William Faulkner’s use of a setting in a short story, such as “Barn Burning”, effected the entire outcome of the story from start to finish. In “Barn Burning”, a young boy must face his father and face the reality of a harsh world. He must also discover for himself that his father is wrong and learn to grow up the right way in a racial environment. Faulkner’s setting is one of the most important literary elements that help the audience understand the story.
When an author puts a simple-minded group of people in a complex plot, one would get a confusing story line. William Faulkner does just this. He takes a young black boy and puts him in the real world of chaos and disorder. The world of the South, race is one of the most important factors in the way one would live then. “Sartoris Snopes’ struggle to free himself from his violent, driven father” (ASST, 7.) The only way he can retain his own dignity at the end of the day is to believe in his own courage and goodwill. Between this young boy, Sartoris, and his father, Abner Snopes, there is a naturalistic kind of loyalty that comes from a higher power. This loyalty is what saves Abner from the wrath of the white men, during the beginning of the story.
In the beginning of the story, Sartoris (Sarty) is faced with his first major conflict. He is in a court room/store as a witness to a barn burning. The judge can only pardon Abner because Sarty is just a boy and is not used as the essential witness, but the judge tells them they must leave the country for their own safety and the safety of others. Sarty thinks to himself all the mean while, how he must not talk to the white men. “Our enemy … ourn! mine and hisn both! He’s my father...
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... this silence, he thinks everything through and plans things. Therefore, he becomes a dangerous enemy of society.
With this in mind, William Faulkner’s use of setting to deepen the plot and theme only confuses the audience, but lets them see the oppression the poor man faces and allows them to come to a conclusion. Faulkner also wrote according to personal feelings and past experiences growing up in the deep South. So many of his stories deal with racial discrimination or the oppression of a certain social class. “The story is deceptive in its apparent simplicity.” (Gorman, 163.) A simple character put into a complex plot.
1. American Short Story Tradition, packet.
2. “Exploring Short Stories.” Pg. 4
3. Gorman, Thomas R. “Short Story Criticism” Pg. 163-165
4. Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning.” Pg. 377-389.
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