Barn Burning Faulkner William Faulkner Term Paper

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It is important to notice the fact that despite the pressures from his father he decides to make his own choice and confront him. Therefore, the short story closes as a perfect circle with a somewhat similar action, this time the outcome differing. Thus, while in the beginning, Sarty would have lied for his parent, under the obligation of the Court, this time it was his own unquestionable choice to take a stand against the actions of his father. It is here that the transformation is obvious. He decides to choose the abstract morality of social institutions at the price of the alienation from his family. The final sentence, "He did not look back" seals his choice and opens up the path for his new quest.

Sarty's change in attitude and perception are resented to the reader with the help of two important elements: the narrator and the general setting of the story.

Firstly, the narrator plays a major key in guiding both Sarty and the reader in understanding the complexity of the characters and the situation in itself. It is present, as Zender points out "everywhere and nowhere" (Zender, 1989) arguing in fact that there is not just one perspective adopted by the narrator; in fact, the point-of-view of the story changes at the same time in which the targeted public does. In this respect, on the one hand, the narrator which aims to address the reader has a definite mission of clarifying certain aspects of the story such as the opening scene setting or the different descriptions that help the reader better picture the actual framework for the actions which are to take place. On the other hand however, there is a narrative perspective that supports the emancipation of the main character by providing him with additional clarifications especially in regard to his father. Yunis considers such a role and argues that "the narrator can do for Sarty what the young Sarty cannot: he can understand Abner's anti-social behavior, his anger, in a way Sarty as yet cannot; he can read, and therefore he can tell the truth about Abner's fires while placing him in the context of heroes respected by his audience." (Yunis, 1991) It determines the value of truth for certain considerations Sarty makes in regard to Ab; for instance, the courage Sarty considered his father capable of, especially after having participated in the Civil War, is denied by the narrator which provides additional clarification over the real reason for Ab's participation in the war, that was to profit from the looting taking place in those times.

The setting represents in most occasions the framework for the development of the story. In this case however, it is rather a dynamic force that contributes to the amplification of each sentiment and feeling. Critics do not consider the setting in this short story to be one of very definite coordinates. Thus "the only space mentioned is the "dark woods" toward which he walks at the end of the story," Zender points out. (Zender, 1989) He goes on to note that in fact, this lack of clear spatial determination of the action has a more profound meaning, and draws the attention on the journey Sarty must take in order to become an adult and this journey does not have a clear cut path. The end also is in complete harmony with the boy's state of mind. The sunrise seen from a hilltop symbolizes the possibility and hope for a new beginning, for a chance to define his set of morals and to integrate into the world. (Barn Burning: Themes, 2006)

Overall, Sarty's character is one of deep complexity. It faces change from being a family member, dominated by the influence and control of his authoritarian father to becoming an adult, with an emerging conscience molded by the notions of an abstract sense of morality. This change however is possible only under the influence of each of the characters he enters in contact with and, at the same time, with the help of mediatory elements such as the narrator and the overall setting.


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Flora, Joseph M., "Barn Burning: Overview" in Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994.

Napierkowski, Marie Rose. "Barn Burning: themes," in Short Stories for Students. Vol.

5. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998. January 2006. 4 August 2006.

Yunis, Susan S., "The Narrator of Faulkner's 'Barn Burning'," in The Faulkner Journal, Vol. VI, No. 2, Spring, 1991. 23-31.

Zender, Karl F., "Character and…

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