William Faulkner's ‘‘Barn Burning’’ (1939) comes from the mid-point of its author's career and finds its creator in consummate control of the modernist devices that he, more than any other, had brought to American prose: stream-of-consciousness narration, decadent and even culturally degenerate settings, extended sentences—interrupted by qualifying clauses—that give the effect of continuously suspended or deferred resolution of the action, and images of extreme violence. These modernist gestures disturbed Faulkner's early readers, and critics reacted harshly to his works of the late 1920s and early 1930s, such as the novels The Sound and the Fury (1929) and Light in August (1932). Faulkner stood accused of excessive mannerism and obscurity, and of a morbid interest in unhealthy types. Northerners found his depiction of the unassimilated South too regional and Southerners found it too harsh and scandalous to be acceptable.
Before he developed his signature style, however, Faulkner had proven himself a powerful writer of ordinary, perfectly accessible prose. A good example of this is the early story "Turnabout" (1925), in which an American aviator in World War I befriends a British torpedo-boat pilot and comes to see the conflict from a perspective less remote and abstract than that provided by aerial bombing. To some extent, ''Barn Burning'' represents a compromise between the brutal themes of Faulkner's high modernist style and the accessibility of his early prose. The result is still a powerful, more-straightforward-than-usual, glimpse into the author's fictional world.