Barn Burning, Red Leaves, That Evening Sun Themes
by William Faulkner

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Barn Burning, Red Leaves, That Evening Sun Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The immediate action of "Barn Burning" occurs during an eight-day period in the early 1890s, although the narrator recounts statements made by Sartoris Snopes, the Barn Burning; Red Leaves; That Evening Sun 37 story's most important character, from as much as twenty years later. During the action of the story, Sarty is ten years old, but since Faulkner uses him as a point-of-view character for his third-person narrator, the reader sees Sarty making judgments as both a child and as an adult. This dual perspective is important to the story, because Sarty's perspective on justice changes. As a child, Sarty sees his father Ab as a barn burner, a destroyer of the property of others; as an adult, Sarty begins to see that justice is complicated by the great differences in property caused by the sharecropping economy in which his father has worked.

While Ab Snopes' actions classify him as a criminal, Faulkner also presents him as a social leveler. Sarty associates the de Spain mansion, which is big as a courthouse, with "peace and joy," but Ab sees the mansion in another way: "Pretty and white, ain't it? ... That's sweat. Nigger sweat. Maybe it ain't white enough yet to suit him. Maybe, he wants to mix some white sweat with it." As the narrator describes them, Ab's fires are a weapon used "for the preservation of integrity." They do not lead to any material advantage to him or his family, and in fact only further poverty. While sharecroppers, unlike slaves, are free, their opportunities to escape their poverty are not good. Ab has moved a dozen times during Sarty's lifetime—on at least two occasions the family has moved during a growing season—and their family circumstances have slowly deteriorated. Even though Ab is corrupted by rage and jealousy, he attempts to challenge economic inequities. His arson serves as a tool of his rebellion, just as litigation is another. When Ab sues Major de Spain over a rug that Ab himself ruins, he is seeking to get the better of de Spain through the justice system. Flawed though Ab is, he wants justice as he sees it.

In the end "Barn Burning" is more Sarty's story than Ab's. As a ten-year-old boy, Sarty wants to tell the truth, to be just, but he also wants to support his family. Ab appeals to Sarty's loyalty by making him participate in his violent dealings with property owners. Ab takes Sarty along when he first goes to the de Spains, when he delivers the supposedly clean rug, when he goes to town for the second trial in the story, and when he and Flem burn the de Spain barn. But the ten-year-old who refuses to go along with lies and fires becomes a man who no longer associates justice with wealth. Hunger, ragged clothing, and other details of deprivation begin to work on the older Sarty, perhaps making him more sympathetic to his father's perspective.

"Red Leaves," a powerful story about race, is set during the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, before the Native Americans of northern Mississippi, probably the Chickasaws, were forced off their land. Although "Red Leaves" covers three generations of leaders for the Indians, the story's present action dramatizes a funeral of a chief, Issetibbeha, and the ritual hunt for his personal servant, who will be slain at his master's grave once captured. Once again, narrative point-of-view characters are important. In the first three sections, the third-person narrator relates the story through the eyes of two Indian characters, Three Basket and Louis Berry; then, in the fourth section, the narrator switches to the perspective of the black man being pursued before returning to the Indians' point of view in section five. In the story's final section, the narrator combines the perspectives of both the Indians and the black man. Before the black man's perspective, the tone of the story is almost comic, as the Indians seem to be victims of the slaves supposedly in their power. The tribal elders even discuss their "Negro question" much...

(The entire section is 1,528 words.)