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“The Barn Burning” by Peter Werner Essay


The movie “The Barn Burning” directed by Peter Werner, based on William Faulkner’s short story examines a boy who struggles with family devotion and a higher sense of justice. When the person is growing up, he changes and looks at things for a different outlook. In the story, the central hero Sarty has many conflicts with his father, however through all of them he begins to mature into a man.

Tommy Lee Jones is the actor portraying Abner Snopes’ character. He is a Southern tenant farmer, the father of young Sarty Snopes, being driven out of town after burning down his landlord’s barn. In a court, Harris asked for testimony that Snopes burned his barn. The night before, Sarty was waked by Snope and taken out of the house, Abner blames him for planning to report to the judge of his guiltiness in the arson. Snope hits his son and explains to him that to stay loyal to his family is always obligatory.

Sartori tries to give notice Major de Spain of Snopes’ intentions to set fire to his barn, too. However, his landlord overtakes him soon on his horse. Sarty leaps down into the trench to get away from the road. “The boy hears two gunshots and Snope is killed. Intensely affected by his father’s behavior, Sarty does not pause to look back and return to his family” (Faulkner 11).

“Barn Burning” reveals class conflicts, vengeance, and the influence of fathers that the viewer observes through the third-person perspective of a young, sensitive child. The story presents poor white labor cultivating both the respectability of “gentleman farmers” like Major de Spain and the farm’s crops. “The sweat economy lays bare the labor that the capitalist economy works to obfuscate: the exploited labor making possible the leisure that, according to the Twelve Southerners, is the hallmark of agrarian society,” states Bloom (149).

Family loyalty for the Snopes family, especially for Sartoris’s father, is valued above everything. It seems like family obtains outside of society and even out of the law, and the base of their moral code and worldview is blood relations rather than eternal concepts of right or wrong. Snope’s threat confirms how isolated the family is and that they ultimately rely on each other for shield, even if their belief in this protection is unproven.

The story presents two central heroes: Sarty and his father, Abner Snopes. It goes without saying that both characters are deep and dramatic. First, the boy stood behind his father, who was at war, all the time, he respected him. Therefore, shy Sarty’s first step toward maturing is family support and pride. Hans Skei comments that “the development of Sarty takes him from being an ordinary Snopes, submissive to the ‘old fierce pull of blood … into a society whose laws and regulations the boy intuitively seems to have not only accepted but come to trust” (60). After a time, Sarty acquires an individual maternity, learning such moral values like justice and truth through evaluation of the negative and positive aspects of his life. Abner Snopes is as complicated character as his son is. Magee claims that:

The question is whether he has the knowledge or if he is ignoring this knowledge at all, and, if he is ignoring it, if it is because of environmental causes – perhaps he feels it is the only way to settle his problems – or because of heredity, because the evil is just a part of who he is. (4)

Snopes seems unable to stop himself from his immoral pattern of getting angry with someone, moving somewhere, and then going to burn down his barn; he continues with it again and again in spite of the consequences which he chooses to overlook. Hence, one may conclude that he represents a quick-tempered, abrupt, and influential character. At the same time, Snopes seems to contaminate everything he relates because of dissatisfaction with confining his profound misery to his private kingdom, and he becomes almost brutish being deficient in regard for others. For instance, in the landlord house, Snopes deliberately steps like the horse and traces it all through the home.

“Faulkner is known for his individual stream-of-consciousness like style, particularly his use of long, hard to read sentences that are frequently interrupted by clauses” (Bain et al. 110). Faulkner adds complication to his fiction using this method, which reveals the struggles one face in the everyday world, and they rarely have clear determinations. To reveal much about the education and background of this rural family, Faulkner uses dialect lexicon: Sarty says, “Naw,… Hit don’t hurt. Lemme be” (Werner).

In conclusion, it should be stressed that the story presents a child who stood before a difficult choice between father loyalty and law loyalty, and finally decides to choose the side of justice and freedom and completes his initiation into maturity. No doubt, it was an extremely difficult choice. However, Sarti leaves his family, and no one could assume what lay ahead.

Works Cited

Bain, Carl, Jerome Beaty, Paul Hunter, Gayla McGlamery, and Nancy Henry. Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: Norton & Company, 2012. Print.

Bloom, Harold. William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. New York: Chelsea House, 2013. Print.

Faulkner, William. . 2014. Web.

Magee, Jessie. “Faulkner the Humanist: How His Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech Changed How We Interpret “Barn Burning.” Student Research Conference Select Presentations. Bowling Green: Western Kentucky University, 2009. 1-14. Print.

Skei, Hans. Reading Faulkner’s Best Short Stories. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2009. Print.

“Barn Burning”. YouTube. 2015. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2020, June 30). “The Barn Burning” by Peter Werner. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-barn-burning-by-peter-werner/

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"“The Barn Burning” by Peter Werner." IvyPanda, 30 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-barn-burning-by-peter-werner/.

1. IvyPanda. "“The Barn Burning” by Peter Werner." June 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-barn-burning-by-peter-werner/.


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IvyPanda. "“The Barn Burning” by Peter Werner." June 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-barn-burning-by-peter-werner/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "“The Barn Burning” by Peter Werner." June 30, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-barn-burning-by-peter-werner/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '“The Barn Burning” by Peter Werner'. 30 June.

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