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Essay on Sarty's Conflict in William Faulkner's "Barn Burning"

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Sarty's Conflict

William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" provides an excellent example of how conflicting loyalties can affect decisions. In Faulkner's story, the main character, Sarty, faces such a dilemma. On one hand, Sarty has the morals that society has instilled in him in spite of his father. One the other hand, Sarty has the loyalty to his father because of the blood ties shared between them and the fact that his father raised and provided for him. Ultimately, it is these conflicting ideas that will lead to Sarty's final decision.

Sarty definitely feels a large obligation to be loyal to his father because of blood ties. Faulkner makes this quite clear in the text several times. Even in the first paragraph Sarty looks at the prosecutor and thinks, "our enemy" (Faulkner76) and also "mine and his both! He's my father!" (Faulkner 74). Faulkner also demonstrates that Sarty is willing to fight for his father. When someone hisses "Barn burner!" (Faulkner 76) at his father, Sarty immediately pursues the offender with the full intention of making him pay for injuring his father's honor. Furthermore, even though he thinks what his father did was wrong, he still shows loyalty by hoping his father will change. Faulkner shows this by writing "Maybe this is the end of it. Maybe even that twenty bushels that seems hard to have to pay for just a rug will be a cheap price for him to stop forever and always from being what he used to be..." (Faulkner 82). While Sarty was debating about betraying his father, he expressed his loyalty to his father in the lines "I could run on and on and never look back, never need to see his face again. Only I can't" (Faulkner 85). In the end, even after he has betrayed his father he still sho...


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...s and values over his loyalty to his father. What is surprising, is that he immediately seems to regret it, as is shown when he cries praises to his father in remorse. Is this just because he was Sarty's father, or did Sarty actually feel some justified love toward his father? In the story, Sarty's father showed absolutely no hint of affection or any such emotion towards his son, or anyone for that matter. This would make it seem that perhaps Sarty had some sort of misplaced unconditional love for his father. This emotion must have added tremendously to his internal struggle. All and all, it was the conflict between the morals of society and Sarty's loyalty to his father that led to his final decision.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. "Barn Burning" Legacies. Eds. Charley Rees

Bogarad and Jan Zlotnik Schmidt. Heinle: Thompson

Learning Inc., 2002.



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