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Sarty realizes that his family's circumstances are the direct result of his father's actions and he slowly begins to realize that, as a man, he does not to life the kind of life his father did. However, if he decides to life a life different from that of his father, he knows he must break away from his family altogether. This will do two things for Sarty. It will set him free and it will end the destruction in his life. Sarty also knows that the sooner he makes his move toward a better life, the closer he will be to these things.
Things change for Sarty on the de Spain plantation. Abner could see nothing good about the plantation. Sarty, however, saw hope along with his father behaving foolishly. In a moment of frustration, Abner rubs dirt on the carpet -- a deed which requires Sarty's sisters the better part of a day cleaning. We understand how Abner tends to see the negative in things when he tells Sarty that the plantation was painted with "nigger sweat" (479). This is the source of his anger. Fire becomes the weapon of choice for Abner. It is how he chooses to express his anger toward life in general. He does not feel inclined to try to make things better for his family. Fire is destructive in more than one way, however. While he does not realize it, Abner is also destroying his family with every time he chooses to burn another barn. He burns the chances of anything stable in their lives to ashes. The fire and the anger confuse Sarty. He cannot relate to his father. At the de Spain's plantation Sarty thinks:
People whose lives are a part of this peace and dignity are behind his touch, he no more to them than a buzzing wasp: capable of stinging for a little moment but that's all; the spell of this peace and dignity rendering even the barns and stable and cribs which belong to it impervious to the puny flames he might contrive" (478).
Sarty sees that the real damage lives within his father. He hopes that maybe he will feel what Sarty does and maybe it "will even change him not from what maybe he couldn't help but be" (478). Sarty realizes that his hopes are useless as he comprehends the scope of his father's anger. The difference between these two men -- and what ultimately shapes many people in this world - is the sense of hope. Sarty had a hope for his future and he cold see it even if it remained unclear to him. He felt it when they arrived at the plantation when he saw all of the good things within that household. He also had the ability to see the good in things even if that good did not seem to belong to him in particular. At the plantation, he feels a "surge of peace and joy whose reason he could not have thought in to words" (478). His is still young enough at this point not to be hardened to life. As a result, his hope saves his life or, at least, his future, anyway.
"Barn Burning" is a tale of one boy's coming of age. For all intents and purposes, Sarty has no real chance for a decent life. This is the realization to which he comes as he watches his father slowly destroy his family. Sarty is a character we would think of as doomed but instead he emerges victorious because he has to courage to strike out and reach for something better. His family, as long as they are tied to Abner, will always be held back and will always suffer. This suffering is needless other than to satisfy Abner's twisted sense of revenge upon a society that does not acknowledge him for anything other than what he is -- a pyromaniac. Sarty, young enough to still have a little courage to run away, is saved from a dark appointment with fate because he can still dream of a better life. Whatever it is, as he rushes toward, it cannot be worse than fear and fire.
Faulkner, William. "Barn Burning." The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Cassill, R.V., ed. New York…[continue]
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