Barn Burning by William Faulkner's is a short story about Abner Snopes and his son, Sarty Snopes. It is focused on answering the question on, 'Is blood thicker than water?' (O'Callaghan, 2017). Sarty is reminded by his father to always stick to his own blood regardless. His full name "Colonel Sartoris Snopes" demonstrates the conflict that goes on deep within himself for either standing by his family or not. He trusts that his choices will surely have consequences and he is ready to face it (Zeidanin, 2018). At the court, Abner's neighbor, Mr. Harris, accuses Abner for burning his barn. Though Abner sent a verbal message to his neighbor saying , "Wood and hay kin (can) burn" on the night Harris's Barn burns, the judge finds no proof pointing on Abner as the one that set the barn on fire.
Harris brings Abner's son, Sarty to testify against his father. The court shows mercy on Sarty and ends the questioning. The judge asks Abner to leave town and so he does so with his entire family. Abner asks his son if he indeed planned on telling on him in court and when he gets no response, he tells him, "You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain't going to have any blood to stick to you (Faulkner, 2018)." However, his son admits that he was going to tell the court the truth. Sarty then confesses that yes, yes he was going to tell the court the truth. Also, the judge finds Abner guilty for ruining the Major's rug, following Satyr's confusion. Later, Sarty realizes his father was about to burn Major's Barn and flees to go and inform him. His life is changed forever following the decision he made to not stand with his own blood.
Faulkner's short story portrays the theme of conflict between sticking to one's family and standing for what is right. Sarty battles with this in himself as a young man moving into his adulthood. He is faced with a choice of sticking to his own blood, his family or doing what he considers right. However, Faulkner's Barn Burning also strikes a discussion on matters of racial differences, class dominance and the economic strife that characterized the 1930s: A period of great depression and oppression of the unprivileged. A rift exists between the Sartoris and the Snopes in terms social values and aristocracy (O'Callaghan, 2017). For instance, Major DeSpain's home is a representation of a comfortable life. Faulkner portrays Sartoris as an Agricultural society despite them facing injustices and unfair play (Faulkner, 2018). This society is characterized by a class division of blacks, whites as well as the unprivileged white workers who are often oppressed. Hence, economic inequality where Major DeSpain requires Abner to pay twenty bushels for destroying his rug.
Consequently, the class difference is evident when Abner and his son visit the Major's house: thinks of the big house as a "surge of peace and joy." Its size "Hit's big as a courthouse" hence Sarty prefers this safety and peace that comes with it and detests the distress from his father, who keeps burning barn. He notices the splendid interior, the chandeliers, and curving stairs and notices Mrs. DeSpain "wiping cake or biscuit dough from her hands." Abner, on the other hand, sees the house as "pretty and white," constructed on "sweat, nigger sweat. Maybe it ain't white enough yet to suit him. Maybe he [de Spain] wants to mix some white sweat with it." To Abner's knowledge, the Major "aims to begin owning me body and soul for the next eight months," hence plans to burn his property as well as further destroy the rug (Zeidanin, 2018). Hence, being an underclass white man and a tenant farmer who is often faced with social and economic inequalities, he acts violently towards his oppressors by, for instance, burning their barn.
Class difference is more evident when Abner meets the black servant at the Major's house. Faulkner does not only bring out the differences between the whites but also between poor white tenants and black servants working for wealthy white men. For instance, the black servant has an attire of better quality and has more power to command the poor white tenant, Abner, not to get into the house with dirty boots. This portrays a picture of less superiority of both the blacks and poor white folks: they occupy the same class despite their racial differences (Zeidanin, 2018). This class difference is one of the reasons that Abner goes on with his act of burning the barn of the wealthy white men. This is the picture of Mississippi back in the 30s: The poor whites and the blacks at the lowest end of the economy and conflict brought by racial differences.
In terms of Faulkner's characters, they are quite complex in terms of characterization. Abner for instance is presented as an abusive, violent and a destructive man yet on the other end, he is a prideful, bold and a courageous man (Faulkner, 2018). Due to his defiance, he walks past the black servant who was humiliating him at the doorway. Aside from his "wolflike independence and even courage," he also has a "ferocious conviction in the rightness of his ways" that has made him cope with the rich white man's supremacy (O'Callaghan, 2017). Different from the Abner who burns barn, Faulkner presents an independent, confident, and enduring character. Abner is used to pointing out the oppression and injustices that characterized the 30s, which consequently leads him to be the relentless and defiant person that he is. Hence, Abner is raged when Sarty goes against him to report to Major DeSpain about his plan of burning his barn despite the oppressions they faced from him. Other than showing loyalty to his clan, Sarty chooses to stand for morality and justice while at the same time drawn to the material possession of the Aristocrats family regardless of what it was going to cost his own father.
At the courtroom, Sarty is about to testify that his father was guilty before the judge stops him. However, outside the courtroom, he confronts the boys that were calling his father a barn burner. He gets hurt in the process of trying to protect his father, hence the literal application of Faulkner's Barn Burning the main theme, blood is thicker than water (O'Callaghan, 2017). He defends his father knowing too well that Mr. Harris barn was not the first one he ever burnt though he hopes that his father will somehow stop burning barns: "Forever he thought. Maybe he's done satisfied now, now that he has ... (Faulkner, 2018)." Abner's limping is from the wound he got when he was stealing horses during the Civil War. Faulkner portrays the barns of importance than houses, perhaps because often both livestock and crops are kept there. Due to this reason, Abner punishes his oppressors by destroying something he knows is of much importance (Zeidanin, 2018). Also, he stands in the way of his son revealing the truth by constantly reminding Sarty of the importance of family and the chances that none of the people in the courtroom will save him aside from his own family, his own blood.
The campfire scene portrays Abner as one who draws his strength of contending with his oppressors through using fire. He perfected this skill during the Civil War, where he got accustomed to building small fires (Faulkner, 2018). Abner tries to make his son understand his reason for fighting for liberation when he takes Sarty to Major DeSpain's house. Abner wants him to see the injustices that lie in their society by the look of the massiveness of his house compared to theirs (Zeidanin, 2018). However, Sarty realizes that not even the magnificent house was going to stop his father, who is defiant following what the Civil War did to him, from going on with burning barns.
To finalize, Barn Burning brings out several themes amongst them is the conflict between standing for justice and loyalty to one's family on the other hand. Sarty's tries to live up to his name as one who is just and fair and hopes to break away from his father's ills. While trying to defend his father, he wishes his father would seize from burning barn. Despite their need for showing loyalty to their own blood, Sarty, his aunt and mother are equally inclined on the side of justice. Sarty's quest for justice leads him to walk right ahead without looking back understanding that he is now all by himself because he chose to cut himself from his family. Just like his father had promised him, he will now face the world all by himself which is somewhat like a rebirth of himself as he transits to adulthood.
Faulkner's, William, and Barn Burning. "Conflicting Moral Goods." Short Stories and Political Philosophy: Power, Prose, and Persuasion (2018): 89.
O'Callaghan, Eoin. "William Faulkner, Whiteness, and the Transnational Short Story." Atlantic Crossing in the Wake of Frederick Douglass. Brill Rodopi, 2017. 161-175.
Zeidanin, Hussein H., and Mohammed Matarneh. "Social Alienation and Displacement in Faulkner's "Barn Burning", Henry's "The Social Triangle" and Mansfield's "The Doll's House"." International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature 7.3 (2018): 85-89.
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