“Barn Burning”: A Short Story About Conflict, Sense of Justice, and Adoration of Revenge

1. Introduction:

“Barn Burning” is a short story by William Faulkner that was first published in Harpers in 1939. It takes place in the post- Civil War South, and it is about a family of tenant farmers who are being evicted from their home because the father, Abner Snopes, burned down the barn of their landlord, Mr. Harris. The story focuses on the conflict between Snopes and his son, Sartoris, who is torn between his loyalty to his father and his sense of justice.

2. Main Body:
a. Characters in Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”:
i. The Young Boy:

The young boy in this story is Sartoris Snopes, the son of Abner Snopes. He is a dynamic character who goes through a journey of self- discovery in the course of the story. He starts off as a loyal and obedient son, but he slowly begins to question his father’s actions. He feels torn between his sense of justice and his loyalty to his father, but in the end, he chooses to side with justice.

ii. The Father:
The father in this story is Abner Snopes, a tenant farmer who is accused of burning down Mr. Harris’s barn. He is a static character who does not change throughout the course of the story. He is an uneducated man who is driven by his pride and sense of honor. He is also a very vengeful person, and he has no regard for the law or other people’s property.

iii. Snopes:
Snopes is the surname of the family in this story. It is also the name of one of the characters, John Snopes, who is Abner Snopes’s nephew. John Snopes is a minor character who plays a role in the story by testifying against Abner Snopes at the trial.

iv. John:
John is another minor character whose last name is also Snopes. He is Abner Snopes’s brother, and he helps to provide financial support for Abner’s family. He also testifies against Abner at the trial.

v. Sartoris:
Sartoris is the name of both the protagonist and one of the minor characters in this story. Sartoris Snopes is the protagonist, and he is also known as Colonel Sartoris because he was a colonel in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Colonel Sartoris is a minor character who plays a role in the story by providing financial support for Abner’s family and testifying on Abner’s behalf at the trial.

b. Themes in Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”:
i. Conflict:
The central theme of this story is conflict. The conflict is between Abner Snopes and his son, Sartoris. It is also between Abner Snopes and the society in which he lives. Abner Snopes is a proud and vengeful man who does not conform to the rules of society. He is constantly in conflict with those around him, and his actions often lead to violence.

ii. Sense of Justice:
Another theme in this story is the sense of justice. Sartoris Snopes struggles with this concept throughout the story. He wants to side with his father because he is loyal to him, but he also knows that his father’s actions are wrong. In the end, he chooses to side with justice, and he testifies against his father at the trial.

iii. Adoration of Revenge:
A third theme in this story is the adoration of revenge. This is seen in the character of Abner Snopes. He is a very vengeful person, and he has no regard for the law or other people’s property. He burns down Mr. Harris’s barn simply because he feels that Harris has wronged him.

3. Conclusion:

“Barn Burning” is a short story that explores the themes of conflict, sense of justice, and adoration of revenge. The characters in this story are complex and dynamic, and they drive the story forward. The conflict between Abner Snopes and Sartoris Snopes is the central conflict in the story, and it is this conflict that ultimately leads to Sartoris’s decision to testify against his father.


Colonel Sartoris Snopes is motivated by a desire to get revenge on his landlord, who he feels has wronged him.

Abner Snopes' personality contributes to the conflict between him and his son, Sarty, because he is a very proud and stubborn man who does not want to be seen as weak or inferior.

Faulkner uses setting to establish the characters and conflicts in "Barn Burning" by showing how the poverty-stricken Snopes family is constantly on the move, never staying in one place for long. This creates a sense of rootlessness and instability that reflects the chaotic nature of their lives.

Race and class play an important role in "Barn Burning" because the story is set in the American South during the Jim Crow era. This means that there was a lot of discrimination against black people, who were seen as being inferior to whites. The Snopes family are poor white farmers, so they are also at the bottom of the social hierarchy.

Family is important to the characters in "Barn Burning" because it is one of the few things that they have that gives them a sense of stability and belonging. Even though Abner mistreats his wife and children, they still stick by him because he is their father/husband.

There is some hope for reconciliation between Abner and Sarty at the end of the story because Sarty finally stands up to his father and tells him that he will not help him burn down any more barns. This shows that Sarty has grown up enough to start making his own decisions, even if they go against what Abner wants him to do.

Themes that are explored in "Barn Burning" include the importance of family, the effects of poverty and discrimination, and the power of forgiveness.