William Faulkner’s Barn Burning: Analysis of the Characters

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Dec 26th, 2019


This paper seeks to carry out a psychological study of “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner. This short story appeared in Harper’s in June 1939 and has been widely anthologized since then. Its setting is an unknown place somewhere in the south of the United States. Psychological analysis of Barn Burning’s characters offers a new view into their minds. It will mainly revolve around Abner Snopes (the antagonist) depicted as having some queer tendencies throughout the story (W.Faulkner, pp.2).

It will include all the different situations that Abner and his family find themselves, the emotional problems that stoke different characters, mostly due to Abner’s conduct, the implications of Abner’s behavior, and the effects they cause, primarily to his son Sarty. The analysis will also go further to try and identify the origin of Abner’s anger.

Barn Burning: Character Analysis

In William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” the characters face deep emotional issues (Faulkner, pp.6). Abner Snopes, presents a huge obstacle to his son’s development into a responsible adult. In the early part of the story, Abner is described as a freebooter and a crook. He is the antagonist of the story, while his son called Sarty is the main character of Barn Burning.

Abner Snopes later progresses into an evil and vengeful person as life stresses take a toll on him. This change presents a character development nightmare to his son. Snopes’ character does not go beyond the role of giving an evil obstacle to his son’s development. His personality, which can be effectively described as pyromania, shows his hatred for the society in which he lives.

Mr. Snopes has a possessive attitude that one can regard as the hallmark of his weakness. This attitude is manifested in the way he treats his son. For instance, he doesn’t like it when his son speaks, and he counters this by looking at him with a weird stare that drives fear into him. The story is fully packed with emotional instances that are mainly perpetrated by Mr. Snopes, who is having the poorest of characters in the story.

After being subjected to a sinful life by His father, Sarty finally makes an important decision to end their relationship and takes off to live on his own. This gesture can be a moral protestation, whereby Sarty affirms his moral correctness by breaking away from his evil, sick-minded father rather than staying around and consequently being affected.

In regard to other Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” characters, Abner might be portrayed as follows. First of all, Sarty, a youngster, sees the devil’s reflection in his father, who is described as having a claw-like hand in one passage. In another, he is referred to as not seeming to cast a shadow, yet in another, his feet appear s to break into a pile of manure in the same way a cloven woof would do (Faulkner, pp.5). Sarty, as an older adult, behaves like an evil youngster. His sickening, antisocial behavior leads him into a collision with everyone in his path.

Abner’s behavior is a testament to his satanic tendencies as fire is more linked to the devil (Faulkner, pp.8). That makes Sarty’s decision to break away and not to obey his father to be necessary as far as morality is concerned. The father is thus viewed as the one on the wrong side of morality by misbehaving. Naturally, sons are required to obey their father as a show of ethical conduct. However, this case is unique because Abner, who should give directions to his son, has a weak vengeful character.

Abner is repeatedly being referred to as stiff throughout the text of Barn Burning. Analysis shows that this stiffness goes further than just describing his gait and stance but also his character as well. The name stiff reflects Abner’s dedication to his own sense of being and integrity; his firm will to do anything he so desires (Faulkner, pp.13). It seems to suggest that Abner is some living evil force that is proud to be what it is.

Though Mr. Snopes is seen to have terrifying, animalistic, and vengeful tendencies, he is also shown to have some admirable traits, such as being courageous and enduring.

Finally, the root of the rebellious personality portrayed by Mr. Snopes can be traced to the economic hardships that bedevil his family. He may as well represent the struggle for equality where the poor say no to oppression by the mighty.

The mighty, in this case, is represented by De Spain, who doesn’t seem to accept any challenge. Abner, therefore, when infuriated by those he considers to be mighty, he uses fire to get them down to his level. The superiority exercised over him seems to have caused a psychological effect that causes him to act the way he does.


This paper sought to carry out a psychological analysis of William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning.”. The analysis above shows that the story presents a typical view of how American society existed in the 19th century (Faulkner, pp.4). That is especially regarding the theme of social classes and the inequalities that existed. In summary, the psychological effects that they caused on either side of the divide proved to be huge

Work Cited

Faulkner, William. Barn Burning. Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner. New York: The Modern Library. 1939. Print.

This essay on William Faulkner’s Barn Burning was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Read more