Discussion Topic

The climax of "Barn Burning."

Summary:

The climax of "Barn Burning" occurs when Sarty warns the de Spain household about his father's intention to burn their barn. This act of defiance against his father marks a pivotal moment in Sarty's moral development and decision to break away from his family's cycle of violence and revenge.

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What is the climax of the story "Barn Burning"?

The climax of the story is when Sarty tries to warn someone that his father is going to burn down the barn, but stops.

Climax is a story’s turning point.  It is the point where the initial problem is no longer an issue, and another problem becomes important.  The character has to make a choice, and deal with the consequences.  Either way, nothing is the same after the climax.

Sarty's conflict comes from the contradiction between what he thinks of his father and who he realizes his father has become.  All his life, he has loooked up to his father.  However, when he finds out that his father really is an arsonist, Sarty has little respect for his father, Abner.  His family gets run out of town because his father is a firebug who cannot control his emotions.  He seems to start fires as revenge for perceived wrongs, putting his family at risk.

When the family moves to the home of Major de Spain, it is not long before an altercation develops.  Abner won’t take his shoes off, so he soils an expensive rug.  When they force him to clean it, it gets destroyed.  Major de Spain then wants him to pay for it.  Abner is annoyed, and decides to burn the barn.

Abner is aware that if Sarty gets loose he will give warning, so he tells his family to tie him up.

“… Take hold of him. I want to see you do it." His mother took him by the wrist. "You'll hold him better than that. If he gets loose don't you know what he is going to do? He will go up yonder."

Sarty does try to get free, and give warning.  He does not care what it will do to his father.  He is frustrated with his father and what he has done to the family.  As he is running, he hears shots.  He assumes his father has been shot.  Despite his choice earlier, he feels bad.

The conflict here is both external and internal.  Sarty never really gets to make his choice.  It is taken from him.  First his father stops him, and then he does not get there in time.  Would he have told?  Should he have taken a more direct route?  Sarty will never know, and he has to live with that uncertainly.  Since Sarty never got resolution, he never knows what he would have done.

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What is the climax of the story "Barn Burning"?

In “Barn Burning,” protagonist Colonel Sartoris Snopes experiences a final crisis of faith between filial loyalty and individual integrity. In settling this final crisis, Sartoris experiences the epiphany that breaking out of his father’s iron hand in the name of honesty and justice actually sets the boy free.

Abner Snopes is a domineering, abusive father who expects absolute loyalty from his family. At the beginning of the story, when Abner is on trial for burning down Mr. Harris’s barn, Sartoris feels compelled to lie in order to protect his father. He views the judge as

his father’s enemy (our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! mine and hisn both! He’s my father!).

He is so loyal to his father that he sees them both as one against the same enemy, even though Sartoris himself is free of guilt. Sartoris ultimately does not have to say anything to expose his father’s criminality. After the trial, Abner reveals that he thought Sartoris would betray him; he hits his son in order to teach him a lesson in family loyalty and tells him,

You're getting to be a man. You got to learn to stick with your own blood or you ain't going to have any blood to stick to you.

Even though Sartoris realizes how reprehensible Abner's destructive fury is, he feels compelled to defend his father. Later, when his father is on trial for the smearing De Spain's rug with horse feces, Sartoris blurts out, "He ain’t done it! He ain't burnt—." The boy's exclamation is not only a lie, but also a non sequitur; Abner is being accused of defacing the rug, not burning it. Sartoris's cry, however, illustrates how Abner's vengeful pyromania has become ingrained in the boy's mind.

After they return home, Abner commands Sartoris to fetch a can of oil. Right away, Sartoris suspects that his father plans to set fire to De Spain's barn and hesitates:

The boy did not move. Then he could speak.

"What ..." he cried. "What are you ..."

"Go get that oil," his father said. "Go."

Then he was moving, running, outside the house, toward the stable: this is the old habit, the old blood which he had not been permitted to choose for himself, which had been bequeathed him.

Sartoris automatically obeys his father but then realizes that he could

run on and on and never look back, never need to see his face again.

But his loyalty to his father is too strong to resist. As Satoris protests, though, Abner discovers his son's rebellious nature and considers tying up his son before deciding to let his wife hold him. Sartoris battles the blind loyalty of other family members—his mother, his aunt, and his sisters—to escape and run to tell De Spain that Abner is planning to set fire to his barn.

Sartoris has a crisis of faith between loyalty to his malicious father and desire for justice. After running and warning De Spain and his slave about Abner's plan, Sartoris then flees in order to catch his father before De Spain overtakes him on horse. Is the boy trying to stop his father, or is he trying to warn and save his father from De Spain? He rushes on,

knowing it was too late yet still running even after he heard the shot and, an instant later, two shots, pausing now without knowing he had ceased to run, crying "Pap! Pap!," … panting, sobbing, "Father! Father!"

Sartoris's final crisis of faith ends with him grieving his father, yet feeling

grief and despair now no longer terror and fear but just grief and despair. Father. My father, he thought. "He was brave!" he cried suddenly, aloud but not loud, no more than a whisper: "He was! He was in the war! He was in Colonel Sartoris' cav'ry!" not knowing that his father had gone to that war [as a mercenary soldier].

The boy mourns his father and clings to a positive yet false memory of him. Nonetheless, Sartoris discovers that he no longer feels "terror and fear." He has an epiphany that although tragic, his father's death brings freedom and peace. The boy is free from his father's abusive rule of "terror and fear."

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Where is the climax in "Barn Burning"?

The climax is at the end of the second scene where the murder of the boss takes place. If you have watched the play or read the text, pay close attention to the stage directions and what happens while Mr. Zero's boss is dying. There is in fact a climatic staging of music that is supposed to reflect events in the world. The audience is supposed to hear sounds that bring armistice day to mind (11/11/1918-it ended WW I) among other things. But there is also the sound of wind, waves, carnival, a train whistle etc....a barrage of sounds that are perhaps designed to dwarf human existence. Since the play was written in the 20's and it commonly considered one of the first works of Expressionism of American art, it is characterized by a sort of hopelessness and despair of the post-war existence. Even though the 1920's were a time of prosperity America, many artists did not buy into the sentiment that everything was okay and the Expressionists in particular held onto to the idea that art reflected the emotional experience, or perhaps pain, of modern life. It is this pain of modernity, the idea of being replaced, that makes Zero kill his boss.

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