Faulkner’s Barn Burning is a story reflecting such crucial issues as class conflict and loyalty. The main one is an internal conflict in the mind of the child-protagonist. Despite the conditions in which the character finds himself, he embodies truly noble features, such as sympathy and compassion. He is eager to act according to his conscience, and in order to preserve the integrity of his personality, he needs to escape from the influence of his overbearing, aggressive father.
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In the center of the story, there is a ten-year-old boy who is torn between loyalty to his father and disgust for him. On the one hand, Sarty feels closely connected with his father, on the other hand, he has to reject him because of his ruthless, aggressive behavior and immoral worldview. According to his father, the boy must “learn to stick to his own blood” (Faulkner 4). The boy’s internal conflict is traced in court, when his father forces him to perjure, and this moment ten-year-old Sarty feels that he is doing wrong, but makes a choice in favor of the family.
The father’s mistreatment can be traced not only to the world, but also to his family. All the family members no longer feel safe with Abner, including Sarty. The father “slaps Sarty and pushes his wife and daughter with a heavy hand; meanwhile, he harps on the sacredness of family bonds.” (Cengage Learning Gale 22). Under such circumstances, a certain psychological situation of the child develops, in which a boy is not able to see more complex facts and adequately verbalize his feelings. Everything the father does is in great contrast to what he says and the boy feels this dissonance. The father keeps the family at bay and preaches commitment to the family.
Sarty never ceases to believe in a bright future, he meets every new day with optimism and hopes. The family moves the next day and the main character accompanies his father to the new owner’s house. The language of the story changes, “the boy finds himself in a wonderful place, feels joy that he cannot express in words” (Zeidanin and Matarneh 89). The main thing that he feels in this house is security. He looks at his father with a special positive and compassionate attitude and wants his father to feel the same in this house, but unfortunately, his father remains true to himself.
A turning point comes when the boy enters the house of an aristocrat, he begins to realize that there is a completely different life, where there may be no place for absolute obedience. In this context, the views of John Locke may be close to the more liberal politics in the family, about which the boy thinks. According to Locke, “the father’s power over his children derives not from what he begot them, or from blood ties or the law of nature” (Nichols 90). The model is based on the duty to take care of children until they can take care of themselves.
To conclude, Sarty Snopes has completely different individuality, the features that are observed in his father are alien to him. He is forced to exist in such conditions because he is dependent. Having disobeyed his father, he acts according to his conscience, helps people, making a choice not in favor of his family. When Sarty chooses not to set fire to the barn with his father this time, he is freed not only from someone else’s will, but also from fear. The scene in which the boy hears the shots and suspects that they have something to do with his father, he continues walking and does not turn around. The final scene is significant, Sarty frees himself from the shackles, makes a choice in favor of himself, his individuality, freedom and morality.
Cengage Learning Gale. A Study Guide for William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”, 2016.
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Faulkner, William. Barn Burning, 1979.
Nichols, Mary. “Conflicting Moral Goods.” Short Stories and Political Philosophy, edited by Bruce Peabody et al. 2018, pp. 89-109.
Zeidanin, Hussein H., and Mohammed Matarneh. “Social Alienation and Displacement in Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”, Henry’s “The Social Triangle” and Mansfield’s “The Doll’s House”.” International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, vol. 7, no. 3, 2018, pp. 85-89.