Barn Burning by William Faulkner Essay
Barn Burning by William Faulkner
The theme of Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” is the inner conflict a person feels between one’s innate moral beliefs and one’s loyalty to his or her family. This theme can be extended to any institution which encourages or demands actions of an individual that conflict with a person’s moral beliefs; for example the story could apply to an individual whose employer demands he or she do some immoral or illegal in one’s job.
Faulkner wrote this story in the third person. The narrator has limited knowledge, knowing Sarty’s, the main characters thoughts, but not the thoughts of others. The Rural South and an unspecified amount of time after the Civil War provide the settee for the story.
Faulkner made extensive use of metaphor in the story. He writes about a clock that no longer runs but has been stuck at 2:14 for years. This is an indication that although Sarty has hopes that his father will change, there is no change in the family’s life and his father will remain the same. They will continue to move frequently and his father will always find an excuse to burn barns. Sarty compares the size of the large pure white house where the de Spains live with a courthouse.
This represents Sarty’s belief in justice and truth. This is in sharp contrast to both the unpainted, small house occupied by Sarty’s family and the stiff black coat Abner Sarty wears. The black color is the opposite of the white that represents justice and truth. The coat is stiff suggesting that Abner resistant to change, reinforcing the metaphor provided by the nonworking clock.
By having the main character, Sarty, leave his family at the end of the story, Faulkner appears to believe that obeying one’s conscience is more important than loyalty to one’s family, employer, country, or other entity. Faulkner’s use of imagery and the timeless theme of “Barn Burning” provide a story that is and should be read by people everywhere.