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Barn Burning | Sarty's Moral Dilemma

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1904 words Published: 10th May 2017

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In 1939, William Cuthbert Faulkner writes "Barn Burning". In "Barn Burning", a ten-year-old boy named Sartoris Snopes is in court, sweating he will not have to testify in the arson case not in favor of his father. It's an accusation of which Sarty knows his father is at fault. Mr. Harris, who has never caused harm to Sarty, is nonetheless Sarty's enemy because he is his father's enemy, and Sarty has not yet become independent from his father. The main subject matter in the story concerns the relationship between father- Abner Snopes and his son- Sarty Snopes. Sarty's attitude changes in this "coming of age" story when Sarty alters from being trustworthy to his family, to knowing the difference between right and wrong, and then doing something about it.

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Throughout the story, it is shown numerous times that Sarty has not yet separated himself from his father. For example, Sarty does everything his father says without questioning, which is probably due to the fact that if he does not, his father will abuse him, but Sarty also probably believes that his father knows best. Sarty's father says, "You got to learn to stick to your blood or you ain't going to have any blood to stick to you" (227). This was drilled into Sarty's head throughout his life and is the reason that Sarty fights the guy in the courtroom, not because the guy does anything to Sarty directly, but because he insults Sarty's father, so Sarty feels it was an insult to him as well. Even at the end of the story it is shown that Sarty is loyal to his family when he says, "He won't git no ten bushels neither. He won't git one" (236). The reason Sarty is mad is because his father is mad, and he feels like he has to be mad, which proves even further that he has not yet separated himself from his family.

Sarty's family are itinerant farmers, but they move around even more often than is typical because of his father's habit of burning something down every time he gets angry. Sarty realizes that there is something deeply psychologically wrong with his father, and it is shown from the very beginning that Sarty does not agree with what his father does. For example, Sarty does not want to lie in court, but he knows he has to or else his father will hurt him. He says to himself, "He aims for me to lie, he thought, again with frantic grief and despair, and I will have to do hit" (227). He knows that lying is wrong, but he has also not separated from his father yet, so he also knows that he has to lie in order to save his father. There are numerous accounts in this story where Sarty does not agree with his father's actions, but he does not even allow himself to think about it. He says to himself, "Maybe he's done satisfied now, now that he has… stopping himself, not to say it aloud even to himself'(228). This shows that he wants his father to stop and does not even want to think that his father could have caused such grief. Sarty is young and naïve and thinks that his father cannot help the way he is, which is the only excuse that Sarty has for his father's actions. He says, "Maybe it will even change him now from what maybe he couldn't help but be" (231). Sarty thinks or actually hopes that maybe his father will change, but soon realizes that burning down barns is the only way that his father feels he can get revenge for the way he has been treated by the landowners his whole life. Sarty is at the age where he is starting to develop his own thoughts and beliefs, but it is harder for him to accept as he starts to realize that his father's beliefs are the opposite of his.

Sarty never actually has an epiphany where he suddenly realizes that his father's actions are wrong. He knows it all the time, but it is not until the end of the story that he actually has the courage to act upon it. It would be easy to say that Sarty, in the end, must make a choice between right and wrong, between the "peace and dignity" (230) represented by the de Spains with the squalor and misery of the Snopes family, but it is more than that. At the story's beginning, when Sarty was ready to testify that his father did not burn down that barn, he would have done it because a son's job is to stick to his father. At the story's end, he tells his father to at least give the de Spains a warning, which is the first time that Sarty ever talked back to his father, and marks a major turning point in the story as Sarty actually starts to act on his feelings. Then when his father will not listen to him, he refuses to help him and then he himself breaks out of his mother's arm and goes to warn Major de Spain himself that his father is about to burn down his beautiful plantation. He does this even though he knows that this will bring his family down once and for all, and even though he knows that this means he will never be able to go home again. This is heavy knowledge for a boy, but Sarty is able to do it because he now sees that he is not his father, and the route he wants to travel in the world is nothing like his father's path.

Sarty's moral growth brings him to more humanitarian values beyond mere loyalty to the clan. Sarty is initiated into adulthood in this story when he realizes that his father's actions are wrong and he wants to do the right thing.

