What is Faulkner trying to tell us in his story "Barn Burning"?

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litchick2011 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is quite a broad question, but I will attempt to speak to Faulkner's purpose in writing "Barn Burning" by explaining what “Barn Burning” is really about. On the surface, it is the story of a family who moves from town to town when the patriarch of the family, Abner Snopes exacts his own justice against those who he feels have offended him by burning down their barns. Looking closer, however, “Barn Burning” is a study of the different ideas of justice as seen through the eyes of two very different generations: Abner’s and his son, Sarty’s.  For Sarty, this story is his coming – of – age, his chance to rebel against the ideas his father holds. Abner is ruled solely by his ego. He runs his life and his family based only on his own selfish desires, whereas Sarty tries to find a place in a much larger moral context.  He, unlike his father, does not believe in the rather animalistic notion of “an for an eye,” rather Sarty believes in higher ideals of law and justice. In his, and most people’s minds, his father has no right to take the law into his own hands because it has disastrous consequences.


accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the biggest debate that this excellent story brings up is the internal conflict that Sarty faces. He has to choose between his own inner conscience and what he thinks is right on the one hand and then on the other hand his concept of loyalty and love to his family. Sarty is forced to make this decision, and the way that he chooses to go for what he believes is right marks the ending to this excellent story.

epollock | Student

The story is mainly about loyalty to family or justice. Do you turn your father in to the law or remain loyal to him and not say anything. That is the emotional crisis that Sarty goes through. Abner comes across as nothing more than a monster throughout the story.

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Barn Burning

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