On the Contemptuous Tone of Faulkner's Barn Burning
The contemptuous tone of William Faulkner’s Barn Burning is delivered through passages in which the son, Colonel Sartoris Snopes, is found to be paying more attention to details of his setting than the events in which he is involved. His descriptions of his family, and the manner in which the son is found to feel about his father’s choices, reveal a tone that indicates a scornful yet dutiful perspective. Sarty goes along with his family, realizing that he is expected to support his family, about whom he has mixed emotions. He finds his father expecting him to lie to a Justice of the Peace, describes his sisters in a demeaning manner, and he describes his desire to escape his family.
The detailed description of the room in which Sarty’s father Abner is being heard in the matter of the barn burning indicate the boy’s level of interest in the events that are occurring. He notices “cheese which he knew he smelled and the hermetic meat which his intestines believed he smelled coming in intermittent gusts.” (p. 171) Sarty is disinterested in the events, not noticing what is happening until Mr. Harris is asked to provide proof that may involve Sarty’s involvement. He is revealing that he has been allowed to go hungry, indicating that the contempt for his father extends not only to his alleged criminal actions, but also to his inability to provide for his son. Sarty also realizes that his father would expect him to lie in court, and that he “will have to do hit.” (171) Instead of being proud to stand up to the court to defend his father, he dreads the repercussions of telling the truth that would follow from Abner. Sarty also describes his father’s “ferocious conviction in the rightness of his own actions,” (173) instead of his own conviction in the “rightness” of his father’s perspective. The lack of empathy toward his own father shows Sarty’s contempt toward the family and his role in their lives.
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