The Symbolism of Blood in Barn Burning by William Faulkner

It is generally agreed that different symbols tend to be used as the way of the author’s ideas’ interpretation. In case of Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”, blood might be one of the metaphors which is reclaimed as a reference for either genetic relationships or committed crimes and their consequences. That is one of the points of showing the connection between family members and responsibility for what they did. Throughout the story, bloodline illustrates the imminent influence of the past on the present, even in ways that are not entirely obvious.

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At the beginning of the story, main character, whose name is Sarty, was abused by his own thought about being related with his father through blood. First and foremost, according to Bai and Sun, “His father was so concerned of their “blood”, root and dignity. He was used to command others, and acted as if he was a dominator” (210). Indeed, that was one of the reasons why the young boy blindly followed the directions of his strict father. On the other hand, the idea of being blood-bond also made Sarty accountable to his father. The severity of his father is also demonstrated when the father educates the younger son, saying that he must become a man and gain the ability to educate himself.

The story follows a kid growing up in the post-Civil War South. This little man was torn between his allegiance to his father and family and his dislike of what his father does, asks him to do, and attempts to teach him. As if he “pulled two ways like between two teams of horses” (Nichols 89). Eventually, Sarty understood that the blind obedience and the old blood, which he had not been allowed to choose for himself, would not bode well. That was incredibly hard, because in this story “community comprising three hierarchical class of land owners, sharecroppers and slaves” (Zeidanin and Matarneh 88). So that it is almost impossible to have own opinion, especially for the young boy. By the end of the story, young boy is able to release himself from the prison of his old beliefs. His psychological development away from vengeance and toward justice is significant but perhaps not obvious topic in this shortly paced story. On the most basic level of this multi-layered narrative, Sarty has almost visceral reaction to two truths. The one that his father’s life of provocation and revenge is evil, and another one that Major de Spain’s way of life appears to symbolize an alternative goodness.

As a matter of fact, blood has a lot of thematic significance in the story, due to its inevitability. The word “blood” is repeatedly used with the word “old”, “the old fierce pull of blood” (Faulkner 3) exemplifies this the best. This represents the overall point that main characters are occupied by the thought that the past is connected to the present so that they must follow their traditions and have the ability to honor their relatives. The fact that Sarty could not escape from his family heritage does not relate to that point. Therefore, the physical presence of blood is more connected to how the family responds with affection to such bounds.

In conclusion, one of the major topics in “Barn Burning” is the connection between different members of Sarty’s family and their past relationships so that blood may well symbolize it. Additionally, the topic such as the awareness of the young boy of being unrecognized by his own father is included. The aforementioned theme emphasizes the fact that everybody does not have the ability to choose his or her relatives. Thus, the blood-bond might have lasted forever if Sarty had not shattered it by understanding what is right for him.

Works Cited

Bai, Qian, and Yu Sun. “On the Father Images by Anderson and Faulkner-Illustrated by the Triumph of the Egg and Barn Burning.” International Journal of Languages, Literature and Linguistics, vol. 3, no. 4, 2017, pp. 208-11.

Faulkner, William. Barn Burning. Harper’s Magazine, 1939.

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Nichols, Mary P. “Conflicting Moral Goods William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”.” Short Stories and Political Philosophy: Power, Prose, and Persuasion, edited by Erin A. Dolgoy et al., Lexington Books, 2019, pp. 89-103.

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.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'The Symbolism of Blood in Barn Burning by William Faulkner'. 24 August.

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