In the story "Barn Burning," what is the point of view and how does it create tension?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great example of a story with a great narrative choice. The point of view is third person limited, which means that the story is written in the third person, but that the narrative is focused on one character alone: Sarty Snopes. This means we see everything from Sarty's point of view and can see his feelings, thoughts and motives. We watch the drama of this story unfold from his perspective. What is fascinating about this narrative choice is the way that we watch along with Sarty his father's antics and the way that it is strongly suggested that Abner will commit another crime of barn burning in revenge for the perceived slight that Major De Spain caused him. The way in which we are not given access to Abner Snope's thoughts, but can only see his actions from Sarty's point of view gives it a kind of terrifying tension as we suspect what Abner is plotting but only find out at the very end of the story when Sarty makes his honourable betrayal of his father. Note the way this partial narrative works in the following extract:

"He won't git no ten bushels neither. he won't git one. We'll..." until his father glanced for an instant down at him, the face absolutely calm the grizzled eyebrows tangled above the cold eyes, the voice almost pleasant, almost gentle:

"You think so? Well, we'll wait till October anyway."

Here we see the elder brother on the verge of confessing his plan but stopping at the last minute as the father stops his words and covers up his plan. We only hear and see what Sarty hears and sees, so we are left with only the suspicion of what Abner will plan to gain his revenge against Major De Spain, which serves to increase the tension as we wait to see whether he will actually burn yet another barn.