How does "the killing of the father" theme relate to "Barn Burning" by Faulkner?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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The character of Sarty in "Barn Burning", by William Faulkner, suffers from a terrible crisis: a division between his own concept of what is right and wrong,  and the loyalty that he is due his father who, unfortunately, has a very wicked concept of what is right and wrong.

As a coming of age character, Sarty encounters every element of self doubt, wonder, and remorse that comes along the impressionable process of maturation. Yet, rather than transcending through this process in a healthy way, he is met with the consistent obstacle of his father's vendetta against everybody who does not agree with the way he views things. Moreover, Abner makes Sarty his right hand in those vendettas thus instilling in his own son  wicked concepts of control and dominance that go against everything Sarty is beginning to believe in.

Burning a barn is a major crime. Abner Snopes, Sarty's father, enjoys this activity as the ultimate way to have HIS last word whenever there is a misunderstanding. His actions go as far as involving his own children, including Sarty, in the process of barn burning. Even more shocking, he demands that Sarty shows loyalty to him (Abner) by lying under oath when asked about his father's actions in court.

The "killing the father" theme is a literary concept that involves a conflict between father and son. In it, the father serves as an enemy to the son, while the son's angst and rebellion results in the murder, or want for murder, of his own father. In "Barn Burning", the "killing of the father" concept manifests through Sarty's abandonment of his father in the precise moment when he is expected to submit to his father's demands. This is a form of killing: it is basically a detachment, both physical and psychological. Sarty comes to the final decision, a dangerous one, at that, where he has basically taken sides. The side that he takes is to be against the wishes of his father. No longer will he serve his father's evil ways. He is completely aware of his father's vindictive, abusive, and neglectful role within the family. Sarty is no longer blinded by loyalty or whatever social expectation is bestowed upon him. Sarty simply "kills" the idea of filial loyalty and replaces it with his own vision of what things should be like.

He went on down the hill, toward the dark woods within which the liquid silver voices of the birds, called unceasing-the rapid and urgent beating of the urgent and quirking heart of the late spring night. He did not look back.

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