In William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning we must determine if the story is that of a young boy’s struggle with an abusive and oppressive father or of a families struggle with a broken social system. When we look into the thoughts of Colonel Sartoris Snopes, displayed to the reader through italicized text, it shows the fear that Abner Snopes has etched into his son’s thoughts through all of his abusive violence. Sartoris fears his father and tries to avoid displeasing him so that he will not have to worry about getting beaten.
From these thoughts I believe that Faulkner wrote this story about young Sartoris’s battle against his abusive father and his struggle with discovering what morality truly was.
A father figure is supposed to be someone that a child is able to look to for guidance and view as a strong role model. During this time period the father was supposed to be a strong caretaker that would not only provide for his family but also show his children the difference between right and wrong.
Abner Snopes was far from a perfect father figure because instead of encouraging his son to discover morality and what was the right thing to do, Abner forces him to lie in a court so that Abner would not face criminal charges. When Sartoris agrees to lie to the judge it shows the deeply embedded fear that he has for his father from years of abuse and anxiety. This is shown when his father tells him to go get the oil and Sartoris unwillingly abides to his command, “Then he was moving, running, outside the house, towards the stable: this the old habit, the old blood which he had not been permitted to choose for himself, which had been bequeathed him willy nilly and which had run for so long… before it came to him.
” (Faulkner pg. 341). This quote shows that he has basically been brainwashed into believing that the only choice he had was to obey his father no matter what the situation was.
Sartoris had good reason to fear his father as he was abusive, manipulative and cold hearted mainly due to the fact that he believed that he was allowed to seek vengeance on whomever he saw fit, which to Abner might as well been the entire world. Faulkner describes Abner with cold and inhuman descriptions usually related to metal like when he says, “he could see his father against the stars but without face or depth- a shape black, flat, and bloodless ad though cut from tin in the iron folds of the front coat.” (Faulkner pg. 334). This quote shows how distant Sartoris is from his father and how he doesn’t even view him as human anymore.
Sartoris witnesses his father commit some heinous crimes and lash out on everything and everyone around him, which has implanted a fear into Sartoris. Watching his father constantly commit these evil acts not only scarred him, but also influenced Sartoris in ways he did not want to be influenced. Sartoris sees himself becoming more like his father and he does not want that. Such as the moment near the end of the story where Sartoris threatens to hit his mother if she does not release him, “”Lemme go!” he cried. “I don’t want to have to hit you!”” (Faulkner pg. 342). This quote shows how even though Sartoris is kind and good-hearted; he is inadvertently being affected by his father’s violence causing him to have violent tendencies.
I believe that this story is not only about a boy’s struggle with an abusive father but also the struggle he has with himself to maintain his humanity and morality. Throughout the story Sartoris struggles between picking the morally correct choice or obeying his father and not disobeying his own blood. Sartoris fears that if he disobeys his father that his whole family will be angry with him and never forgive him, when in reality the entire family fears the father and wants him gone.
At the end of the story we really get to see how close Sartoris is to becoming like his father, if Sartoris had allowed his father to burn down this barn the happiness that Sartoris felt would have been gone. Without that happiness to keep him motivated Sartoris would have just obeyed his father blindly and stopped questioning his morality. Watching his father constantly abuse him and his family Sartoris would most likely have become unintentionally violent and perhaps even become a spitting image of his father later on in life.
When Sartoris chose to disobey his father and warn them about the barn burning it was a redemptive and regretful decision. Sartoris fought the stop his father to free himself and his family form the abusive reign of Abner but also loved his father because he was the man who raised him and after all, he is still his father. Sartoris feels liberated when he finally breaks free and warns them about his father’s actions but soon begins to regret it. Sartoris begins to wonder what his family will think and if they will veer forgive him for what he did.
Finally the book ends with Sartoris ultimately regretting his decision. When he hears the shots and realizes that his father is dead. Sartoris knows that is he had continued to demoralize himself and protect his father that he would have lived a terrible life but now is deeply disheartened by the fact that he must now continue to live knowing that he killed his father. Even able to forgive himself. When Sartoris walks off at the end never looking back it could symbolize him abandoning his old life and old ideals so that he can begin with a fresh start or perhaps he can not amount the courage to face his family and tell them that he caused Abner’s death, “He went on down the hill, towards the dark woods within which the liquid silver voices of the birds called unceasing-the rapid and urgent beating of the urgent quiring heart of the late spring night. He did not look back.” ( Faulkner pg. 343).