Jean Dickson Bertrand
February, 21 2013
At the end of the 19th Century, the southern part of the United States of America suffers considerably. The Great Depression, the inter- class conflicts, the socio- economic turmoil, and the sharecropping structure are among things that can push one with a villain’s core to commit cruel actions. The setting of William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” demonstrates a vivid picture of life in the south during that period of time. Faulkner’s short story portrays the struggle of an abused ten year old boy, Colonel Sartoris Snopes (Sarty), son of Abner Snopes, an emotionless and malicious man known best in ruining others’ property. Sarty is confronted with the dilemma of choice between loyalty to his family and loyalty to principle and integrity. [A rich, vivid description of the setting]
In Sarty’s world violence seems to be a fundamental factor of manhood. Abner Snopes, his father, a thoughtless force of violence and destruction is unethical and cold without any regard for others and their property. His sadism is nourished by envy and anger. Snopes’ need for revenge is borne of his sense of inferiority and lack of power and gradual emasculation by the depressing sharecropping structure. Sarty’s choice is either being loyal to his father, or doing what his guts tell him to do. In his mind there is no doubt that it is completely immoral of his father to burn people’s barns, but on the other hand Snopes constantly plays in Sarty’s mind with his credo about family, “You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you” (Faulkner 3). This so called credo drafts the conflict that is prowling around the young boy’s brain and constantly raises this question: What about the concept of right and wrong? In other term if you do not blindly side with your family whether the family is right or wrong, you will be on your own when you need help. Actually this is what Sarty experiences at the end of the story. Does it really matter that he does not have someone to turn to?
The story begins at a makeshift court in a store. Ten- year- old, Colonel Startoris Snopes, is confronted with the issue of right and wrong. His father is on trial for burning Mr. Harris’ barn (Abner’s first mentioned landlord in the story). Automatically, Sarty considers the people at the court as his father’s enemies, thus his enemies also. He fiercely sides himself to his blood relative as Faulkner omnisciently illustrates in the Story “Our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! Mine and hisn both! He is my father!”(Faulkner 1). Abner is charged a dollar pound fee for his hog being in Mr. Harris cornfield. Despite the fact that the farmer gives enough wire to Snopes to pen the hog, he does not bother doing anything; he keeps the wire in his yard. As he pays the fee he sends words via a nigger to Mr. Harris that “Wood and hay kin burn” (Faulkner 1). Snopes gets away with his crime, since there is no proof, the judge finds him not guilty, but advice him to leave the town and never come back.
The scene at the courtroom, and Sarty‘s fight with the boys after leaving the room demonstrates clearly the struggle of the young boy. At the hearing, he is about to give up his father with an opposing testimony when the judge dismisses him; hence when he hears the boys, outside the courthouse, calling his dad “Barn Burner” he sticks to his blood by fighting them to protect his father’s good name, a name that is his. Sarty is loyal to his blood while believing in justice; he is weak, inarticulate, and subject to his father’s demeaning influence. Abner seems guided by the devil, so his only way to cope with his situation is to hurt others. He does not burn farm houses, because the villain in him knows that barns are where they keep livestock that are important to provide money and food for the farmers and their family. He burns to hurt and to satisfy his ego. He...
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