In his short story “Barn Burning,” William Faulkner repeatedly depicts the loyalty of young Sarty Snopes to his unscrupulous, barn-burning father Ab Snopes,, although in the eyes of many readers Ab hardly deserves his son’s devotion. Several examples of Sarty’s loyalty to Ab include the following:
- In the opening paragraph of the work, Ab Snopes – having been accused of burning another barn -- is being tried before a traveling Justice in a small country store. Sarty is present, listening to the accusations being leveled against his father. His gut instinct is to feel loyalty toward his parent:
He could not see the table where the Justice sat and before which his father and his father’s enemy (our enemy he thought in that despair: ourn! mine and his’n both! He’s my father!) stood, but he could hear them, the two of them that is, because his father had said no word yet . . . .
Here Sarty’s loyalty to his father is quite intense, even though it is not openly spoken. Sarty’s thoughts, emphasized by the italic font, burst into the story as they burst into his consciousness. At this point in the work, Sarty identifies almost completely with his father.
- A few paragraphs later, Sarty’s loyalty to his father is once again implied, but this time it is more equivocally described. When it appears that Sarty may be called to testify in the trial, Sarty thinks to himself, concerning his father, “He aims for me to lie, . . . And I will have to do hit.” Fortunately, although Sarty is called before the court, Ab’s accuser apparently doesn’t have the heart to force the little boy to testify. Sarty, apparently, would have been willing to lie, out of loyalty, on his father’s behalf, but now his loyalty seems somewhat hesitant. Apparently he would prefer not to lie, but he thinks that he “will have to do hit” (emphasis added). Even within a few short paragraphs, then, Sarty’s loyalty seems more complicated that it had seemed at the very beginning of the story. Even so, Sarty still, when he is called before the court, thinks of his father’s accuser as the “Enemy! Enemy!”.
- Not too many paragraphs later, Sarty, apparently acknowledging to himself that his father has indeed burned another barn, thinks, “Maybe he’s done satisfied now, now that he has . . . .” Even now, then, Sarty is loyally trying to make excuses for his father or at least loyally hoping that his father is capable of change. Sarty seems to comprehend, however, that his father’s conduct is unethical, both in burning barns and in wanting Sarty to lie about such behavior.
In each of the three instances just described, therefore, Sarty feels and shows loyalty to his father, but in each case he seems increasingly willing to at least consider the possibility that his father may not deserve the loyalty that repeatedly Sarty shows him.