Barn Burning

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"Barn Burning" is a short story by the American author William Faulkner which first appeared in Harper's in 1939 and has since been widely anthologized. The story deals with class conflicts, the influence of fathers, and vengeance as viewed through the third-person perspective of a young, impressionable child. It is a prequel to The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion, the three novels make up the Snopes trilogy.

Characters[edit]

  • Colonel Sartoris Snopes ("Sarty") - protagonist
  • Abner Snopes – patriarch of the Snopes family, personal hobby of burning barns, Antagonist
  • Lennie Snopes – wife of Abner and mother of Sarty
  • Lizzie – unmarried sister of Lennie Snopes
  • Major de Spain - Snopes's employer
  • Mr. Harris - Abner's first mentioned landowner

Plot summary[edit]

Abner, the father of young Sarty Snopes, is being driven out of town after burning down his landlord's barn. In the court case that opens the story and in which Sarty is initially called to testify, no palpable proof can point to Abner as the culprit, but the Snopes family is ordered to leave the county. They move to a new place where Abner is to work as a sharecropper for Major de Spain, but Abner cannot seem to stop himself from acting out against authority in order to, in his eyes, preserve his honor. Shortly after arriving at his new position, Abner visits Major de Spain's house and tracks horse droppings on a blond rug. Major de Spain orders Abner to clean the rug, which he does by using a harsh lye soap, ruining the rug beyond repair, before throwing the rug onto Major de Spain's front porch. Major de Spain levies on Abner a fine of 20 bushels of corn against the price of the rug. At court, a Justice of the Peace reduces the fine to ten bushels of corn. Feeling once again wronged, Abner makes preparations to set fire to Major de Spain's barn. Sarty warns Major de Spain of his father's intentions to burn down his barn and then flees in the direction of his father. He is soon overtaken by Major de Spain on his horse and jumps into the ditch to get out of the way. Sarty hears two gun shots, but who gets shot is never revealed; the father and the brother appear in works set after Barn Burning. Profoundly affected by his father's legacy, the boy does not return to his family but continues on with his life alone.

Screenplay[edit]

In 1980, the story was adapted into a short film of the same name by director Peter Werner. It starred Tommy Lee Jones as Abner Snopes, Shawn Whittington as Sartoris Snopes, and Faulkner's nephew as De Spain.

References[edit]

Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning.” Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner. New York: The Modern Library, 1993. 1-25. 1962.

External links[edit]