An Analysis of Characters in Barn Burning by William Faulkner

An Analysis of Characters in Barn Burning by William Faulkner

In William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” the main characters are faced with the challenge of navigating through a society without function, where actions often lead to destruction. The story revolves around a young boy named Sarty who is caught in a web of conflicting loyalties between his father, Abner Snopes, and the rest of society. Through the analysis of the characters in this essay, we will delve into the motives and consequences of their actions, while exploring the anonymity and critique of society in Faulkner’s writing.

At the heart of this story is Abner Snopes, a man who seems to be driven by a deep anger and a desire to destroy everything around him. His barn burnings, which serve as a major plot point in the story, symbolize his need to assert his power and control over others. While Abner’s actions may seem senseless, they can be seen as a reflection of his frustration with society and his place within it. In a society where the wealthy landowners hold power and the poor are left with nothing, Abner sees himself as a victim and takes matters into his own hands.

Sarty, Abner’s son, serves as the moral compass of the story. Despite being raised by a father who constantly puts him in compromising positions, Sarty strives to do what is right. His internal struggle to break free from his father’s influence and choose his own path is a central theme in Faulkner’s work. Through Sarty’s experiences, Faulkner explores the complexities of family loyalty and the repercussions of choosing between right and wrong.

Another significant character in the story is Major de Spain, the wealthy landowner whose barn Abner burns. Major de Spain represents the upper class and the power they hold over the lower class. He symbolizes the societal injustices that Abner and others like him face on a daily basis. Through the interactions between Abner and de Spain, Faulkner highlights the stark contrast between the haves and the have-nots in society.

Characters in Faulkner’s “Barn-Burning” Essay

Sartoris, also known as Sarty, is the central character of the story. He is a young boy torn between his loyalty to his family and his desire for a peaceful life. Throughout the essay, we see Sarty’s internal struggle as he grapples with the moral implications of his father’s actions.

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Abner Snopes, Sarty’s father, is a complex character who represents the destructive nature of revenge and rebellion. His actions, such as burning barns, reflect his anger and frustration with the social injustices he faces. However, his actions ultimately lead to the downfall of his family and paint him as a villain in society’s eyes.

Lennie Snopes, Sarty’s brother, is a minor character in the essay, but his presence serves to emphasize the impact of Abner’s actions on the entire family. Lennie feels trapped and resentful of his father’s behavior, but he lacks the courage to challenge him.

Colonel Sartoris Snopes, Sarty’s grandfather, is mentioned in the essay and is seen as a symbol of the old Southern aristocracy. His influence is felt throughout the story, as Sarty tries to live up to his family name and escape his father’s destructive legacy.

Other characters who play a role in the essay include Sarty’s mother, sisters, and Aunt Lizzie. They represent the victims of Abner’s actions and show the impact his choices have on their lives.

Major Characters

Abner Snopes, Sarty’s father, is a complex and troubled character. Known as a “barn-burning” man, Abner holds a deep resentment towards the upper class and engages in destructive acts to assert his independence and defy authority. His burning of barns is a symbolic act of rebellion, an attempt to challenge the oppressive structures of society.

The Colonel Sartoris Snopes, Sarty’s father, is a former Confederate soldier, who defends his son’s actions and tries to protect his family from the consequences of their actions. He is a character that highlights the racial and social tensions in Faulkner’s society, as he represents the remnants of the old South and its traditions.

Sarty’s mother and sisters play a minor role in the story, but their presence adds depth to the portrayal of the Snopes family and the challenges they face. They provide a glimpse into the domestic life of the Snopes family and the impact of Abner’s destructive behavior on their everyday lives.

Mr. Harris and Major de Spain are two characters who interact with the Snopes family and play a significant role in the story. Mr. Harris accuses Abner of burning his barn, leading to a trial that tests Sarty’s loyalty. Major de Spain, a wealthy landowner, becomes a victim of Abner’s barn-burning and represents the power and privilege that Abner resents.

Minor Characters

Sartoris Snopes

Sartoris, also known as Sarty, is the central character of the story and the one through whose eyes the readers witness the events. As the story progresses, Sarty becomes increasingly aware of the moral consequences of his father’s actions and experiences internal conflict between loyalty to his family and the expectations of society.

Colonel Sartorius Snopes

Colonel Sartorius Snopes is another minor character who symbolizes the family’s conflicted relationship with authority. While not involved directly in the barn burnings, Sartoris represents the oppressive nature of the society in which the Snopes family exists. His presence serves as a constant reminder of their marginalized position.

