Barn BurningThe story of Barn Burning was first published in the June of 1939 in the Harper’s Magazine and later awarded the O. Henry Memorial Award for the best short story of the year. (Byne) The author, William Faulkner, was one of America’s most innovative novelists. (gatewayno) The way he describes the smells, sites and sounds of the rural late 1800’s make you feel as if you are there with the characters in this story. Through the use of symbolism, Faulkner tells the story about a relationship of a father and son. Fire was the most vital symbol used and describes the way, Abner, the main character in the story faces all of his challenges. He lived his life like a flaming inferno destroying everything he touches. In this story of a boy’s struggle with his love for his father and doing what is morally right, the Family loyalty comes to flames in Barn Burning.
The son, Colonel Sartoris, known as Sarty, had to deal with constant rejection from his father, Abner. The story starts with Sarty feeling the anxiety of whether he should tell the judge the truth or lie for his farther. He is in an emotional dilemma on what to do. Sarty knew if he told the truth, that his father might have to go to jail. As Sarty was called by the judge to come forward, he said to himself, He aims for me to lie, he thought, again with that frantic grief and despair. And I will have to do it. (398) In despair, Enemy! Enemy! he thought; for a moment he could not even see, could not see the judges face was
Murphy 2 friendly nor discern that his voice was troubled (398)
Sarty is at a constant battle with himself, as he seems unable to choose between doing what is right or do what he knows what his father expects from him. Knowing that he will have to do something wrong in attempt to please his father seems to be the only way he will receive his praise.
Abner was a mean and bitter man. Faulkner uses symbols that refer to the dark side and of how ridged Abner was by stating, his father, Stiff in his black Sunday coat, (398) stiff black coat, (398) and his stiff black back, the stiff and implacable limp of a figure. (401)
Abner felt there was discrimination by the rich folks against the poor people and that he was always looked down upon. It was always the other man that got the lucky break and a poor man never would get to be so lucky. The only way he felt he could attempt to get ahead, was to beat the other man to the punch first. Abner was just like the fires he built, uncontrollable, ruthless, and destroying everything he comes in touch with.
He was a poor Civil War veteran that traveled from farm to farm as a sharecropper. As a sharecropper his family had to share up too half of his harvest from his crops with the landowner. They always seemed to find work, but had to live in poor conditions. Abner had no hope of improving his financial condition and never new what the future would hold for him and his family from one job to the next.
Abner told Sarty You are getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you? (400) Abner has a personality that is always us against them. It was the Murphy 3 family versus the enemy. For Abner there are two types of people, his immediate family, blood kin and everyone else are categorized as other. He would not tolerate any other point of view other than his own. Anyone with a different perspective would be immediately met with conflict from Abner. Such as the time he would not fence in his hog, letting him graze in the farmer’s cornfield.
At Major de Spain’s home Abner barged in saying Get out of my way, nigger and left footprints on his new rug. (402) The family has to constantly pull up stakes and abruptly move due to Abner’s inability to get along with his landlords.
Abner had no respect for anyone. He actually enjoyed the power he shows when he burns his landlord’s barns and that no one, even the lawmen, could stop him. The only one, besides his victims, that seemed to be hurt by his actions was his family. Like a large fire raging out of control, the family was thrown into the fire and had to suffer the consequences. It was as if fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being (400)
The rest of Sarty’s family consisted of twin sisters, an aunt, older brother and his mother. They are all very passive and always seemed to carry on the father’s will, as if the could not think for themselves. Sarty is the only one that will go against his father’s wishes. The brother, always followed his father’s lead. He was just an extension of his father, following in his footsteps. It was as if he had already accepted his place in life, and was to live the same as his father does. His mother did not agree with her husband’s lifestyle, but did not dare go against him, knowing the price she would have to pay. Many of the family hardships are brought upon them by the consequences of Abners behavior.
Murphy 4 Abner and Sarty always saw things just the opposite. Abner describes to Sarty that Major de Spain’s house is Pretty and white, ain’t it? He said. That is sweat. Nigger sweat. Maybe it ain’t white enough yet to suit him. Maybe he wants to mix some white sweat with it? (402) When Sarty saw the home he thought to himself Hit’s big as a courthouse (401)
When Abner decides to burn Mr. de Spain’s barn, Sarty felt he had enough of his father’s meanness and would stand for it any longer. He felt sick of this lifestyle and was ready to go against his blood, if that was what it would take to be set free. He ran to the Major’s home to warn him of his father’s intent to burn his barn, then ran for his freedom.
As he heard the gunfire, no longer in terror and fear, Father. My Father he thought. (408) Sarty tried to think good thoughts about his father thinking, he was brave! (408) He served as a solder under Colonel Sartoris in the war! When the morning sun came up, he was finally on his own to be his own man, free to make his own individual decisions without worrying about what his father would do to him.
It was from Sarty’s dilemma of family loyalty and the desire to please his father that kept him from doing the right things. Was his father so bitter due to experiences he had during the Civil War ? Was it society’s fault for what happened to his father? Was Abner just born with his us against them attitude? These are all questions that Faulkner leaves with us after reading the Barn Burning. and is part of that fire in the back of our minds that we will never be able to put out..