Essay on the Conflict Presented in William Faulkner’s Short Story, “Barn Burning” Conflict in literary works can be presented in a multitude of ways and it can be about almost everything that presents opposing forces. In William Faulkner’s short story, Barn Burning, the conflict is indeed about two opposing forces—that of the father and the son who values different things and who sees things differently. However, this is not the only conflict that the story illustrates. More than the physical conflict which the father and the son so obviously have, there is a hidden conflict present which is within the son.
This conflict is the battle between what is right as defined by the law which the son upholds versus what is correct as defined by familial loyalty. The story revolves around the case of the father, Mr. Snopes who is accused of burning the barn of Mr. Harris. Though the case is dismissed, the Snopes name is forever tainted and the family decides to leave town and relocate. In the beginning of the story itself, Colonel Sartoris Snopes, the little boy protagonist and youngest son of Mr. Snopes is in turmoil since he knows that his father did indeed order that the barn of Mr. Harris be burned.
Readers are able to see the conflict within the character of Sartoris who wants to say the truth but who wants to be loyal to his father, a father who nurtured, sheltered, fed and protected him. Sartoris decides that he will be loyal to his father even to the point of regarding Mr. Harris as their common enemy: “our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! Mine and hisn both! He’s my father! ” (Faulkner, 1939, p. 1137). This parade of thoughts that Sartoris conjures up in his mind is the beginning of the battle of his conscience of whether he wants to abide by the loyalty that he owes his father and family or abide by societal laws.
These thoughts are actually also a reflection of Sartoris convincing himself that he must at all cost, abide by familial loyalty. The same strain of thought pops again when the judge in charge of the case calls on Sartoris to testify whether his father really had a hand in the burning of the barn: “He aims for me to lie, he thought, again with that frantic grief and despair. And I will have to do it. ” (Faulkner, 1939, 1138). Sartoris knows that his father is guilty and yet he also knows that he must lie to protect his father and the reputation of the rest of the family members, that he has no choice.
Later on when the family leaves town to relocate, the father calls the son to ask him whether he would tell the judge the truth. This moment is where the father explains to the son what to do and what the importance of familial piety and loyalty is: “You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you” (Faulkner, 1939, p. 1140). This explanation of the father sums up the conflict that they have with each other: the father thinks that even if a family member is wrong, the others have to stick to that wronged member while the son thinks that truth and justice are more important.
This difference in opinions, values and perspectives turn out to be crucial points in the end when the father runs into trouble again and decides to burn another barn. The son finally decides without hesitation that he will not stand up for his father and for the rest of the family who chose to stand with the father. The son decides to stop the father by calling the attention of the barn owner that there is something amiss. Thus, the son wins over the father twice in the sense that he chooses to abide by his own beliefs while at the same time upholding the laws of society and saving the property of the other.
However, there is also a sense of loss of the boy since he has lost his family and he causes the death of his own father by reporting him to De Spain, the barn owner. In a way, the father’s explanation with the son comes true: since the son did not stick to his blood, his blood will also not to stick to him meaning that his family (the rest of the Snopes) will also decide to leave him or be disloyal to him. In conclusion, the conflict in the story is between father and son; and between the son’s loyalties to his family versus his moral obligations to the laws of society.
Both conflicts are also resolved by the end of Faulkner’s short story with the death of the father. However, there is a possibility that a new conflict arises in the loneliness that the son is now going to experience as he makes his own way in the world and whether he can survive that loneliness. References Faulkner, W. (1939). Barn burning. The Harper American literature, v. 2, 2nd ed. Ed. McQuade, D. , et al. New York: HarperCollinsPublishers Inc. pp. 1137-1149.
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