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Barn Burning Analysis Essay

It is not a secret that many writers consider morality as one of the most significant issues in human society. They discuss morality in their short stories, novels and poems. William Faulkner is one of those writers who pay special attention to the traditional notions of right and wrong. In his short story Barn Burning, William Faulkner helps readers to understand the difference between loyalty to the law and loyalty to the family. The main character of the short story Barn Burning, a small boy of ten years old encounters the problem of choice between these two notions. He has to choose loyalty to the law due to his moral and ethical principles and to ignore his father’s instructions to help him in burning the barn. Sometimes loyalty to the family can become a great cost and a heavy burden for a person. That is why it is better to choose loyalty to the law that will give an opportunity to live honestly.

My goal in this paper is to represent a literary analysis of William Faulkner’s short story Barn Burning. In order to achieve this goal, it is necessary to define the major themes developed by the author, to give the analysis of the main characters and to define what symbols are used by the author to support the story line and mood of the literary work.


William Faulkner pays special attention to both the protagonist and the antagonist in his short story. He tells about some white tenant farmer whose name is Abner Snopes and who has a great desire to show his protest against unfair society he lives in by means of burning. As a former soldier and a tyrannical father and husband, he does not want to suffer injustice and inequalities. He finds the way to revenge the rich and powerful masters – he burns their barns and wants his children to do the same. As an antagonist, Abner Snopes teaches his ten-years-old son loyalty to the family: “You got to learn to stick to your own blood, or you aren’t going to have any blood to stick to you”. (Faulkner 11)

Another main character, the protagonist of the story, Abner’s son Sarty is ready to reject his father’s immoral principles and to protest against crime and violence. William Faulkner shows the process of the boy’s individual development. At the beginning of the story, the boy feels that his father is not right, his actions are illegal, but he is not ready to protest against his father’s criminal actions. However, at the end of the story, William Faulkner shows that the boy is ready to make a right choice. He betrays his father and tells the owner of the farm about his father’s plans to burn the barn. (Gemmette 21)


The author develops several important themes in his short story Barn Burning. One of them is the theme of morality and loyalty to the law. The main character Sarty protests against his father’s violent plan because he does not want to follow the instructions of such immoral person. He realizes that destruction is not the way to fight against inequality. When the local boy accuses Sarty’s father of his crime, Sarty tries to defend his family. However, when Sarty’s father decides to continue his criminal actions and to burn one more barn, the boy does not confirm his decision.

One more important theme developed in this literary work is the theme of search for better life. Sarty is shown as a poor boy who lives in constant fear. The boy has to work hard in the field in order earn his living. Abner Snopes does not care of his son’s education. The boy loves his mother and his sisters, and wants them to live happily without his father’s oppression. Sarty is ready “to live without fear and despair”.(Deats & Lenker 23)


In order to develop the major themes, William Faulkner uses different symbols such as fire, the burning barns, the soiled rug and some others. Symbolism helps the author to give detailed description of the main characters nature. For example, fire symbolizes Abner Slopes’ powerlessness while the burning barns symbolize the evil that lives in human society. The soiled rug symbolizes one of the Abner’s acts of violence and immorality that is connected with bad relation of the farm owners to Abner and his family. (Loges 2)


In conclusion, it is necessary to say that the key idea of William Faulkner in this story is to prove the fact that violence and immorality have no place in human society. The boy of ten years old stops the criminal actions of his father because he knows that it is immoral to burn barns where crops are stored. Moreover, the author shows that Sarty is ready to change his life for a better one. He realizes that loyalty to the law is more important than loyalty to the family where everybody should obey oppressive domination of the father.

Works Cited

Deats, S., Lenker, L. The Aching Heart: Family Violence in Life and Literature. Insite Books, 1991. Print.
Gemmette, E. Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Short Stories. Praeger Publishers, 1992. Print.
Faulkner, W. Barn Burning. (Tale Blazers: American Literature). Perfection Learning Press, 2007.
Loges, M. Faulkner’s Barn Burning. The Explicator. Vol.57(1). 1998. Retrieved from:<http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=98292286>