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Faulkner, William. "Barn Burning".


Peace's court. Sartoris watches the trial of his father Snopes with his neighbour Harris. Snopes's hog repeatedly strayed on Harris's ground who finally kept it and demanded a dollar for giving it up (a part of rural culture). A black servant came with the dollar and a message that wood and hay can burn. That night his barn burnt down. The little boy is called by his father to be questioned and realizes he is assumed to lie. The case is closed. Snopes is advised to leave the country and when he leaves, there is the hiss "barn burner". The father beats the boy for not sticking to his family by the court.

The family moves as it has done dozen times since the boy can remember. They become tenants of Major de Spain. Snopes visit the major who is not present, a black slave opens and asks Snopes to wipe his boots. He refuses, enters the house, and intentionally soils the rug. He cannot overcome his hatred toward men who make money on toiling coloured and white people like him. The rug is brought to the Snopes to be cleaned. Snopes does it himself.

The next day a man comes to announce the rug is ruined and Snopes will have to pay its price in 20 bushels of corn. The boy keeps on thinking about his father and hopes he would stop it.

Peace's court. Sartoris recalls his failure at the preceding court and cries to Justice that it was not his father who burned the rug. Justice wonders whether the rug has been burned, too. Snopes is ordered to pay 10 bushels.

In the evening Snopes prepares oil for burning. Nobody can stop him. Sartoris runs away and warns the major, crying "the barn". He feels a great grief. Then he again runs away from the major, he clings to his father, thinks of his being brave in the war. He does not know that his father went there as a private wearing no uniform and accepting no authority.

That night Sartoris sleeps outside and in the morning he walks away without looking back.



- Abner Snopes: a proud and self-destructive farmer, a prey to his pyromania

- Colonel Sartoris Snopes: aged 10, Abner's son, sensitive and intelligent

- Major de Spain: owner of Snopes's land; presented as a villain, from Snopes's point of view a master who toils both his black and white slaves

- the story is presented mainly from Sartoris's point of view

- but: the narrator presents also what the boy does not know (introducing it as "the boy did not know", etc.) or what the boy would probably think if he were older

- portrays the everyday hardships of the life of Southern farmers, but also the tragedy of the Snopes family which is being ruined by the father's unacceptable behaviour

- a moving portrayal of Sartoris as a young boy divided between the loyalty to his family and his natural sincerity (at the first court trial)

- Sartoris finally prefers being sincere, but for warning the major he must pay the price of leaving his family


  • Author

    Faulkner, William. (1897 - 1962).
  • Full Title

    "Barn Burning".
  • First Published

    In: Harper's Magazine. NY: 1938.
  • Form

    Short story.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. "Barn Burning". (1938). In: The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym et al. NY: Norton, 1989.


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