Discussion Topic

Examining Mr. Snopes' treatment of Sarty and the family, his reasons for restraining Sarty, and the outcomes of Sarty's actions, including Snopes' death and Sarty's escape in Faulkner's "Barn Burning."


Mr. Snopes treats Sarty and his family harshly, frequently resorting to violence and manipulation. He restrains Sarty to prevent him from revealing his arson activities. Ultimately, Sarty's decision to warn the de Spain family about his father's intentions leads to Snopes' death and Sarty's escape, symbolizing a break from his father's destructive influence and a step towards freedom and moral integrity.

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How does Mr. Snopes treat Sarty and other family members in Faulkner's "Barn Burning"?

Mr. Snopes treats the boy Sarty cruelly but without passion.  When the two of them are leaving the courthouse towards the beginning of the story, Sarty leaps "in (a) red haze toward the face" of a boy who had taunted his father, but the father's only reaction is to "(jerk) him back", ordering him with a "harsh, cold voice" to "go get in the wagon".  When the boy's mother wants to clean the wounds he sustained in the fight, the father dispassionately orders her also to "get back in the wagon".  As the patriarch in the family, Mr. Snopes expects his every command to be obeyed unquestioningly, and he extracts this obedience with sheer physical brutality.

When the family camps that night, Mr. Snopes strikes Sarty "with the flat of his hand on the side of the head, hard but without heat, exactly as he had struck the two mules at the store".  To Sarty's surprise, Mr. Snopes tells him harshly, "You were fixing to tell them...you got to learn to stick to your own blood".  Mr. Snopes had hit Sarty many times before that night, but sadly, he had "never before ...paused afterward to explain why".  Mr. Snopes treats Sarty and all the members of his family the exact same way that he treats his animals, with dispassionate physical abuse.

Sarty says nothing in response to his father's brutality, submitting without protest to a force that is stronger than he is.  He knows that had he voiced the opinion that the judge had "wanted only truth, justice", he would have only been hit again.

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Why does Mr. Snopes hold Sarty back in "Barn Burning" and what results from Sarty's subsequent actions?

Mr. Snopes insists that Sarty be held when he heads out to burn the De Spain barn because he knows that his son will try to stop him.  Sarty had been present in "court" when Snopes was being tried for the last barn he burned, and the father could tell by observing Sarty's behavior that the boy would have testified against his father if he had been called to the stand.  Sarty is at an age where he is developing his own sense of right and wrong, yet he is at the mercy of his unscrupulous father, and feels acutely "the terrible handicap of being young".  Snopes knows that it is only a matter of time until his son will stand up and try to stop him from his lawless doings.

Snopes leaves Sarty in his mother's grip when he leaves, but Sarty struggles.  His Aunt, knowing what Sarty wants to do, tells his mother to let him go.  Although his mother does not, Sarty breaks free anyway, and runs to the De Spain house to warn the plantation owner that Snopes is about to burn his barn.  De Spain rushes off to save his barn, and Sarty flees, knowing he can never go home again.  At midnight he sits at the crest of a hill, and is filled "no longer (with) terror and fear but just grief and despair".  As he waits for dawn he experiences a sense of peace, and walks away to whatever destiny holds for him, never looking back. 

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In "Barn Burning," does Sarty escape and how does Snopes die?

In William Faulkner's "Barn Burning," the resolution is open-ended: we don't know for sure.  But, I've always assumed that Abner died from being shot:

...he heard the shot and, an instant later, two shots...

First of all, barn burning was a capital offense in the South at this time.  De Spain would have anticipated Snopes would go after his barn or house, so he and his men would have been on stand-by, horse and gun ready.

So, these guys are ready to kill.  Sarty tells them what's up. There's no shooting in the air.  The first shot probably missed, because it's midnight.  The second two, in quick succession, would have been more accurate.

Three shots, I think, must have done the trick.  Abner doesn't seem like the quickest cat in the barn, so I think one one of these last two hit him.  And I don't see Abner running from a fight.  So, he stayed and faced his enemy.  Took one at close range.  Seeing as the man on the horse had a tactical advantage, Abner couldn't escape this barn burning.

Sarty does escape.  He runs, crests the hill, and in the darkness, keeps running.  The story ends with "He did not look back."

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