In William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” the unnamed third-person narrator supplies information about fires that the father, Abner Snopes, had previously set. This provides background for the next fire and helps establish the reasons that his son, Sarty, had for refusing to support his father’s actions. Abner is presented as very angry, hating authority, and demanding total loyalty from his family. His selfishness has already harmed the family, as they have constantly been on the move.
The story opens by revealing some of the consequences of Abner’s prior behavior, as he is on trial for arson, and Sarty barely escapes testifying against him. Although Sarty did not speak against him, his father believes he would have and physically abuses the boy. Sarty is also compelled to accompany his father as he damages the de Spains’ home and property. By the story’s end, his behavior destroys the family, as he is apparently killed, and after this, the others will have to get along without his financial contribution.