Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Young Sarty Snopes describes his own inner conflict as “the being pulled two ways like between two teams of horses.” On one side is “the old fierce pull of blood”—family loyalty. On the other are truth and justice. The pull of family ties is strong, but Sarty is old enough to have started to realize that what his father does is wrong.
In the first courtroom scene, Sarty finds himself thinking of the plaintiff as his father’s enemy and consciously has to correct himself: “Ourn! mine and hisn both! He’s my father!” Leaving the courtroom, he attacks a boy half again his size who calls Snopes a barn burner. Throughout the story, a pattern is established. Sarty keeps trying to defend, through his speech and actions, the father to whom he knows he owes his life and his loyalty. His thoughts, however, and what Faulkner projects will be his future thoughts once he has reached manhood, reveal the ultimately stronger pull of truth and justice. When, after the first trial, his father strikes him and tries to convince him that the men who bring him to trial are only after revenge because they know that ultimately Snopes is in the right, Sarty says nothing, but Faulkner knows that twenty years later, Sarty will tell himself, “If I had said they wanted only truth, justice, he would have hit me again.” The de Spain mansion immediately appears to Sarty as a symbol of hope that perhaps here is a power too great—a power with which his father cannot...
(The entire section is 572 words.)
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Alienation and Loneliness
In ‘‘Barn Burning,’’ Faulkner depicts a child, on the verge of moral awareness, who finds himself cut off from the larger social world of which he is growing conscious; this sense of alienation takes root, moreover, in Sarty's relation with his father, who should be the moral model and means of entry of the child into the larger world. Because of his father's criminal recklessness, Sarty finds himself, in the first part of the story, the object of an insult, and he attacks a boy who, in more ordinary circumstances, might be a school-companion or a friend. His father has taught him to regard others as the "enemy." Mr. Harris, the bringer of the arson charge, is thus ‘‘our enemy ... hisn and ourn.’’ In fact, Mr. Harris is simply a man who has been mistreated by an egomaniacal provocateur. The story concludes with Sarty alone on a hilltop at night, watching the stars. This, too, reflects the boy's loneliness, and lack of social ties, but it also suggests his liberation from his family on the basis of a moral insight which just possibly signifies a bridge to link him with the greater social world.
Anger and Hatred
Abner Snopes is anger embodied, ready to take offense over any interaction with other people, but especially with those whom he sees as his social superiors (which means most of them, since he lives at the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder). Ab is locked...
(The entire section is 752 words.)