Barn Burning William Faulkner Summary

The short story, "Barn Burning", by William Faulkner provides a subtle account of the struggle of community farming life in the post-Civil War era of the American South. Such struggles are entailed through the perspective of a low-class farmer's ten year old son, Colonel Sartoris Snopes, whose father, Abner, pulls their family into a deep legal entanglement due to his serial arson tendencies. Such a state catapults Sartoris into a difficult situation as his father pushes the family-first-at-all-cost belief onto his son, which directly conflicts with the boy's deep notion that his father has broken the law. Ultimately this leads to Sartoris having to choose between his family and his own personal morals. Such a decision becomes an issue at Abner Scopes'trial.

With his father's arson of landlord, Mr. Harris', barn, Sartoris' morals are constantly tested as the young boy struggles to battle between protecting his father and family as well as trying to live justly according to the law. Sartoris is constantly ordered to lie about his father's innocence on several occasions, falsely proving to others that Abner is innocent of the crimes he has been accused of. At the same time Sartoris` aunt encourages the conflicted boy to stay by his natural allegiance to the law.

Such pressures reach their breaking point when Abner again grows the sporadic desire to commit the crime again on another household to spite those who he feels have done him wrong. On this second occasion, the rash action is intended towards the slave-owning Major de Spain; whose land the family begins working on after the barn burning incident. Sartoris makes a final plea with his father to withhold from setting on his path of fiery destruction but fails. At such a point, Sartoris cannot bear to continue on with the lies and so, through previous motivations by his aunt, he runs towards the authority of Major de Spain to expose his father's mischievous plans. A major break from Sartoris` allegiance to his father is thus made which, unknowing to the boy, results in Abner's death as he is fatally shot by de Spain. With the death of his father, Sartoris sees a means to freedom from the shadow that his family has cast on his own moral values, leading the young boy to run away, and live life without the shadow of a self-destructive father casting down on his own morals.