In William Faulkner’s story, “Barn Burning”, we find a young man who struggles with the relationship he has with his father. We see Sarty (Colonel Sartoris Snopes), the young man, develop into an adult while dealing with the many crude actions and ways of Abner, his father.
We see Sarty as a puzzled youth who faces the questions of faithfulness to his father or faithfulness to himself and the society he lives in. His struggle dealing with the reactions which are caused by his father’s acts results in him thinking more for himself as the story progresses.
Faulkner uses many instances to display the development of Sarty’s conscience as the theme of the story “Barn Burning.” Three instances in which we can see the development of consciousness in the story are the ways that Sarty compliments and admires his father, the language he uses when describing his father, and the way he obeys his father throughout the story.
The first instance in which we can see a transition from childhood to adulthood in Sarty’s life is in the way he compliments his father. Sarty admires his father very much and wishes that things could change for the better throughout the story. At the beginning of the story, he speaks of how his father’s “…wolflike independence…”(145) causes his family to depend on almost no one.
He believes that they live on their own because of his father’s drive for survival. When Sarty mentions the way his father commands his sisters to clean a rug with force “…though never raising his voice…”(148), it shows how he sees his father as strict, but not overly demanding. He seems to begin to feel dissent towards his father for the way he exercises his authority in the household. As we near the end of the story, Sarty’s compliments become sparse and have a different tone surrounding them.
After running from the burning barn, he spoke of his dad in an almost heroic sense. He wanted everyone to remember his dad as a brave man, “He was in the war.”(154) and should be known for it, not burning barns. He seems to care about, but not condone his father and his actions. Another instance where we see a transition is in the language he uses when describing his father. At the beginning of the story, he spoke as a child watching and looking at the things around him.
He said that an enemy of his father’s was “…our enemy…”(147) and spoke with the loyalty of a lamb, never knowing that it could stray from the flock. Near the middle of the story, we can see the tone of his speech change. Sarty shows change when he asks his father if he “…want[s] to ride now?”(149) when they are leaving deSpain’s house.
He seems to have the courage to ask his dad certain things, not fearing the consequences. At the end of the story, the language Sarty uses becomes clearer and more independent. As he runs from the deSpain’s house, like a child, he cries for Abner saying, “Pap! Pap!”(154), but when he stops and recalls the event, he says, like an adult, “Father! Father!”(154).
He shows his development through these examples of his speech. The last instance where he shows us that he is developing a conscience is in the way he obeys his father. Sarty seems to do anything his father says at the begging of the story. When Sarty is called to stand at his father’s trial, he says that his father “…aims for me to lie and I will have to do hit.”(144).
He is totally loyal at the beginning of the story, but as the tale progresses, we see his obedience weaken. After the cleaning of the rug, we see Sarty’s father ask if he has “…put the cutter [horse] back in the strait stock…”(150) and we find that Sarty disobeys his father for the first time when he says “No sir.”(150).
He begins to have a say in things in a slight way. But near the end of the story, his mind totally decides for itself when he was told to stay at home. He told his mother to “Lemme go.”(153). He seems willing to go to any length to disobey his father for the purpose of serving justice now. After reading about Faulkner’s transitional phases of the compliments, speech, and loyalty of Sarty, we can see the change from childhood to adulthood or from a person of innocence into a person with a conscience in Sarty.
Faulkner gradually develops Sarty into a man of his own deeds throughout the story. Sarty has to finally realize that blood is not always thicker than water. Faulkner’s story symbolizes the way in which society works today. If one individual is doing wrong, you must overlook the relationship you have with him and look at the wrong deeds he is doing. If you happen to face your fears and set straight the wrong, in the end, goodwill always prevails.
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