Playing with Fire: Life Altering Decisions in Faulkner's "Barn Burning,"

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At one point or another in life, everyone has to make decisions that change one's life forever. Usually one encounters an event or a thing that propels such a decision. In William Faulkner's short story, "Barn Burning," Sarty, a young boy, is going through a period of initiation into adult life. During this process, he has to make a life altering decision. For Sarty, his father's fires become the element that plays many roles and eventually drives him to decide the path of his life.

In the beginning of the story, Abner is in court for having set fire to Mr. Harris' barn. This fire plays an integral role in bringing father and son together. It is because of the fire that Sarty and Abner find themselves in court. It is also because of the fire that Sarty feels a certain level of identification with his father. He sees Anbner's accuser as "his father's enemy our enemy ... ourn! mine and hisn both!" (226). In Sarty's eyes, this common "enemy" unites them. There are no lines separating son from father: what is his father's is also his. His use of the word "ourn" only helps to emphasize how strongly he feels the bond that connects and unites them. Sarty also says, "He aims for me to lie ... And I will have to do hit" (227). Sarty's realizes that he will have to lie about the fire in order to save his father, and that his father wants him to do so. This understanding constitutes one of the very few moments of perfect synchrony between father and son. Later, when they leave the proceeding, Sarty gets into a fight with some of the local boys who call Abner "Barn Bumer!"(227). He feels an insult directed at his father is the same thing as an insult directed at him. He defends his father the same way he would have defended himse1f Had Abner...

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...er's unfair ways. Moreover, the injustice of the destruction the fire will cause prompts him to make a decision. Abner tells Lennie to restrain Sarty. He says, "If he gets lose don't you know what he is going to do? He will go up yonder" (238). He knows what Sarty will do. As Abner chooses to set out to make another fire, Sarty chooses freedom from the fires and the injustices associated with them.

For Sarty, the element of fire is the catalysis that pushes him to decide the direction of his life. The fire first helps him identify with his father, then realize the existence of a choice between blood and justice, and finally make a decision about which he prefers. Without Abner's fires and the integral role they played in Sarty's life, the initiation process would not have taken place, and Sarty would still be living with Abner and setting fires to people's barns.

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