In William Faulkner's "Barn Burning," the boy Snopes does not actually witness what happens to his father and brother, nor what happens to the Major's barn. But what do you assume happens?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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At the conclusion of his short story “Barn Burning,” William Faulkner strongly implies that Abner Snopes burns yet another barn, although whether he does or not is never made absolutely clear.  In any case, his young son, Sarty, has run to warn the owner of the barn, Major De Spain, about his father’s intentions:

"De Spain!" he cried, panted [to De Spain’s black servant]. "Where's…" then he saw the white man too emerging from a white door down the hall. "Barn!" he cried. "Barn!"

"What?" the white man said. "Barn?"

"Yes!" the boy cried. "Barn!"

Later, after De Spain gallops off in the direction of the barn, Sarty hears gun shots in the distance, but again Faulkner leaves unclear who fired the shots and whether anyone was injured or killed. Faulkner does, however, make it possible for us to make a few assumptions, including the following:

  • Surely Abner Snopes intended to burn yet another barn; he has a history of such behavior, and nothing in the story suggests that he would fail to act on his clear intentions
  • His youngest son as well as his wife seem to assume that Ab will indeed burn another barn
  • Whether Ab and his older son had succeeded in setting the barn on fire before the arrival of the owner is not clear
  • The gunfire probably comes from De Spain; it would be only natural for him to approach potential (or actual) barn-burners armed, whereas nothing suggests that Ab and his older son are carrying guns.
  • By leaving some crucial details ambiguous, Faulkner adds to the over-all ambiguity of the story. He tantalizes his readers, makes them think for themselves, and thus makes them active readers of the story rather than merely passive recipients of information
  • Whatever happened about the barn and with the major, Sarty realizes that he can never return to his father:

He went on down the hill, toward the dark woods within which the liquid silver voices of the birds called unceasing - the rapid and urgent beating of the urgent and quiring heart of the late spring night. He did not look back.


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