In William Faulkner's short story titled "Barn Burning," what are three good examples of Sarty's loyalty to his father?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When the story begins, Sarty Snopes is awaiting his turn to testify in a legal trial against his father, Ab Snopes, who has been accused of burning down another man's barn. The Justice of the Peace is presiding over his father's case in a local store, and Sarty thinks that he can smell many food items around him as well as the fear and despair and grief of various people on the scene, and, finally, he can feel the "old fierce pull of blood." This would seem to suggest the loyalty he feels toward his father or at least his awareness of his father's expectation of loyalty.

When the Justice first addresses Sarty, asking for his name and making some light of it, the boy "said nothing" but thinks, "Enemy! Enemy!" Despite the Justice's kindly face as well as the fact that he clearly does not want to compel this small boy to choose either his father or his honesty, Sarty thinks of him as an enemy because he could rule against Sarty's father. This is another example of Sarty's loyalty.

Even as it becomes clear that this is not the first barn Ab has burned in order to exact revenge on someone, Sarty tries not to even think such thoughts. He does not know where they are headed but there was "always a house of sorts waiting for them a day or two days [...] away. Likely his father had already arranged to make a crop on another farm before he . . . Again he had to stop himself." Sarty tries not to allow himself to consider his father's guilt, showing his loyalty. He stops his train of thought before it reaches the conclusion that his father did burn down the barn.

That night, his father accuses Sarty of "fixing to tell them" the truth at the trial, and he strikes the boy just as he would strike a mule. Sarty does not talk back or do anything to rebel or even cry; "He just stood there." This seems like loyalty, too.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

 

 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial