Barn Burning By William Faulkner

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William Faulkner wrote the short tale Barn Fire. The short story portrays a conflict between loyalty and morals, as well as how the two can influence a person's decisions. Colonel Sartoris Snopes, the protagonist of Faulkner's novel, fights with being moral by standing for the facts and being obedient to his father by concealing the truth. Sarty is conflicted between "sticking with his own blood" and "sticking to his values instilled in him by society." The main character had to choose between siding with his father and the society and the justice system. However, in the end, the protagonist chooses morality over loyalty to the family because he tells the truth for justice to be served. Therefore, in Barn Burning, Faulkner explores the themes of morality and loyalty through the life and experiences of the protagonist, Sartoris Snopes, and the antagonist, Abner Snopes.

Faulkner uses the characterization of the protagonist to explore the theme of morality and loyalty in Barn Burning. Sarty was a 10-year-old boy who was in a dilemma to choose between the two notions, loyalty to the family or morality. Sarty is torn between picking his father and doing the right thing because of Abner’s repeated unacceptable behaviors. The protagonist knows that his father burns barns, and he does it repeatedly, but his father insists that he has to support his family. Sarty knows that his father is wrong, but because of his loyalty to the family, he does not testify against his father in court to bring justice to the landowners, because his father made him believe that the community was the enemy and he can never side with them. As a result of Sarty concealing the truth because of his loyalty to the family, the judge declares Snopes innocent in spite of the fact that he burned the barns (Roberts and Zweig 463).

Sarty’s next allegiance to the loyalty to his father can be seen when he is hurt after he fights two boys who were trying to ridicule his father. According to Roberts and Zweig, the boys were referring to his father as “a barn burner and the protagonist could not stand the soiling of his family (Roberts and Zweig 463). At this juncture, Sarty chooses loyalty to his family’s name instead of what is right and justice. Sarty lived in “terror and fear” about what his father could do to him if he goes against him and so there is no way he could have let the boys soil his father’s reputation regardless of his wrong actions.

However, as the story progresses, the protagonist decides that he has to choose morality over loyalty to his father who continues his erratic behaviors by hurting other people. It is evident that the commitment to the family became a heavy burden to the protagonist and that is why he chooses morality and loyalty to the law to live an honest life. His dilemma on loyalty to his father finally collides with his disappointment in his father actions. Sarty hoped that his father was going to change and stop hurting other people, unfortunately, this never happened. He could not fathom his father’s stiff back to abandon his habit of burning barns because Snopes was always unjust to everyone. When his father failed to change, Sarty chooses morality and reports him to Mr. Spain before he burns his barn (Roberts and Zweig 478). And from this moment, even though he feels sad that he might have lost his family, for once, Sarty is not bound to the family loyalty where he as to defend wrong doings.

Apart from Sarty, Faulkner uses Sarty’s father Abner Snopes to explore the theme of morality and loyalty. He is depicted as a bitter tenant farmer who has a great desire of burning the landowners’ barns as a protest/revenge against inequalities in the society. As an antagonist, Snopes imposes loyalty to his family despite his erratic behaviors throughout the story. Abner forces the family to move from one farm to the other in search of a new property owner because of disagreements with the old one due to his improper behaviors. Snopes displays intolerable actions throughout the story, and an example is a scene where he smears horse manure on the landowner’s carpet. To make it worse, he does not even realize his mistakes because he goes ahead to sue the landlord for charging him too much for the damages caused by his actions. Besides, he puts his family on the verge of being ostracized by burning the landlord’s barn. As a result, he wants his family’s loyalty despite his mistakes. This is evident when he says, “You got to learn to stick to your own blood, or you aren’t going to have any blood to stick to you” (Faulkner 11). He does not want the family to condone his mistakes but to stand by him during the trial, and this brings mixed feelings on Sarty who is forced to choose between what is right or wrong and the loyalty to his family. Snopes burdens his son with a series of emotional dilemmas due to his uncouth behaviors, and this is, evident when he insists to him that to get the oil so that he could burn De Spain’s barn.

The protagonist develops throughout the story, and this is evident when he changes his mind by making the right choice not to support his father’s crimes and immoral principles. The author shows Sarty’s development when he starts to feel that his father’s actions are wrong and illegal (LIU and LIN 329). Initially, he could not protest against his father’s criminal actions against the property owners. However, at the end of the short story, we learn that the boy can make the right choices by not being loyal to criminal activities. He finally realized that destruction was not a good way to fight inequality and he had to stop his further from more ruin. Sarty wanted to ‘live without fear and despair, ‘and for that reason, he had to make the right choice of choosing loyalty to the law and morality.

In Barn Burning, the author uses symbolism to develop the two major themes in the story, which are morality and loyalty. There is the symbol of fire, the soiled rug, and the burning barns. Faulkner uses these symbols to detail the characterization of the main characters, Sarty, and Abner Snopes. The fire in the story symbolizes Abner’s powerless nature whereby he uses it to fight against the rich in the society (Comprone 17). On the other and, the burning barns symbolizes the evil and inequities in the society, and lastly, the soiled rugs displays the antagonist’s immorality. Faulkner uses the symbol to develop the themes in the story as the main characters are closely connected to them.

William Faulkner was able to accomplish his mission of exploring the themes of loyalty and morality. He used the protagonist, the antagonist, and symbolism to make it possible by showing how one can be torn between the two notions until he/she decides to make the right decision. Finally, the author through the life of the protagonist was able to prove that immorality and acts of violence can never have a place in the society. Sarty proved that there is more than just being loyal to the family blood because it can be costly and destructive (Kirchdorfer 118). He supported his father’s misdemeanor until when he realized that his actions were now getting out of hand and he had to make the right choice.

Barn Burning is a story about conflicting loyalties whereby the protagonist of the story is torn between morality and loyalty. Sarty had the morals instilled in him by the society, and on the other hand, he had his family to protect because of his blood ties with his father. Abner Snopes keeps reminding his son that he has to choose family relationships over the community. Sarty was a poor young boy caught in conflicting ideas, but in the end, he had to choose what he felt was the right thing to do. He chooses morality over loyalty after realizing that his father could not change because he took pleasure in hurting other people through burning barns. Sarty now starts a new life with nothing binding him to support injustices because he had chosen to keep his dignity by supporting justice.

Works Cited

Comprone, Joseph. "Literature and the Writing Process: A Pedagogical Reading of WilliamFaulkner's" Barn Burning"." College Literature 9.1 (1982): 1-21. Print.

Faulkner, William. Barn Burning. Tale Blazers: Perfection Learning, 2007. Print.

Kirchdorfer, Ulf. "Flight in William Faulkner's BARN BURNING." The Explicator 73.2 (2015):115-119. Print.

LIU, Ke-dong, and LIN Shi-rong. "Sarty’s initiation in Faulkner’s “Barn Burning.” Journal ofLiterature and Art Studies 3.5 (2013): 327-331. Print.

Roberts Edgar V and Zweig Robert. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. SixthEdition. NY: Pearson, 2014. Network: Print.

May 04, 2022


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