Barn Burning Essay Research Paper In

Barn Burning Essay, Research Paper

In “Barn Burning,” Faulkner incorporates several instances of irony. He utilizes this

literary tool in order to help the development of his characters and to express his ultimate

message to the readers. Some examples of his use of irony are the unintentional yet

inevitable ending of the Snopes family time after time, the similarities and differences

between Sarty Snopes and his father, and finally, the two distinct purposes for which

Abner Snopes uses fire. Separately, each is able to contribute to the development of the

two main characters in the short story. Collectively, they are also able to help Faulkner

convey his personal message that essentially, an individual’s sense of values comprises

who he/she is.

The most obvious instance of irony is the uncanny fashion in which each endeavor

of the Snopes family concludes every time. To the reader’s knowledge, it is neither

intended nor premeditated that each attempt of the family to make a new start results in

the same outcome. Each struggle is exactly that, yielding the invariable, undesired result

of a barn being engulfed in ravaging flames and the family being forced to search for a

new beginning. These trials help Sarty understand that in order to take control of his own

destiny, he must separate himself from his family and venture out on his own. If he ever

wishes to live a life other than that of a vagabond with no real chance for happiness or

stability, he must leave now.

Another case of the use of irony is the comparison between Sarty Snopes and his

father. While they physically resemble each other, their morals could not differ more.

Sarty is “small and wiry like his father (p267, paragraph 7).” However the similarities

are strictly limited to physical characteristics. The values and principles that the father

and son embrace reveal the true contrast between the two. Abner allows his emotions

and pride to get the better of him, controlling his actions and making him react in an

irrational manner. This tears young Sarty apart because although he wishes to obey and

honor his father, he cannot morally respect Abner and his deeds. Faulkner uses this

contrast in ideals to help Sarty realize that he is does not want to grow up like his father

nor is he obligated to follow in his footsteps. It helps him to see that he must escape if he

ever wants to change his way of life.

The final example of irony is perhaps the most important and effective. Abner

Snopes uses fire for two very distinct purposes which is the epitome of irony. He uses

the fire in a very destructive manner each time he burns down a barn. This immense

blaze serves no purpose but to keep intact his pride, “the element of fire spoke to some

deep mainspring of his father’s being,…as the one weapon for the preservation of

integrity (p 270, paragraph 1).” However, when it comes to keeping his family warm,

Abner sets only “a small fire, niggard almost, a shrewd fire (p 270, paragraph 1).” To

spare the warmth of a large fire for his family while setting grand ones for the

unnecessary purpose of demolishing a barn seems ridiculous. Abner Snopes clearly has

his priorities out of order. He is too caught up in his own egotism to realize that his

family is suffering right before him. Although literally, Abner’s habit is to burn barns,

perhaps what he is really burning is the very bridge his family needs to cross in order to

achieve contentment, success, and stability.

Faulkner’s message about the importance of individual values and ideals is

well-expressed through “Barn Burning.” It is clear that Abner lacks both and is therefore

unable to provide for his family and induces his own untimely death. Sarty represents

the hope that could have easily fallen into the footsteps of an overbearing father but

instead was wise enough to realize the fault in Abner’s ways and realign himself.


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