The Importance of Literary Elements in Barn Burning

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The Importance of Literary Elements in Barn Burning

Understanding literary elements such as patterns, reader/writer relationships, and character choice are critical in appreciating William Faulkner's Barn Burning. Some literary elements are small and almost inconsequential while others are large and all-encompassing: the mother's broken clock, a small and seemingly insignificant object, is used so carefully, extracting the maximum effect; the subtle, but more frequent use of dialectal words which contain darker, secondary meanings; the way blood is used throughout the story in many different ways, including several direct references in the familial sense; how Faulkner chooses to write about poor, common people (in fact to the extreme) and how this relates to the opinions of Wordsworth and Aristotle; and finally, the relationship between the reader and writer, Faulkner's choice of narrator and point of view, and how this is works successfully.

One of the formal choices Faulkner uses is the clock, the dowry of Sarty's mother, which does not work. On a simple level, the clock represents the Snopes' poverty, being all her parents could offer the newlyweds, and the only fancy object ever mentioned in the Snopes' possession. More important, however, is that it does not work-symbolizing the brokenness of their relationship and her happiness. To obtain the maximum effect, Faulkner mentions the mother's unhappiness directly after the clock:

...the clock inlaid with mother-of-pearl, which would not run, stopped at some fourteen minutes past two o'clock of a dead and forgotten time, which had been his mother's dowry. She was crying....(Faulkner 4)

Her unhappiness is justified in the story by Abner's treatment of his wife. He is cold and gives her orders, not to mention her feeling of hopelessness and despair about their way of life and his habit with fire.

One very interesting, and questionably deliberate, use of words by Faulkner is the substitution of "hit" for "it" and, although less frequent, "kin" for "can." These are clearly used to communicate the character's southern drawl, but he way Faulkner chooses to place these substitutions in sentences communicates the possibility of the substituted words' actual meanings. For example, in this dialog between Sarty and his mother, just after he is hit and knocked down by a boy outside the courthouse, the word "hit" can be taken in two ways.

"His mother's hand touched his shoulder. 'Does hit hurt?" she said.

'Naw,' he said. 'Hit don't hurt. Lemme be.'

'Can't you wipe some of the blood off before hit dries?'(Faulkner 5)"

Of course, Faulkner makes sure to incorporate other accented words like "Naw" and "Lemme" to make the use of "hit" more justifiable. In another example, Sarty uses both "hit" and "kin," just after Sarty's father is informed of the consequences of ruining the rug:

"If he wanted hit done different why didn't he wait and tell you how? He won't git no twenty bushels! He won't git none! We'll get hit and hide it! I kin watch...(Faulkner 16)"

The last two sentences particularly make use of the words' dual meanings. "We'll get hit and hide it" can be taken with full meaning both ways. The Snopes will once more get "hit" with the responsibility of Abner's actions. The family will once again have to hide this fact by leaving town and never returning. The "I kin watch" is a fragment, as Sarty is cut off by his father. Considering what he might have said were he allowed to finish his sentence, the double meaning of "kin" shows Sarty's pull towards imitating his father's example, exemplifying the struggle between blood and his virtuous character.

It is Sarty's flawed blood line from which he imminently escapes. Blood, in the familial sense, is consequently a major theme in this story. To further clarify Sarty's dilemma, the author often juxtaposes blood with the words fear, despair, and grief to...
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