Discussion Topic

Sarty's feelings and perceptions towards his father in "Barn Burning" and their influence on his departure

Summary:

Sarty's feelings towards his father in "Barn Burning" are complex, marked by a mix of loyalty and moral conflict. He respects his father's resilience but is troubled by his destructive actions. This internal struggle ultimately influences Sarty to break away, seeking a path of integrity and justice, leading to his departure from the family.

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What are Sarty's feelings towards his father in "Barn Burning" and did his father influence his departure?

Sarty is in a tough position: his family bond is quite strong. Even if Sarty knows his father is acting in a way that is morally reprehensible, Sarty still knows that he should love his father. The saying "blood runs thicker than water" is evidence of this natural tendency to love and support a family member. Sarty reveres the man that his father supposedly once was in the war, and this contributes to Sarty's affection for his dad and explains why Sarty tries to protect him. By the end of the story, Sarty's moral compass has the stronger sway, and that is why he warns de Spain.

The final question in the post asks about whether or not Sarty left because of his father. I think it is possible to answer "yes" to this question, but I think the situation is a bit more complicated. Sarty and readers presume that Sarty's father is killed by de Spain. Sarty no longer has a father to go back to or leave. I think Sarty leaves for his own selfish reasons. He doesn't want to be associated with his family anymore because of how it may affect his outlook on his own future. Sarty leaves because he wants to control his own destiny.

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What are Sarty's feelings towards his father in "Barn Burning" and did his father influence his departure?

Sarty is wary and distrustful of his father, Abner Snopes. Although the young boy doesn't flinch from his father's physical abuse, he is repulsed by his father's revolting code of ethics. Sarty eventually decides to go his own way after his father presumably dies at the hands of de Spain.

In Abner Snopes' world, family members are supposed to lie on each other's behalf in order to preserve the family name. We are given a glimpse of how Sarty really feels about his father's twisted morality when Sarty is faced with the prospect of corroborating his father's story in the barn-burning incident. Sarty feels both distressed and dejected at his dilemma. He is visibly frightened when he understands that he may have to testify; the text tells us that he crouches like a cornered animal, on a keg in the back of the store.

He aims for me to lie, he thought, again with that frantic grief and despair. And I will have to do hit.

Fortunately for Sarty, Mr. Harris, the aggrieved party, refuses to put the young boy in such a difficult position.

When his father later strikes him for failing to perform to his expectations in the make-shift court room (in the back of the country store), Sarty holds his silence. We get the impression that the young boy is familiar with his father's modus operandi. Abner Snopes is the kind of man who uses physical intimidation to silence and to coerce his critics into submission. There is also the sense that, on a deeper level, Snopes knows his young son is not especially enthralled with his methods of securing an advantage. So, Snopes resorts to violence as a coping mechanism; he aims to keep his son under his thumb for as long as he can.

"You're getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain't going to have any blood to stick to you. Do you think either of them, any man there this morning would? Don't you know all they wanted was a chance to get at me because they knew I had?"

At the story's resolution, Sarty finally rebels; he warns de Spain about his father's intention to burn the de Spain barn down. It is this crucial act of betrayal which acts as the catalyst for Sarty's departure. So, he does leave because of his father; the text suggests that, in making a fresh start for himself, Sarty will not have to continue the perverted legacy of his father.

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In Barn Burning, what are Sarty's perceptions of himself and his father?

At the stat of the story you get a pretty clear picture of how Sarty's views are expressed in the authorial voice. This occurs when the father first confronts Sarty on whether he was just about to tell the officers on him. You can denote the shame that Sarty did feel for his father, the disgust for his tendency but, most importantly, you can detect the inner anger that he feels for having to be a moral slave to the wishes of a father from whom he is detaching psychologically and age-wisely:

"You were fixing to tell them. You would have told him." He didn't answer. His father struck him 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, exactly as he would strike either of them with any stick in order to kill a horse fly, his voice still without heat or anger: "You're getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain't going to have any blood to stick to you. Do you think either of them, any man there this morning would? Don't you know all they wanted was a chance to get at me because they knew I had them beat? Eh?" Later, twenty years later, he was to tell himself, "If I had said they wanted only truth, justice, he would have hit me again." But now he said nothing. He was not crying. He just stood there. "Answer me," his father said.

This is evidence that Sarty was already in full knowledge that what was becoming a tradition and habit in their family was wrong, immoral, illegal, and sinful. Notice how he regresses in this passage to explain this point, and how his authorial voice suffers an "in-between the lines" affliction for having wanted to let go of the suffering his father was causing others, and himself.

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