William Faulkner Barn Burning Critical Essay
Updated: May 29th, 2020
The principal idea of the Faulkner’s short story Barn Burning is related to the mature reflections of the young boy Sarty Snopes who can’t decide on his moral obligations and family duties. It is exactly the dual nature of the young boy’s reflections which is described in Williams Faulkner’s short story.
Sarty’s complicated thoughts are considered to be the subject of the profound analysis. Thus, the main point which one should take into consideration concerns with the so-called Sarty’s conversion from a young boy to a man’s man through complicated decision he made.
First of all, it is necessary to point out that Sarty’s life was rather difficult. For him definitely, it was not an easy task to live with his father Abner Snopes, who is considered to be an angry and a strict man.
The issue one must draw his/her attention to refers to the following psychological conception: it is a well-known fact that when children are brought up in that jungle they grow up rather fast. However, the negative consequences are also to be listed: thereby, Sarty who was brought up by his strict father was recognized to be a fearful boy, who couldn’t express his own thoughts or ideas while being under the moral pressure. It is the first sentence which provides us with Sarty’s character:
this, the cheese which he knew he smelled and the hermetic meat which his
intestines believed he smelled coming in intermittent gusts momentary and
brief between the other constant one, the smell and sense just a little of fear
because mostly of despair and grief, the old fierce pull of blood (158).
One the one hand, the sentence characterizes the inner state of a young boy, who seems to be frightened; on the other hand, it is obvious that a little boy understood the content of a trouble his father hit.
Thus, the feeling of fear which is provoked by despair and grief causes serious psychological contradictions in children’ perception of social reality. It means that Sarty had ambiguous attitude towards his father’s guilt. On the one hand, he knew that he had to display devotion to his family. Thus, when the justice appealed to him he had been over the barrel:
“Hey?” the Justice said. “Talk louder. Colonel Sartoris? I reckon anybody
named for Colonel Sartoris in this country can’t help but tell the truth, can
they?” The boy said nothing. Enemy! Enemy! he thought; for a moment he
could not even see, could not see that the justice’s face was kindly (159).
So, the boy understood that his father’s enemies were his own ones. The fragment discovers the certain period when Sarty could not think out the issue. Thus, at this stage of development it was difficult for him to understand the complexity of the situation and to formulate correctly his thoughts. However, it should be pointed out that Sarty’s transforming to a man’s man depended on his father’s actions, when Abner Snopes struck him.
The corporal punishment is considered to be one of the methods of manipulation: “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?” (Faulkner 162). Taking into consideration the above-mentioned sentence, one must draw attention to the concept of the so-called tolerance of other people’s actions.
Thus, corporal punishment which is described in Barn Burning and recognized to be a manipulation technique can be defined as an attempt to press Abner’s opinion upon his son. The basic ways which were used by Sarty’s father to impact on his son’s mind were traumatic one-trial learning which main aim is to show dominance or superiority to force a son to avoid confronting the father and denial technique which main principle is to decline to admit the own faults and wrong methods of upbringing.
Denial techniques can be also considered as a protective response, as Abner refused to concede defeat. Moreover, it is also necessary to make casual mention of the so-called selective attention which tends to refuse the forcible arguments. Thus, Abner’s manipulation techniques were perceived as a terror. Sarty’s feelings confirm the above-mentioned logical reasoning:
He saw the house for the first time and at that instant he forgot his father and
the terror and despair both, and even when he remembered his father again
(who had not stopped) the terror and despair did not return (163).
That was a key moment that influenced Sarty’s conversion from a young boy to a man’s man. Thus, the point which is to be taken into consideration is related to his feeling of safety. It means that finally Sarty was protected against emotional and psychological pressure. He felt himself free.
Of course it was not an easy task for Sarty to make the right decision. On the one hand, the moral obligations are recognized to be very important in person’s life.
One may ask what a moral obligation is or why it is more important than the family loyalty. I’ll explain. Moral obligation is related to moral philosophy which main concepts are justice and virtue. Moral philosophy includes such notions as moral identity, values, virtues, reasoning, willpower, behavior, intuitions, character and emotions. Thus, the evolution of Sarty’s moral identity is recognized to be a slow process.
He didn’t struggle against every form of oppression, but he felt that the moral behavior of his father differed from the so-called true standards. Therefore, Abner’s moral behavior did not depend on social consensus, so, the so-called moral reasoning was not characteristic for Sarty’s father too.
The feelings of despair and grief did not disappear; they remained in Sarty’s soul as children’ memories are always very viable. However, he feeling of terror was gone. When Sarty felt that he was free, he realized that he was the only person his happiness depended on. It is the last sentence which characterizes his emotional state:
He got up. He was a little stiff, but walking would cure that too as it would the
cold, and soon there would be the sun. He went on down the hill, toward the
dark woods within which the liquid silver voices of the birds called unceasing –
the rapid and urgent beating of the urgent and quiring heart of the late spring night.
He did not look back (175).
Thus, the sentence is a striking demonstration of Sarty’s young adulthood. It is not the physical experience, but moral one. The main character of the short story Barn Burning became a person with a strong mind.
There is an impression that the author of Barn Burning wants to show the readers that people must make their own decisions. Nobody must influence our choice. It seems that it is a primary idea of the short story. On the other hand, the story is really thought-provoking and the author draws our attention to the point concerning the causal relationship between our past and future. Thus, the events which took place in the past impacted on our future.
Another point which is supposed to be very important is related to the affirmation that we can’t choose our parents. However, we are able to change our mode of life. For instance, Sarty realized that his father was very brutal; the abasement of human dignity is the cause Salty suffered from. However, his reflections concerning the moral duty were rather conflicting and sometimes even mindless and anyway, the main character’s searching for justice was rewarded.
Sarty made his decision. It doesn’t matter whether the decision was wrong or right, the most important point is related to the personality factor. Salty’s blood became not important at all; on the contrary, the boy realizes that he has his own individuality and he is able to make his own decisions.
Faulkner’s short story Barn Burning is considered to be not only a philosophical book, but also a psychological one. The main character Sarty is recognized to be a person who overcame the moral problems.
One more point which is also to be taken into consideration is related to family values. There are some critics who affirm that Sarty betrayed his family. However, there are a lot of contradictions as for this issue. Thus, sometimes it is the brutality of parents which impact on children’ desire to leave home. In most cases children who were brought up in disadvantaged family have the same attitude towards life as their parents.
They do not want to achieve any kinds of a success; they haven’t any purposes to become the influential figures; they do not want to get education. Moreover, the children (adults in the future) from disadvantaged families do not want to change their lives. They just do not understand their wretchedness. Of course there are also some exceptions when ancestral features are not transmitted and children are able to differ good and bad.
However, one should keep in mind that the moral code exists not only for “selected people”; it exists for all the persons who live on the Earth. It is the concept of morality which plays an important role in a person’s life. Sarty was very upright person and wanted to find his place in this world. His moral philosophy was unusual in some way. Thus, he wanted to resolve all his inner contradiction and change his life.
Of course to make a progress one should make the efforts. The desire to change some separate aspects of your life as well as the whole life is not enough. The person must do something to improve the conditions he/she lives in. Every person has its own way of thinking and in most cases the world outlook of children is formed at an early age. For this reason it is very important to foster love for moral values in children.
Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning”. University Press of Mississippi, 1985. Web.
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