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...
(The entire section is 759 words.)
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The opening scene of ‘‘Barn Burning’’ finds the story's protagonist, a ten-year-old named Colonel Sartoris or "Sarty," waiting with his father, Abner Snopes, in a Southern small-town general store being used as a courtroom; the time is ten or fifteen years after the Civil War. As we learn from the interior monologue through which Faulkner conveys all of the story's events, Ab Snopes has been called into court on a charge of arson by his landlord-employer. (Ab is a sharecropper, someone who ''rents'' farmland by promising to remit part of his harvest to the property owner). Sarty is acutely aware of the physical aspects of the place, the aroma of the goods, the appearance of cans and jars on the shelves. His overwhelming thought is of an enemy, ''ourn! mine and hisn both!'' The reference is to the plaintiff. Faulkner underscores Sarty's sense of family loyalty to his father.
Mr. Harris, who charges Ab with the crime of burning his barn, explains how Ab's hog ruined his corn, how he took the hog as payment for the damage, and how Ab sent a go-between to him with the message that ‘‘wood and hay kin burn,’’ which he interpreted as a threat against his life and property. Sarty knows that Ab did set the fire (Ab is, in fact, in the habit of setting fires) and knows also that his father expects him to lie in court. Sarty never testifies. The justice of the peace finds insufficient evidence and dismisses the case, but he tells Ab to his face that...
(The entire section is 779 words.)