William Faulkner’s

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William Faulkner’s

William’s Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” will confirm the prevalence of moral order over any other order, so that where conflict exists between truth and blood, truth prevails. Although it could be invoked that blood is thicker than water , it is also counter argued that water is wider than blood . There is therefore no substitute for choosing what is right under all circumstances. Discussion of “Barn Burning” will illustrate in reality the truth of the proposition as it tries to persuade that there is in fact basis to believe and adhere to such proven universality of truth.

One argument to support the thesis of this paper is the fact the moral duty occupies higher ground than duty to parents. Doing what is right may result to disobeying parents as long the person exercising the responsibility knows what is right. Such is the case in point in the Faulker’s “Barn Burning” which is a story of an adolescent boy named Sartoris Snopes (or Sarty as hereinafter called) who is made to appear in court, hoping he will not have to testify in the arson case against his father (Mr. Snopes).

Sarty knew that his father Mr. Snopes was absolutely guilty of arson but whoever judge will handle the case now was not an easy thing for Sarty to handle and could still be considered by Sarty as his enemy since the very person to be convicted and was facing the risk of punishment is his very father. Must not Sarty as a son still have to maintain some loyalty given the relationship being by blood? Has that point of testifying against one’s father come Sarty? Has he has not yet separated himself from his father? What must he do? Answering these challenging questions require going deeper what really happened in the story.

Before proceeding to some of details of the story, it is best to express for the meantime the argument for upholding the prevalence of moral duty over loyalty to one’s father. It may thus be argued that that fulfillment of moral duty would lead eventually to independence of a person. Independence is the price for making difficult choices for which Sarty is also subject in the story. After laying the arguments to support the thesis there is still need to define some terms as used in the thesis for purpose of clarity.

What are the separate meanings of duty to parents, moral duty and independence? Duty to parents is the obligation to obey parents with due all due consideration and respect by reason of the natural relationship. Moral duty is the capacity to choose what is right over what is wrong under all circumstances. Independence as defined connotes freedom from coercion in making difficult choices and a declaration by a person’s individual responsibility for his or her decision. After the definitions, the arguments may now be supported with important parts of the story.

Since the first argument is the fact the moral duty occupies higher ground than duty to parents, it may be asked: What is right thing that must be done by Sarty and that may result to disobeying his parents? The obvious answer is the decision to tell the court the truth in making his testimony but such testimony could pin down his father, whom he knows to be guilty. An independent observer may readily see the internal conflict of loyalty to parents and love of truth in the case of Sarty.

Indeed it would be straightforward to say that Sarty whether he likes or must make a choice between right and wrong in the end. He cannot leave a decision hanging between the “peace’ and “dignity” represented by the de Spains with the meanness and unhappiness of the Snopes family. But one may have to understand that it is more than that. Basing on the story’s beginning, when Sarty was prepared to testify that his father was innocent of burning down that barn, he would have done it because it is his job is to stick to his father.

One may however see that at the end of the story, Sarty cautioned Major de Spain (the owner) about his father’s intention to burn down the latter’s stunning plantation. Sarty did this though with his knowledge that this will bring his (Snope’s) family down once and for all, and that this could cause never be able to go home again. This is a difficult decision to make for a boy. How in the world could he made the right one? To do this, Sarty must realize that he was not his father, and the path he wanted to travel in the world was not the same as his father’s.

In making a choice, perhaps there is need to go back what led his father to commit arson as subject of trial for which Sarty was being made to testify. The story would readily tell then the nature or predisposition of Sarty’ father to burn everything. Sarty Snope’s family are wandering farmers, hence there is basis in the story to say that they move around even more often than is normal because of his father’s practice (that has become a habit) of burning something down every time to express his anger.

Perhaps with his personal evaluation, Sarty understood that there was something profoundly psychological wrong about his father, but it would seem that he disregarded his father’s danger. What a bad luck may the incident has meant for Sarty since upon their family’s arrival at the beautiful plantation of Major de Spain, Sarty had the feeling that the de Spains are safe but as event turned out in the story, Sarty did not know that his father could just as easily bring down a big plantation when his father gets angry.

In support of the argument that fulfillment of moral duty would lead eventually to independence of a person, it may be stated that what is natural will come to pass. Moral duty which this paper defined as the capacity to choose what is right over what is wrong under all circumstances has its roots in the natural law and violating the same could have grave consequences like the feeling of guilty conscience. Fulfillment of the moral duty has its rewards too to the person as it could mean freedom from guilty conscience and freedom to make more moral decisions that could sustain long term happiness and independence.

In may be asked: Must loyalty bow at the altar moral duty? When must loyalty come to an end? It may be observed that an important part of the story is about loyalty but there is an inner conflict in which the character of the story must face — that is his ability to be loyal to his blood origin. And so in Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”, Sarty spent the majority of the story under a great emotional confusion. What could really cause a young man to tell his father: “Father please stop as what you are doing is wrong. ”

It was therefore the demand for loyalty to his father brought about by the relationship that has caused him mixed emotions as to what is the right or wrong in dealing with his father’s tendency to barn burnings. There is basis to notice Sarty’s father’s paranoid thinking and silent threats that may be giving Sarty the inner battle between what’s morally right and family loyalty. In the story, there is that ever-present pull that was causing his guilt feelings. Hence, in one instance he was seen defending his father’s actions and this happened shortly after he was angry with his father for putting the family in such terrible conditions.

