Barn Burning William Faulkner

Category: Barn Burning, Father, Truth
Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
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William Faulkner was born on September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi. During his adolescent years he was motivated to attend school and even skipped the second grade. Unfortunately, while becoming a young adult he grew less fond of his studies and dropped out of high school when he was fifteen. In 1918 he was rejected from the U. S Air Force since he did not meet weight and height requirements, he then returned home to Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner attended University of Mississippi where he wrote the school newspapers and magazines.

Due to his upbringing in the South which is duly noted in his literature works of art, Barn Burning would be considered his fictional representation of the merciless, money-making New South versus the land-owning, noble Old South. Barn Burning, part of a trilogy, also incorporates some aspects of his family life, for instance being brought in the times of the great depression. Barn Burning captures of the life of the south during this time period through his setting, characters, and symbols.

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In 1949, he won the Nobel Prize for literature which he used the income to establish a scholarship fund for black students. William Faulkner believed in integration of the South rather than segregation. William Faulkner “tells the story of his region and of his nation, to demonstrate the often tragic inextricability of past and present, to show the human capacity for baseness and for nobility, to search for truth and meaning in a world where values seem constantly to shift and to erode. ” (Minter) Literary Critique

In the beginning, “Barn Burning” appears to be a story about a harsh father and his family, who seems to be caught up in his devilish ways. As you read further in to the story you find that the story is focused on the protagonist or son a poor sharecropper, Colonel Sartoris Snopes, who has to struggle with his father’s arsonist tendencies which are destroying his families’ reputation and life style, while coming to terms with his own ethics. However, don’t forget to notice the dialect in this story and Faulkner’s.

Critic Hal Macdonald comments on dialect when Sarty Snopes says to himself, "He aims for me to lie [... ] and I will have to do hit"(Faulkner 156) points out “Sarty's addition of an h before the pronoun "it," although characteristic of some rural Southern dialects, nonetheless strikes the ear of a Southern reader” (Par. 1) In addition to the importance of dialect, we are missing out on a truly miserable pain in the context of the story seen through situations around a fire.

Susan Yunis comments on the fact that Barn Burning focuses more on the tyranny of the father rather than the deplorable state his family is left in. An excerpt from the story shows this ongoing effect on his family: “The nights were still cool and they had a fire against it, of a rail lifted from a nearby fence and cut into lengths—a small fire, neat, niggard almost, a shrewd fire; such fires were his father's habit and custom always, even in freezing weather.

Older, the boy might have remarked this and wondered why not a big one; why should not a man who had not only seen the waste and extravagance of war, but who had in his blood an inherent voracious prodigality with material not his own, have burned everything in sight?

Then he might have gone a step farther and thought that that was the reason: that niggard blaze was the living fruit of nights passed during those four years in the woods hiding from all men, blue or gray, with his strings of horses (captured horses, he called them).

And older still he might have divined the true reason: that the element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father's being, as the element of steel or of powder spoke to other men, as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity, else breath were not worth the breathing, and hence to be regarded with respect and used with discretion. ”(Par. 2)

One should see a boy whose family has been forced to leave their home, huddled by a small fire in the cool night, and who has huddled by such a small fire even on freezing nights to avoid the retaliation of angry landlords. I see discomfort, anger, even despair at the recurrence of this situation and at the powerlessness of the family to change it. Yet, this discomfort is never spoken by the narrator. Yunis states “that a narrator who focuses less on the child than on the motivation of his violent, even abusive parent seems incongruous” (Par. 3). Furthermore, the fire is one important symbol occurring in this story.

Compared to Snopes fire he constructed for his family small and inadequate. His “barn-burning” flames had Confederate patrols after him many nights searching for the horse thief. Instead of becoming extremely satisfied by providing warmth and comfort for his family. Snopes would rather see a brief blazing moment to preserve his integrity and feel powerful. In reality, he is powerless and poor with cruel intentions. In addition to the fire that says so much, the soiled rug portrays his resentment of individuals better off than him, taking it to a personal level.

The luxurious rug symbolizes Snopes’ every relief, chance, and freedom he feels he has been unfairly denied, and in obliterating it, he gives up all regard for his life and family’s hope. Theme Level of Maturity in “Barn Burning” Being a parent is not easy. Parents must guide the children, should set good examples, and take care of them until the day that they can venture the world on their own. However, what if it’s the other way around? William Faulkner’s story titled “Barn Burning” shows a boy named Sartoris who matured at a very young age due to his family’s circumstances.

