Student Question

What event in Faulkner's "Barn Burning" leads Sarty Snopes to sever ties with his father and his known life?

Quick answer:

In William Faulkner's story “Barn Burning,” Sarty Snopes experiences “peace and joy” and true dignity for the first time when he visits the de Spain home. When his father decides to burn down the de Spain barn after a conflict with Major de Spain, Sarty decides he cannot allow that to happen. He turns against his father and warns Major de Spain because his perspective of the world has broadened, and he has discovered a new set of values.

Expert Answers

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In William Faulkner's story “Barn Burning,” ten-year-old Sarty Snopes knows, deep down, that his father has a history of burning down other people's barns when he has had a conflict with them. Yet Sarty never thinks to leave behind the only life he has ever had. He simply plods along, day after day, obeying his father, listening to his father's words about family loyalty, and considering his father's enemies to be his own.

Then, after yet another hearing about another burned barn, the family moves and becomes tenants to the de Spain family. When Sarty accompanies his father to the de Spain house for the first time, he is overcome by a “surge of peace and joy.” He cannot express the reason for that feeling, but instinctively, he understands that these people possess a dignity and a set of values beyond anything he has ever known. They make his father seem puny and annoying like “a buzzing wasp.” Sarty's world begins to open up, and he realizes that there is more to life than his down-and-out family and his cruel father.

Mr. Snopes, however, initiates a conflict with Major de Spain immediately by deliberately ruining one of the family's rugs. Major de Spain charges him twenty bushels of corn for it, and Sarty's father takes him to court. The Justice of the Peace rules that he will only have to pay ten bushels, but that still does not satisfy Mr. Snopes.

When Mr. Snopes tells Sarty to go get the can of oil from the barn, Sarty understands that his father plans to burn down the de Spain barn. He decides that he cannot let that happen, not again. He wants his father to change, but he now comprehends that such a thing will never happen. His mother tries to hold him back, but she cannot, and Sarty runs to the de Spain home to warn the family. He can no longer stand by and watch his father hurt others.

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