In “Barn Burning,” Faulkner incorporates several instances of irony. Heutilizes this literary tool in order to help the development of his charactersand to express his ultimate message to the readers. Some examples of his use ofirony are the unintentional yet inevitable ending of the Snopes family timeafter time, the similarities and differences between Sarty Snopes and hisfather, and finally, the two distinct purposes for which Abner Snopes uses fire. Separately, each is able to contribute to the development of the two maincharacters in the short story.
Collectively, they are also able to help Faulknerconvey his personal message that essentially, an individual’s sense of valuescomprises who he/she is. The most obvious instance of irony is the uncannyfashion in which each endeavor of the Snopes family concludes every time. To thereader’s knowledge, it is neither intended nor premeditated that each attemptof the family to make a new start results in the same outcome. Each struggle isexactly that, yielding the invariable, undesired result of a barn being engulfedin ravaging flames and the family being forced to search for a new beginning. These trials help Sarty understand that in order to take control of his owndestiny, he must separate himself from his family and venture out on his own. Ifhe ever wishes to live a life other than that of a vagabond with no real chancefor happiness or stability, he must leave now.
Another case of the use of ironyis the comparison between Sarty Snopes and his father. While they physicallyresemble each other, their morals could not differ more. Sarty is “small andwiry like his father (p267, paragraph 7). ” However the similarities arestrictly limited to physical characteristics.
The values and principles that thefather and son embrace reveal the true contrast between the two. Abner allowshis emotions and pride to get the better of him, controlling his actions andmaking him react in an irrational manner. This tears young Sarty apart becausealthough he wishes to obey and honor his father, he cannot morally respect Abnerand his deeds. Faulkner uses this contrast in ideals to help Sarty realize thathe is does not want to grow up like his father nor is he obligated to follow inhis footsteps. It helps him to see that he must escape if he ever wants tochange his way of life. The final example of irony is perhaps the most importantand effective.
Abner Snopes uses fire for two very distinct purposes which isthe epitome of irony. He uses the fire in a very destructive manner each time heburns down a barn. This immense blaze serves no purpose but to keep intact hispride, “the element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’sbeing,. .
. as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity (p 270, paragraph1). ” However, when it comes to keeping his family warm, Abner sets only “asmall fire, niggard almost, a shrewd fire (p 270, paragraph 1). ” To spare thewarmth of a large fire for his family while setting grand ones for theunnecessary purpose of demolishing a barn seems ridiculous. Abner Snopes clearlyhas his priorities out of order.
He is too caught up in his own egotism torealize that his family is suffering right before him. Although literally,Abner’s habit is to burn barns, perhaps what he is really burning is the verybridge his family needs to cross in order to achieve contentment, success, andstability. Faulkner’s message about the importance of individual values andideals is well-expressed through “Barn Burning. ” It is clear that Abnerlacks both and is therefore unable to provide for his family and induces his ownuntimely death. Sarty represents the hope that could have easily fallen into thefootsteps of an overbearing father but instead was wise enough to realize thefault in Abner’s ways and realign himself.