Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
As the story opens, ten-year-old Colonel Sartoris Snopes (he is named for Colonel John Sartoris, one of the central figures in William Faulkner’s fiction) sits in a makeshift courtroom in a dry goods store and listens as his father is accused of burning a neighbor’s barn. Young Sarty is called to the stand, but because the plaintiff is ultimately unwilling to force him to testify against his own father, the case is closed, and the father, Abner Snopes, is advised to leave that part of the country. As the family—Sarty, his parents, two sisters, an older brother, and an aunt—camp out that night on their way to their next home, Snopes, for whom barn burning seems to have become a habitual means of preserving his integrity in the face of men who have more power and wealth than he does, is absolutely cold and unemotional as he strikes Sarty and accuses him of having been prepared to betray his father back in the courtroom. He warns his son, “You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you.”
Moving from one run-down tenant farmer shack to another has become a way of life for Sarty: He and his family have moved at least a dozen times within his memory. When Sarty and his father first approach the home of Major de Spain, on whose land they have most recently come to labor, Sarty finally feels that here are people to whom his father can pose no threat, that their mansion exists under a spell of peace and dignity, “rendering even the barns and stable and cribs which belong to it impervious to the puny flames he might contrive.” Snopes, in his pride and envy, however, immediately forces a confrontation between the landed de Spain and himself, the landless tenant. As Snopes and Sarty walk up the drive, Snopes refuses to alter his stiff stride even enough to avoid some fresh horse droppings and...
(The entire section is 759 words.)
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