Protagonist Abner Snopes

In 1939, William Faulkner writes "Barn Burning". The story reflects the life of the people living in Mississippi during the period of "social, economic, and cultural tumult, the decade of Great Depression" (Mary E. Byrne) The main theme in "Barn Burning" concerns the relationships between father- Abner Snopes and his son- Sarty Snopes, shows the social and economic injustice that happens "between the white landowners and the white tenant farmers", "the racial distinction between black and whites" (Mary E. Byrne). The plot in "Barn Burning" depicts a story of a family that is in the lowest social class and endures financial difficulties. Abner Snope's attempts for better life do not lead to anything and his family has nothing left to do but travel all over the country in search of new farms which they can lend and maybe make some money just enough to merely survive. Abner Snopes is a poor sharecropper; he is smart enough to understand that his social status is never going to improve, and that his children's future holds only hard work. Abner Snope's complex characterization by Faulkner proves that the social position of his family, inability to provide the members of his family with better life environment leads to the frustration and makes him to become a rebel barn burner; protagonist Abner Snopes turns into antagonist only due to the social and economic pressure the society puts on him.

Abner Snopes is one of the main characters in William Faulkner's "Barn Burning". William Faulkner shows the nature of Abner Snopes through his attitude towards his family and towards society he lives in. Abner Snopes has four children whose destiny is a great concern of his. Abner Snopes, a person with "wolf-like independence and even courage" (495), becomes discouraged when in spite of his hard work as a sharecropper ha gets only one-third of the whole harvest and his landlords gets the rest of it. Abner Snopes cannot afford any education for his children, cannot afford to buy a house, he cannot even afford to buy enough food for his family. He works continuously from day to day but still lives with his family in small shacks that "ain't fitten for hawgs"(505).The scene where Abner buys a "little piece of cheese" for dinner and divides it equally among his family members demonstrates that Abner is a fair man; that is why he becomes discouraged when he sees the injustice of the society. The economic injustice that Abner endures after the Civil War humiliates him and makes him to become a barn burner.

Abner Snopes' family "owns one wagonload of possessions", which are called the "sorry residue of the "twelve movings"(498). Family possessions include only mother's small "dowry: a clock, inlaid with mother-of-pearl that long ago stopped running", along with other things: a "battered stove," "broken beds and chairs," (507) a "battered lantern," and "a worn broom" (507). Mrs. Snopes' "broken" and "worn" dowry emphasizes the poverty of the family. Constant moving form one farm to another indicates family instability and dependence on the father of the family, Abner Snopes.

The scene where Abner Snopes with his son comes to Major de Spain house and sees all the luxury of de Spain lifestyle emphasizes Abner's desperation with his position in the society.

Abner Snopes observes the colossal differences amid the houses and possessions, sees the "contrast between their horses", however it gets even worse when Abner realizes that de Spain has servants, which wear better clothing and eat better food that his own children. Major de Spain's servant, whom Abner thinks of a lower class and says, "Get out of my way, nigger," (503) is dressed in fine linen, while the Snopes family dresses shabbily and his son's Sarty shirt is "rotten" and "falling apart because it has been washed so many times" (504). Besides that Abner also understands that his position on the social ladder is lower then the position of de Spain's black servant. Abner Snopes experiences extreme desperation that turns him into a rebellion, Abner begin to show his feelings towards social injustice through barn burning and ruining expensive de Spain's rug.

Abner's tender attitude towards his family members worsens his attitude towards the social distinction in the society, because he wishes his family does not suffer from Abner's inability to provide them with all that they need for a normal life: house, food, education. Abner's attitude towards his family is shown through the eyes of his son Sarty.

At first sight Abner gives the impression of an abusive father who speaks with a "harsh voice" to his son Sarty. However, "the harsh voice" (497) indicates Abner's desire to make his son acquainted with the harshness of life, ignorance, indifference and egocentrism of the society. The scene where Abner hits his son "the same way as he "sticks the mule with a stick', only in order to "kill a horse fly" without any "anger or heat" (496) proves that it is only Abner's way of teaching the life wisdom to his son. Abner wants his son to be "a man" and to learn to stick to "his own blood" (496). Abner understands the importance of family bonds and teaches his son to be loyal and protective to his family. Abner's loyalty and protectfulness to his family frustrates him since, no matter how hard Abner Snopes works in the fields, 'he will never be able to earn enough to become a powerful, wealthy landowner like de Spain and the others who employ him" and his family will have to live the miserable life they are living right now.

The story "Barn Burning" by William Faulkner through its main character, Abner Snopes, draws a picture people's life in the conditions of social class difference. When the economic and social difference between the classes frustrates people and makes them to become aggressive and violent.

Abner's character is fully examined by the reader, because of the excessive amount of details regarding his appearance, attitude, and actions.


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