A Literary Analysis Of
“Barn Burning” Essay, Research Paper
November 6, 2000
A Literary Analysis of
At first glance, the story ?Barn burning? seems just to be about a tyrannical father and a son who is in the grips of that tyranny. I think Faulkner explores at least one important philosophical question in this story were he asks at what point should a person make a choice between what his parent(s) and / or family believes and his own values?
The main character and protagonist in this story is a boy named Colonel Sartoris. In this story, Sarty is faced with the decision of either going along with the views and actions of his morally challenged father or asserting his own morality and individuality by running away and leaving his family and his pain behind.
The antagonist in the story is Abner Snobes. Abner Snobes is a very angry and inconsiderate man who has hate and detestation for almost anybody who is not ?blood-kin?, and he portrays that hatred and contempt throughout the story (qtd. In Volpe 163).
This story follows the typical format and is narrated in the third person. In the exposition, Faulkner?s skill as a writer is demonstrated through the way that he uses detail to draw the readers into the story. Also, in the first paragraph we are introduced to the main character and protagonist in the story, Sarty. The setting in which Sarty?s conflict is established is a trial. In the trial, the justice asks Sarty, ? I reckon any boy named for Colonel Sartoris is this country can?t help but tell the truth, can they? (qtd. in Meyer 482)? This is the part of the story in which the readers can first get a sense of the moral dilemma that Faulkner is trying to portray in this story. Next, we are introduced to the antagonist, Abner Snobes, when he talks for the first time since the trial began. He also establishes the fact that he plans to move himself and his family out of town. We are then introduced to the rest of Sarty?s family.
The inciting force takes place after Sarty and his family move to a house owned by a man named De Spain, under the assumption that they will cultivate De Spain?s farm and give him a portion of the crop. After the family moves into the house, Abner decides to have a word with De Spain, so he and Sarty make their way to De Spain?s house. De Spain?s house is obviously an important symbol for Sarty because ? his immediate response to the site of the house is to compare it to a symbol of justice, the courthouse?
( qtd. in Volope 163). Along the walk, Abner walks with such arrogance that he treads right through a pile of horse manure. In the next scene, the inciting force is established. In this scene, Abner proceeds to go into De Spain?s house and wipes his soiled feet all over De Spain?s expensive rug. This act of contempt, coupled with the act of burning the other man?s barn down establishes the fact that ?Ab does not discriminate between rich and poor. For him there are only two categories: ?blood kin? and ?they,? into which he clumps all the rest of mankind? (qtd. in Volpe 163). This attitude is also evident by the role that Abner played in the Civil War, in which he had stolen from both sides. He is just out for his own vindication, and he does not care if he hurts ?they?.
The rising action starts after the inciting force. Abner?s continuing contempt for ?they?, in this case, De Spain, is no less evident by the fact that after De Spain confronts Abner with the demand for having his rug cleaned and returned to him, Abner ruins the rug by rubbing a hole through it with a rock. The result of Abner?s actions is a trial in which Abner is ordered to pay De Spain 20 bushels for the cost of the ruined rug.
It is a little while after the trial, when Abner, Sarty, and his brother get home, that the turning point takes place. After they get home, Sarty is asked by his father to go to the barn and get the wagon oil. At this point, Sarty realizes the dubious intentions of his father. The turning point occurs when Sarty realizes that ?I could keep on. I could run on and never look back, never need to see his face again.? (qtd. in Myers 491)
The falling action occurs after Sarty breaks free from the restraints of his mother?s grasp and his father?s moral dysfunction and goes to warn De Spain that his father is going to burn down his barn.
The climax occurs after Sarty warns De Spain about his barn and he hears the gunshot. It is also after Sarty comes to the realization that he can never go back home
The reason that I wrote this analysis is to show how accurately Faulkner adheres to the typical short story form. I also thought that it was important to make some general analysis of the timeless question that is being portrayed in this story: At what point should a young man leave his parents residence and constraints and go off and make his own choices? I think the reason that this story is so good is because Faulkner writes it in such away that it draws the reader in and makes them sympathize with Sarty and his moral dilemma.
Meyers, Michael. The Bedford Introduction To Literature.Boston, MA: Bedford Books of St. Martin?S Press, 1999.
Volpe, Edmond. ?Barn Burning.? Short Story Criticism. Eds.Missouri Kansas City: Topographic?s, Incorporated,1988.