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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Barn Burning” is the story of a boy named Sarty whose father likes to set fires to solve conflicts.  In the beginning, the boy completely believes his father.  He considers the man who accuses his father of setting the fire an enemy.  His father is not found guilty, but is asked to leave the area.

Although Sarty is too young to doubt his father and fiercely defends him, the reader realizes that the father likes to set fires and has a habit of doing so.

And older still, he might have divined the true reason: that the element  of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father's being, as the element of steel or of powder spoke to  other men, as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity…

They go to a new house, where the father almost immediately antagonizes the land owners.  Before long, Sarty is aware his father is going to start a fire.  He tries to stop it, no longer having faith in his father.  They tie him up, but he gets away.  As the story ends, he hears a shot.  He did not make it in time.

Sarty gets a harsh lesson in life.  All children love and respect their fathers, and usually think their fathers are right.  Unfortunately, sometimes they aren't.  Sarty had to come to terms with that, and decide what the right thing to do was. He never completely go to, since the shot rang out before he had a chance to tell anyone, likely killing his father.