What are the moral and psychological aspects of Sarty Snopes’s maturation in the story “Barn Burning”?

In “Barn Burning,” the moral aspects of Sarty Snopes’s maturation involve deciding that he must prevent his violent, sociopathic father from causing further harm to innocent people. The psychological aspects include his understanding that his decision means both thinking for himself and breaking with his family, not just with his father.

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The character of Colonel Sartoris Snopes, or Sarty, is a child who is forced to make adult decisions although he is only ten years old. Sarty is being raised in the footsteps of his father, a bitter, vindictive man. As the story begins, Sarty’s father, Abner, is in legal trouble for arson. It is implied that this is already a familiar pattern in the boy’s life. On this occasion, however, he could be called on as a witness. The process of maturing is shown to be underway as Sarty seems willing to tell the truth even though it would incur his father's wrath. Although he actually does not have to testify, his prediction proves correct. The reader sees that Abner is violent toward his own child, not just destructive of other people’s property.

The rest of the story establishes a situation in which Sarty can observe the difference between his father’s behavior and that of other people. The narrator makes it clear to the reader that Abner is irrational in his resentment of the de Spains as well as deliberately malicious in his vengeful behavior. Sarty understands that arson, his father’s next planned hostile act, would be deeply wrong. He is forced to take the correct moral step, which is to prevent Abner from inflicting further harm on the de Spains. This decision puts the boy at odds not only with his father but with his mother as well. The psychological development of becoming his own person involves fulfilling Abner’s prediction that not sticking to “blood,” or family, will forever separate him from that blood.

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