As in every suffering that must come to an end, he had to be under the true test of loyalty which came at the end of the story when it became clear that his father will be burning the landlord’s barn down after the incident a certain incident within his knowledge. Sarty was angry but the guilt never stopped. If viewed in psychology, it may observed that anger and guilt could really happen together at the same time for Sarty and one would ask: “Which emotion has the greater chance of being expressed or realized into actions? ” First it must also be asked “What would have made Sarty to feel guilty to the situation?

” It may argued that a short period of time did occur in story when Sarty is actually an partner in crime to his father’s actions which he may freely done although with hesitation by running to the to place he was ordered to go and getting the oil to be used by his father in setting the fire. Sarty did show loyalty to his father by obedience. Indeed, loyalty could be blind if it closes its eyes to the truth. Indeed blood is thicker than water but water is wider than blood as oceans contain all the water but blood stays only in living animals.

Sarty, in his search for true identity, must now make a choice and he must choose fulfillment of moral duty over his duty to parents. Thus throughout Faulkner’s story Sarty was seeking his true identity. There was confusion caused by his father’s actions that had push him to question who he was. His feeling was temporary while his moral duty to tell the truth of his father’s actions was universal. Although it was his duty to be loyal to his blood and hate the men who were enemies of his father hates, there was a higher standard of which he must also respond.

Thus in the storey it could be deciphered that after Sarty was struck by his father for almost telling the Justice of the Peace the truth about the fire and he was found expressing his confusion. He needed therefore to search for what was his true identity to find the solution to that confusion, What may have caused confusion was the fact that he was being struck by his father without any explanation. He was most of the time treated as young man. Sarty may be presumed not to have taught maturity by his father.

His having to obey his father to get the oil to be used for burning was an imposition into his mind. It could only be Sarty’s own way of developing where he could assert himself that he ought to become a mature person in order to have courage to face the consequences of his decision. As Sarty was a young man he could have been experiencing and asking the inevitable question of identity and knowing but not knowing enough. His feeling of the pressure to be what his father wanted him to be, although in his heart he knew that his father was wrong was something that must be resolved.

In weighing things, he tried to find justification about his father’s behavior in order to be what he thought he should be by telling himself that his father was once a soldier, who deserves respect and honor him and this attempt included trying to convince himself that his father was done with his criminal behaviors. But an instance happened where the landlord demanded twenty bushels of corn as payment for damages that his father had ruined and the book how Sarty thought about the matter: “ Maybe this is the end of it.

Maybe even that twenty bushels that seems hard to have to pay for just a rug will be a cheap price for him to stop forever and always from being what he used to be…maybe he won’t collect the twenty bushels… ” His nature as person may have afforded Sarty’ capacity to mature. Attaining maturity is a natural phenomenon in one’s life as one grows with age. For Sarty, it may be argued that he did in fact survive his childhood and was able to look back on it sensibly.

From being a child he felt his father could not help but be what he was; but nature has its own way and by the time that adulthood came to Sarty, he was aware of the truth of his father’s criminal behavior and which Faulkner has written: “…the element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being, as the element of steel or of powder spoke to other men, as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity, else breath were not worth the breathing, and hence to be regarded with respect and used with discretion” .

This knowledge of what is wrong is a natural feeling and the mind appreciates without really thinking is predispose to avoid a rule. Interviewing a friend about whether he exerts effort of knowing what is right, the response was: “It is one’s nature to avoid the wrong. ” There is time for everything. Everything that has started must come to an end. The dilemma that Sarty was suffering must come to an end. Sarty has now to make a decision.

He is to make a choice between what is right or wrong. The moment to decide to practice a Sarty’ maturity did came the night of the final barn burning when Sarty made the decision on a subliminal level to warn the landlord of his father’s actions. It was also at that same night that night his father got killed and Sarty realized that he was set free; it was therefore decision that he has done the right thing. His running to the flaming barn, he felt he was running through his childhood.

With his screams, he suddenly became calm and clear headed to signal his freedom. It may be concluded the life may be a series of trade offs or great exchanges of what is important to individual person’s life. There are issue of values which may not be seen but felt and asserted by their universalities. Independence is one of this values and its pursuit requires a moral agent to do what is right under the circumstance. Independence has however a price to pay and may extend to individual’s love ones.

Such was the story beautifully portrayed by “Burning Barn”. Works Cited: Faulkner, The Faulkner Reader: Selections from the Works of William Faulkner, Random House, 1954 Flexner and Flexner, ‘Wise Words and Wives’ Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New, Avon Books, New York, 1993 Hoffman, W. Blood is Thicker Than Water, Alien Perspective 2002 Personal interview with a friend conducted on what one feel about a given wrong in making a choice.


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  • University/College: University of California

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 21 November 2016

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