“Barn Burning” opens with a trial in a small Southern town. We see a small, wiry boy sitting on a barrel. The first thing we know of his thoughts shows the conflict he feels. After first identifying Mr. Harris as his father’s enemy, he corrects himself fiercely; thinking, “our enemy…ourn! mine and hisn both! He’s my Father!”(84). The dual instincts of loyalty and integrity are what plague Sarty throughout the story. Early on we see in Sarty’s actions his desire to defend his family, for example; when he is leaving the first courthouse with his family he fights the first person who calls him a barn burner. The narrator lets us know that Sarty is in a blind fury and unable to see or feel the person he is fighting. The passion that he feels is likely fueled by his inability to stand whole hearted with his father. When the family stops to camp for the night, Abner hits Sarty and then explains his view: that the people in the towns they leave only want t...
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...th and justice he cannot justify completely abandoning his father. He must give his father some kind of eulogy and finally does with the words “He was brave! He was! He was in the war! He was in Colonel Sartoris’ cav’ry!” whispered into the night.
What is it that finally makes Sarty defy his father and his blood? Was it his hope of redemption and a normal life? Was it his discovery that some people lived in comfort and happiness instead of terror, grief and despair? Was it even that last day that showed Sarty the possibility of reform in his father? We cannot know what the last straw was, but we do know that Sarty chose to define himself by honor, integrity, and a clean conscience instead of the anger and misplaced retribution that Abner held in such high regard.
Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning”. Thinking and Writing About Literature. 2nd ed. 2001
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