Barn Burning: Faulkner’s Widely Discussed Short Story on Family Ties and Community Principles

Category: Barn Burning
Last Updated: 30 Mar 2023
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Barn Burning is among Faulkner's best and most widely discussed and anthologized short stories. Faulkner's Barn Burning has the various contexts that surround the story - the historical, political, economical, social, ideological, and aesthetic conditions that were contemporary with Faulkner's writing of this story. Barn Burning is the best introduction to issues that occur in his fiction, including most importantly the clash between family ties and community principles, illiterate sharecroppers that are made poor by a system that allows rich landowners to indulge their taste in carpets brought in from France.

Faulkner’ Barn Burning Barn Burning was first published in Harper's Magazine in June 1939 and later was published as the first story in Collected Stories (Kartiganer and Abadie, p. 67). Barn Burning is one of several stories describing the Snopes clan. Focus is on the relations between Ab Snopes, a sharecropper, and his son, Colonel Sartoris (often called as “the boy” or “Sarty”) Snopes, a boy of ten or eleven.

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Ab, who appears as a Civil War horse thief living from plunder in The Unvanquished, is here described (thirty years older) as a vary angry person, given to burning barns as the act of retaliating for real or imagined wrongs. The story narrates Sarty's gradual, reluctant emergence into opposition against his father. Barn Burning deals poignantly with the issue of justice. Readers feel the personal dilemma experienced by Sarty as he makes justice to the father whom he loves in spite of the agonizing pain that such an act causes him.

Sarty feels as if he is “being pulled two ways like between two teams of horses” and wishes it could all be “gone, done with for ever and ever” (Faulkner 17). The theme of a child's anxiously coming to conditions with the need for social fundamental norms has attracted the best of American writers (for example, James, Crane, and Hemingway, among others), and was masterfully presented in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Kartiganer and Abadie, p. 120).

Though “Barn Burning” is most importantly about a child's coming of age, it raises many impotent economic issues. The richness of Barn Burning has produced many forms of critical analysis. Most popular criticism describes the work as a “coming of age” story. Criticism of this sort analyzes the psychological and mythical aspects of opposition between ideas of Sarty and his father. For example, Loges (1998) presents Sarty's final revolt as in conformity with accepted ethical standards and emphasizes the evil - even fiendish - aspects of Ab's actions (p.

43). Recent readings, considering cultural materialist/new historicist aspects, have reexamined this view. Authors Kartiganer and Abadie (1997) have tried to “decenter” the story by analyzing the social and economic causes of Ab's anger (p. 240). While not excusing Ab's angry actions, these authors questioned the ideological sophistication and ethical accuracy of Sarty's revolt against his father. Many critics have paid attention to the story's descriptive language and diction and to its relation to other stories by the author.

Kartiganer and Abadie analyzed the story's complex narrative method, in which Sarty's thoughts and ideas are presented in a language more experienced than his age would seem to allow. Kartiganer and Abadie emphasized how highly the narrator's negative presentation of Ab Snopes is colored by Sarty's worry and feeling of distress. Conclusion Barn Burning occupies a central place in Faulkner's writing, both in its presentation of class and economic issues and in its description of father-son problems.

Barn Burning provides an excellent example of the way in which family structures are both made in and mirrored by legal and economic complex organizations. The story also describes the class consciousness and conflict covering the complexity of exploitative forms in the South. References Faulkner, William. (1950). Collected Stories of William Faulkner. Random House: New York. Kartiganer, Donald M. and Abadie, Ann J. (1997). Faulkner in Cultural Context. University Press of Mississippi: Jackson, MS. Loges, Max L. (1998). Faulkner's Barn Burning. The Explicator

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Barn Burning: Faulkner’s Widely Discussed Short Story on Family Ties and Community Principles. (2016, Jul 17). Retrieved from

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