What elements literary Realism exist in Faulkner's "The Barn Burning"?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" exemplifies more his modernist style with interior monologue and prevailing motif of violence, the narrative is yet much more objective and straightforward that many of his other works.  So, there is this element of Realism, as well as several others:

  • A simple and direct narrative

Although his narrative contains the Modernistic interior dialogue of Sarty, there are many passages presented in an objective and less ornate prose than is typical of Faulkner.  For instance, the passage in which the boy goes to the wagon after the opening trial, Faulkner writes,

It stood in a grove of locuts and mulberries across the raod.  His two hulking sisters in the Sunday dresses and his mother and her sister in calico and sunbonnets were already in it, sitting on and among the sorry residue of the dozen and more movings which even the boy could remember....

  • A detailed description of everyday life

Many of the descriptions are very realistic. For example, after the family has moved, Sarty looks up one day and his father tells him to harness the mule with the wagon gear:

...two hours later, sitting in the wagon bed behind his father and brother on the seat, the wagon accomplished a final curve, and he saw the weathered paintless store with its tattered tobacco-and patent-medicine posters....

  • Regionalism

Faulkner's depiction of the post civil-war South includes the replication of the dialect of the Snopses as well as other characters.  When, for instance, the judge tells Abner Snopse to leave the county, this is a typical judgment placed upon those guilty of maleficence. In the opening court scene, the judge shouts, "Damnation! Send him out of here!"  Snopse replies that he is glad to leave,

"I aim to. I don't figure to stay in a country among people who...."

  • Themes of psychological and socio-economic conflict

While Abner Snopse's acts of burning depict a violence typical of Modernist writing, his inner turmoil falls with the realm of Realism. Certainly, his conflict with those of the upper class such as the judges and the landloard are certainly socio-economic conflicts found in Realistic literature.

Of course, the main character's inner conflicts are the primary thematic focus.  His sense of loneliness and anxiety about the conduct of his father greatly disturb Sarty. Continually, he struggles with revealing the truth about his father and the "hopeless despair" that Abner causes his mother. This psychological struggle involves the father's manipulation of family loyalty. But Sarty comes to realize that Abner's criminal acts absolve him of any disloyalty, so he reports his father out of a sense of what is ethical.


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Barn Burning

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