Playing with Fire: Life Altering Decisions in Faulkner's "Barn Burning,"

Decent Essays

At one point or another in life, everyone has to make decisions that change one's life forever. Usually one encounters an event or a thing that propels such a decision. In William Faulkner's short story, "Barn Burning," Sarty, a young boy, is going through a period of initiation into adult life. During this process, he has to make a life altering decision. For Sarty, his father's fires become the element that plays many roles and eventually drives him to decide the path of his life.
In the beginning of the story, Abner is in court for having set fire to Mr. Harris' barn. This fire plays an integral role in bringing father and son together. It is because of the fire that Sarty and Abner find themselves in court. It is also because of the …show more content…

The first time Sarty attempts to voice his discomfort happens while the family is driving away in the wagon. Sarty thinks: "Maybe he's done satisfied now, now that he has...stopping hinIBelf, not to say it aloud even to himself' (228). He cannot even say the words "set fire" when he speaks to himse1f This hints at his unease, fear and discomfort with the situation. That same night, Abner strikes him and tells him "You've got to learn to stick to your own blood" (229). Sarty's reaction is that people "only wanted the truth, justice" (229). Here, he begins to feel consciously the division the fires cause in his thoughts. On one side, he sees his father who destroys barns with the fires, and on the other side, he sees people whose properties are destroyed by the fires. He feels pulled in both directions at the same time. Sarty's struggle with this issue intensifies in front of Major de Spain's home where he a feeling of "peace and joy" (230) overtakes him. He hopes his father will experience the same emotion and that "maybe it will even change him nowfrom what maybe he cauldn't help but be" (231). Sarty's desire for Abner to change indicates how strongly Sarty feels the pull of both sides. Ifhis father changed, there would be no more fires destroying crops and barns which would also mean no need to choose between justice and blood.
At the end of the story, Abner's last fire causes father and son to separate from each other. Abner's plan to put yet another barn on

Get Access
Get Access