William Faulkner’s Barn Burning

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Research Essay: William Faulkner's Barn Burning Is blood thicker than water? Faulkner's Barn Burning is about a son's struggle in a life ruled by conflict and violence at the hand of his own father. The irony of the story is his abusive, criminal father, who values family loyalty above all, creates a heavy burden for his family. The son, Sarty, is put in a very precarious and unfair position of defending his obviously guilty arsonist father. Blood may be thicker than water, however, in this family's case, the cost of their coerced loyalty is their dignity, happiness, freedom and morality.

The virtues and complexities in deciding to do the right thing especially when it goes against family loyalty is never-ending. Strangely, by instilling the concept of unyielding loyalty, and to a self-serving, hypocritical father; Sarty matures and develops his own belief system which allows him to become loyal to higher values. The beginning of the story is set in a general store which doubles as a local municipal court. The protagonist of the story, Colonel Sartoris Snopes, Sarty, was attending his father's court hearing for an alleged barn burning. Sarty's father, Abner, is sitting before the Justice of the Peace in this crowded room. Although the hearing between Mr. Harris and Abner Snopes was out of Sarty's sight, he could still hear the Justice speak. Sarty listened helplessly, it raised an anger along with a strong sense of loyalty for his father within his heart and mind.

The author states, just a little of fear because mostly of despair and grief, the old fierce pull of blood (Faulkner 375). Sarty saw the Justice of the Peace as an enemy who was unfairly persecuting his father, stated in the story, Our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! Mine and hisn both! He's my father (Faulkner 375). Mr. Harris accused Abner for burning his barn in retaliation over his hog getting into Mr. Harris' corn, not once, but twice. Mr. Harris explained, he returned the hog to Abner and even gave him enough wire to repair the pen to prevent the hog from escaping again, the Justice asks, But what proof do you have, Mr. Harris? I told you. The hog got into my corn. I caught it up and sent it back to himWhen he came to get it I gave him enough wire to patch up his penBut that's not proof. Don't you see that's not proof? (Faulkner 375).

Mr. Harris said the next time the hog got into his corn, he would keep the hog and told Abner it would cost him a dollar pound fee (Faulkner 375). That night, a black man came by with a dollar and said, He say to tell you wood and hay kin burn (Faulkner 375). That very night Mr. Harris' barn burned to the ground. Mr. Harris insisted the Justice call Sarty to testify because he was a witness to what had transpired that night. Poor, shabby Sarty slowly made his was through the crowded store until he reached the Justice. Sarty was scared, he knew his father expected him to lie about that night. The boy knew he had to lie the old fierce pull of blood loyalty. What's your name, boy? The Justice said. Colonel Sartoris Snopes, the boy whisperedColonel Sartoris? I reckon anybody name for Colonel Sartoris in this country can't help but tell the truth, can they? (Faulkner 375-376).

The Justice of the Peace had deliberately sown the seeds of morality in Sarty's mind with those words. The Justice knew what Sarty was up against, torn between the loyalty to a tyrannical father and the right thing - telling the truth. The Justice had shown Sarty compassion and understanding by not making him testify against his father in open court. Mr. Harris also demonstrated compassion when returning the hog and giving Abner the wire to fix his fence. These men, who were not family had shown Sarty more kindness and mercy than his own father ever bestowed upon him. It is evident in this story that all kindheartedness received came from outside the family and not from within. The family was nomadic, moving from one dilapidated tenant shack to another was a way of life for Sarty and his family. The Snopes family relocated numerous times because his father made enemies wherever they went. The last plantation they worked was that of the Major and Mrs. de Spain's mansion.

When Sarty and his father first approached the home of Major de Spain, Sarty finally senses that these dignified people will not stir up ugly, paranoid feelings in his father, and their mansion is blessed with freedom from strife, rendering even the barns and stable and cribs which belong to it impervious to the puny flames he might contrive (Faulkner 375). Abner, feeling envious, immediately creates an altercation between the wealthy de Spain and himself, the destitute tenant. As they walk up the drive, Snopes deliberately walks through fresh horse manure and does not have the decency to clean his shoes before he enters and walks on the light-colored expensive French rug in Mrs. de Spain's vestibule. Mrs. de Spain is traumatized by this man's act of blatant ignorance resulting in her ruined rug; and turn out Snopes and son from her house.

Later that day, Major de Spain brings the rug to Snopes' shack, requiring that it be washed. Rather than permit Mrs. Snopes to clean the rug correctly, Abner orders his bovine daughters to clean the rug using harsh lye soap. Abner's mission is to add insult to injury and have the treasured rug destroyed for no other reason than to be cruel. After Major de Spain finds out the rug has been destroyed, he sought reparation for the damaged rug (Haisty 1-3). Major de Spain states, You must realize you have ruined that rugSo I'm going to charge you twenty bushels of corn against your crop. I'll add it in your contract and when you come to the commissary you can sign it. That will not keep Mrs. De Spain quiet but maybe it will teach you to wipe your feed off before you enter her house again (Faulkner 382).

Again, Abner was getting off relatively easy, however, he did not see it this way. Abner became so angry and vengeful, he took Major de Spain to court over this matter. The Justice of the Peace said, And you claim that twenty bushels of corn is too high for the damage you did to the rug? He brought the rug to me and said he wanted the tracks washed out of it. I washed the tracks out and took the rug back to him. But you didn't carry the rug back to him in the same condition it was in before you made the tracks in it (Faulkner 383). I hold you in damages to Major de Spain to the amount of ten bushels of corn over and above your contract with him, to be paid to him out of your crop at gathering time. Court adjourned (Faulkner 383). Here again, the Justice is nearly bending over backwards to be fair to Abner. All fairness and compassion offered to this family come from outside the family where there are no pull of blood loyalty. It is at this point in Sarty's life that he has matured enough to act on his own good conscience which invokes his actions to choose right over wrong. Sarty knew his father was going to plan a barn burning that night and he knew what he had to do.

As Abner prepares in the night for the barn burning, Abner charges his wife with restraining Sarty. His father knows Sarty can no longer be trusted to assist him in carrying out evil and vengeful deeds. Sarty breaks free from his mother's grip and he can warn the Major of the impending doom. After which, Sarty hears gun shots ring out, he is sure his father and brother have been killed, however, Sarty does not turn back, he keeps running. Sarty's cries because he has lost not simply a father but also a person whom he had tried to find the least amount of good. His attempt to convince himself that Abner is brave, is sadly unsuccessful. Sarty finally comes to grips about who is father really was and he did not look back (Evans 27-39). Sarty's resolve to strike out on his own rather than return to his family shows the strength of the ten-year-old's convictions.

Rather than succumbing to a false hero worship of Abner, Sarty will make his own way in the wide world, despite the plague of war (Ford 527). Blood is thicker than waterthe actual saying is the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb. The meaning of this saying is the opposite od how we use it and understand it. The saying means bonds that you have made by choice are more important than the people that you are bound to by blood or the water of the womb. The saying implies the fact that the bonds you choose for yourself can mean much more than the ones you don't have much say in (mystudentvoices.com). By his brave and heroic actions in alerting Major de Spain, Sarty had proven the blood of the covenant, his higher belief system and values, are thicker, more important than the water of the womb which makes family kin.

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William Faulkner's Barn Burning. (2019, Dec 11). Retrieved November 28, 2023 , from

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