He wished that things could be different for his family especially his father; the cold and unyielding manipulator of the family. The innocence of a child is pure and beyond compare. They try things that is new to them or that intrigues them, and they usually role play or imitate what they see especially what the adults do. A child can be easily told to do this, do that, don’t say this, and don’t say that. Sartoris, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be told what to do nor what to say. He is a very intelligent and wise boy because he knows exactly what to do especially when he was being questioned by the authorities.

He knows what will be the outcome if he tells the truth, so even if it is against his will, he lied to the authorities. Also, he felt that his father wanted him to lie “He aims for me to lie, he thought, again with that frantic grief and despair. And I will have to do hit” (Faulkner 156). This behavior shows how the father has planted the idea of how important family is for them to the point of being irrational. The critic Thomas Bertonneau shares the same idea, “Abner's injunction to Sarty ‘to stick to your own blood’. Abner’s notion of ‘family’ only applies when it is convenient for him. Treating a child is very important as well.

It molds and shapes them to be what they are in the future. It also shows what type of personality they will have like being bashful, lively, reserve, and sometimes aggressive. Child treatment is different and it depends on their gender. The example of this is if the child is a girl; she might be treated gently, but protective and tons of attention. On the other hand, if the child is a boy; he might be treated a little bit tougher, but somewhat lenient because boys sometimes do not need much attention than girls. Boys most of the time don’t cry that much or they don’t cry at all even though they are being scolded or sometimes being hit.

They don’t show much of their emotions or thoughts because for them being a boy means you need to be tough and not a cry baby. Also, be able to adjust their selves quickly to any situations, “If I had said they wanted only truth, justice, he would have hit me again” (Faulkner 158). Sartoris didn’t talk back nor cried even though he was hit by his father. He handled it very well because he knew if he talk back to his father; he will get hit and he will receive a lengthily sermon from his father. “The word ‘ferocious’ is related to the word ‘feral,’ or ‘wild’”(Bertonneau) Sartoris was treated very aggressively by his father.

He wanted to tell the authorities the truth, but he couldn’t. As mentioned earlier, a child imitates what they see. If a parent is not careful with their actions or words a child might end up in the wrong direction. However, some children have a great distinction between right from wrong and what’s rude and what’s not. A child can also feel embarrassment if something has been done that they believe to be humiliating, “ Watching him,… his father held and saw the stiff foot come squarely down in a pile of fresh droppings…which his father could have avoided by a simple change of stride”(Faulkner 159).

Sartoris felt so embarrassed because it’s a common sense that if there’s a pile of animal dropping on your way you should avoid it because if you don’t you will make such a mess and it will smell “Abner now barges into the de Spain house, tracking manure on the rug; he frightens Mrs. de Spain and humiliates the servant”(Bertonneau). This stubbornness of stepping on animal droppings shows Abner’s willful behavior of telling everyone that he was not their servant and he wanted his son to learn that. The developmental stage of a child is a step by step progression, but quick.

On this case, Sartoris showed a great deal of maturity and thinking. He is more mature than his father. His judgment between right and wrong is impressive. He showed great thinking because he thinks it through before saying anything. He knew what’s going to happen if he tells the truth. Even if it’s against his will he remained silent because for him; his father is more important even though his father is trying to corrupt him. Sartoris have a bright future on his way because he has different outlook or view in the world; unlike his father.

He is more of a man than his father because his respect to his self is great and the way that he thinks is mature rather than immature that you would expect from a child.

Works Cited

  1. Bertonneau, Thomas. "Barn Burning. "Short Stories for Students. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.
  2. Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Ed. Kennedy, X. J. , and Dana Gioia. Boston: Pearson, 2013. 155-167. Print.
  3. McDonald, Hal. Faulkner's 'Barn Burning. '. " Explicator 61. 1 (Fall 2002): 46-48.
  4. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Jelena O. Krstovic. Vol. 92. Detroit: Gale, 2006. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.
  5. Minter, David. "William Faulkner. " William Faulkner. Pearson Education, n. d. Web. 11 Nov. 2012. Yunis, Susan S. "The Narrator of Faulkner's 'Barn Burning'. " The Faulkner Journal 6. 2 (Spring 1991): 23-31.
  6. Rpt. in Literature Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2012. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.

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Barn Burning William Faulkner. (2017, Mar 11). Retrieved from

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