It has often been said to never judge a book by its title, since this provides the reader with an initial introduction to the story. To Kill a Mockingbird, Bleak House and The Grapes of Wrath are classic examples of this testament. The title can either be straightforward and catchy, revealing all its contents to the reader, or filled with hidden layers and meaning that only become gradually apparent. William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” grimly tells the tale of Sarty, his selfish siblings and their pyromaniac father. Conflicts arise for the itinerant farmhands when Sarty is called to testify against his father for an alleged arson. The ten year old boy is then faced with a crippling dilemma of telling the truth or protecting his father. Throughout the story, Faulkner uses symbolism, imagery, and repetition to allude to the underlying theme of destruction. While the title “Barn Burning” is deceiving to its audience, the destruction of family, crumbling relationship with son and reclaiming power is continually represented by the destruction of the burning barns.Order now
Being in a nomadic family can have serious repercussion for its member. They are often alienated from peers and treated as an outcast. Constantly moving, they have no roots or place to claim as their own. The members either become close, looking out for each other; or selfish concerning only about themselves. For the Snope family, “Barn Burning” represents the destruction of their family. Because of their father’s antics of destroying property, the family is
always moving. “The wagon went on. He did not know where they were going. None of them ever did or ever asked, because it was always somewhere, always a house of sorts waiting on them a day or two days or even three days away” (Faulkner 209). The family is broken like all their possession and Faulkner uses imagery and repetition to evoke this to the audience. He uses images such as the “battered stove”, “broken chairs” and “ripped old clothes” (Faulkner 209) to compare to the family who are illiterate, lack nutrition and on the verge of destruction. His wife clings to her “broken clock inlaid with mother-of-pearl” (Faulkner 208), another symbolism Faulkner uses to show the damage Abner’s obsession is doing to them. Once given as a gift, Sarty’s mother is now living in eternal hell as her life is now in a constant state of deterioration with each barn that burns. The Snopes have no life outside of Abner’s destruction, which will in turn perpetually destroy theirs.
The theme of destruction carries over to his children as they also suffer from the barns burning. With each barn that is burnt, Sarty and his father’s relationship slowly die. A normal father-son relationship offers hope and inspiration, but Abner kills this for his children, especially Sarty who is the youngest of them. His older children, already exposed to their father destructive ways are used to the ruins that he leaves in his path. Abner’s destructive ways forces Sarty to choice between the truth and his family. “He aims for me to lie… and I will have to do it” (Faulkner 207), shows the how conflicted Sarty is with his decision whether to save or turn his father in. Faulkner repeatedly makes blood references when showing the crumbling relationship between father and son. This is done in the courtroom “the old fierce pull of blood” (Faulkner 206) indicating this is the only time Sarty has felt close to his father. It is also mentioned when Abner threatens Sarty with abandonment “you’ve got to learn to stick to your
own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you” (Faulkner 210). This is the first time Sarty realizes that his father burning the barns is done for revenge not justice. When Sarty informs DeSpain of his father’s intention to burn his barn, this end the relationship as Sarty realizes he does not want to be tied to his family or father. The “pull of blood” is no longer influencing him; he is now choosing justice over his father’s deception.
For Abner Snopes, “Barn Burning” signifies power. He is a white farmhand in an era where status matters and he has none. He uses the fire as an act of rebellion against his employers and those he believes has wronged him. Working for other people and sometimes failing to provide for his family, has made Abner feel inadequate. He is portrayed as vengeful and vindictive. This is shown when he first visits Major DeSpain home; “he examined the house with brief deliberation… with the same deliberation he turned… leaving a final long and fading smear” (Faulkner 212). This is done to deliberately to show the black workers in the house that he was still better than them. Faulkner uses repetition of fire for his audience to understand how connected he was to it. There are two aspects to Abner’s fire; he uses it to create damage, but also he uses it sparingly to provide for his family. When his fires do no harm, it is “neat, niggard almost shrewd” (Faulkner 209) because he does not want to exert himself for meaningless tasks. “The element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being… as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity, else breath were not worth breathing” (Faulkner209). By using fire to destroy what he doesn’t have, he takes away some of the power they hold over him.
The title “Barn Burning” implies to the reader that a barn will be burnt. Yet upon further reading, it shows what the burning barn represents to the characters. Abner Snope’s obsession with fire is equal to his obsession with power and respect. He craves the attention and feeling of rebirth with each new burning, but he does not understand the damage he does to his family. While Sarty is able to leave his family destructive ways, the memory of how he left will be with him forever. He is now a young run-away, trying to survive as a poor, uneducated, unclothed white boy in the woods. While Abner might be physically gone, his influence and beliefs are already set in his older children to perhaps carry as his tradition and the memory of how Sarty betrayed his family and father will continue to haunt his future.