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Abner Snopes’ actions have a significant impact on the lives of his wife and children, making them victims of both his anger and his inability to function within society. His wife and Sarty’s sisters serve as secondary characters who face the consequences of Abner’s actions. They are shown as helpless victims of his destructive behavior.

Mr. Harris

Mr. Harris, a major character among the minor ones, represents the justice system that Abner Snopes continuously defies. His interactions with Abner in the courtroom reflect the tension between the marginalized Snopes family and the authority figures of the society. Mr. Harris plays a crucial role in the narrative as he becomes the symbol of justice and the potential for societal order.

Lennie Snopes, an aunt of Sarty, is presented briefly in the story but nevertheless provides a glimpse into the larger family structure. Her presence highlights the extended family ties and how they contribute to the overall dynamics within the Snopes family.

Through the inclusion of these minor characters, Faulkner portrays a society in which the Snopes family struggles to find their place. They are left with few options but to rely on each other, even if it means participating in destructive actions. These characters enhance the overall analysis of society’s impact on individuals and the consequences that arise when one tries to break free from that influence.

Critique of the Main Characters

Sarty: A Victim of Society

Sarty is the main character and the narrator of the story. He is a young boy who struggles with the conflict between loyalty to his family and loyalty to society’s norms. Throughout the story, Sarty is torn between his admiration for his father and his desire for a peaceful life. He serves as the moral center of the story, as he represents the struggle of individuals caught in the turmoil of their circumstances.

Sarty’s actions throughout the story reflect his internal struggle to make sense of his father’s destructive behavior. He witnesses his father’s barn burnings and is even forced to lie to protect him. Despite this, Sarty ultimately chooses to turn his father in to the authorities, realizing that justice needs to be served.

The Sisters: Witness to the Burnings

Sarty’s sisters, although not prominent characters, serve as witnesses to their father’s actions. Their presence is a constant reminder of the destructive influence their father has on their family’s lives. While they don’t play significant roles in the story, their inclusion emphasizes the impact their father’s actions have on the whole family.

Abner Snopes: The Deceptive Father

Abner Snopes, Sarty’s father, is the primary antagonist of the story. He is a violent and vengeful man, driven by a deep-seated resentment towards society and the upper class. Abner’s actions, particularly his barn burnings, highlight his desire to exert control and rebel against the injustices he perceives.

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Abner’s character represents the consequences of living on the margins of society and the effects of bitterness and anger. His actions are a result of the oppressive conditions he faces, but they also perpetuate a cycle of violence and destruction. Abner’s refusal to conform to societal norms ultimately leads to his downfall and alienation from his family.


Who are the main characters in “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner?

The main characters in “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner are Abner Snopes, Colonel Sartoris Snopes, the Aunt, Major de Spain, the Brother, Mr. Harris, the Sisters, Lennie Snopes, and the Justices of the Peace.

What role does Abner Snopes play in “Barn Burning”?

Abner Snopes is the main character in “Barn Burning.” He is a poor tenant farmer who struggles with anger and resentment towards those he believes have wronged him. He is the father of Colonel Sartoris Snopes and is known for burning barns as an act of revenge.

How does Colonel Sartoris Snopes contribute to the story?

Colonel Sartoris Snopes, also known as Sarty, is Abner Snopes’ son. He is the narrator of the story and provides insight into his father’s character and actions. Sarty struggles with his loyalty to his family and his desire to do what is right.

What role does Major de Spain play?

Major de Spain is the wealthy landowner whose barn Abner Snopes burns. He represents the upper class and serves as a contrast to Abner’s lower-class background. Major de Spain’s barn becomes a symbol of power and privilege in the story.

Who are the Sisters?

The Sisters are characters in “Barn Burning” who are fellow travelers with the Snopes family. They are described as poor and dirty, and they offer some support to Abner Snopes throughout the story.

Who are the main characters in Barn Burning by William Faulkner?

The main characters in Barn Burning by William Faulkner are Abner Snopes, Colonel Sartoris Snopes, and Major de Spain.

What is the role of Abner Snopes in the story?

Abner Snopes is the protagonist in Barn Burning. He is a poor tenant farmer who has a history of burning down barns as acts of revenge and protest against what he perceives as injustices. His character represents the struggle between social class and family loyalty.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.