In William Faukner’s “Barn Burning”, Sartoris is torn between his loyalty to his family and an inner sense of justice. Between these two factors, Sartoris decides to warn de Spain about the barn due to his grasp on what is right at the age of ten. Sartoris’ sense of justice that compels him to warn de Spain about the barn are portrayed during the trial with Mr. Harris, when they arrive at de Spain’s mansion, and when he breaks free from his mother. At the start of the story, Sartoris is placed in the scenario of lying to the judge about his father burning Mr.
Harris’ farm. Sartoris displays great loyalty to his family when the Judge talks to him. When the justice compels Sartoris to tell the truth, Sartoris views the justice as an enemy (Faulkner 801). Despite his loyalty to his father, he truly does not wish to lie about his father’s actions. Faulkner captures Sartoris’ unwillingness to lie through the emotions of grief and despair as Sartoris thinks to himself about lying for his father (801). This inner conflict shows that Sartoris has been exposed to and religiously taught the concepts of absolute family loyalty.
However, his unwillingness to lie portray his belief in fairness and justice, which is an impressive level of maturity for his age. His early understanding of right and wrong is one reason why Sartoris decides to warn de Spain. Another event in “Barn Burning” that displays his sense of justice is when Sartoris and his family first arrive at Major de Spain’s mansion. Sartoris’ initial reaction to de Spain’s mansion is a positive one. Sartoris claims that the mansion is “big as a courthouse” (Faulkner 804).
Sartoris’ reference to a courthouse along with his feeling of peace at the sight of the mansion portrays that he has positive feelings towards the legal system, contrasting his father. He also hopes that his father will feel the peace Sartoris feels and stop burning barns. The hope Sartoris displays shows his genuine feelings that his father’s actions are wrong. This event marks the beginning of Sartoris siding his moral concept of justice in the conflict between family loyalty and justice.
When Sartoris breaks free from his mother, Faulkner shows readers that he chooses to turn in his father due to his moral sense of justice. When Sartoris threatens to hit his mother if she doesn’t let him go, he is cementing his moral values over his father’s (Faulkner 811). Throughout the story, Sartoris is shown to have a mature concept of right and wrong, but when he threatens to hit his mother, he is confirming that letting his father burn the barn is worse than hurting his family. Breaking free from his mom symbolizes Sartoris’ making his presence known in the world.
He knows that he will breaking family loyalty, but he choose to make his own choice and side with justice. The inner conflict between choosing his family and justice is rough for Sartoris, especially at his age of only ten. However, his strong sense of right and wrong is the final determining factor when he goes to warn de Spain that his father is burning the barn. Bibliography Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning. ” The Norton Anthology American Literature. Ed. Mina Baym. New York, CT: W. W. Norton & Company, 2012. 800-812. Print
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