood and kin,” is honored above all else even if it means going against the law. That leads the reader to the climax as Sarty betrays his father, his “blood”, and warns De Spain. He must do what is morally right and just however the consequence of his decision leads the reader to assume that Abner Snopes is killed. The reader can also, assume that he was shot to death by his landlord De Spain. Is this outcome worth it?

    Sarty decides to be free and keeps going leaving his family, his sorrow and pain behind. He is finally able to stand behind what is just and right however, he is now alone. The story’s last paragraph indicates that Sarty now can be his own person and make his own decisions. Most readers probably can sympathize with having to make hard decisions especially when it relates to family. Being put in a situation where the choices parent/s makes can have a negative affect. The readers can also, sympathize with Sarty being forced to do something that he felt inside wasn’t right which was an uncomfortable situation for him.

    Every day people are faced with these similar situations but, to be put in that situation at the age of 10 is frightening. Even at the last moments when the readers realized that Sarty betrayed his father, he felt sorry for his actions saying, “Father. My father, He was brave! ” (276). Sarty then cried and this also shows the readers that Sarty is still left with inner conflict. Now that the past is behind him and he is moving on with his future. Will he still be haunted with this inner conflict?

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    Critical Anaylsis of Willaim Faulkner’s, “Barn Burning”. (2016, Oct 10). Retrieved from

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