Barn Burning Analysis: Exploring the Themes and Symbolism in Faulkner’s Classic

Barn Burning Analysis: Exploring the Themes and Symbolism in Faulkner's Classic

In William Faulkner’s classic work, “Barn Burning,” the themes and symbolism run deep, providing readers with rich material for analysis. The main character, Sarty, is a young boy who finds himself caught between doing what is right and remaining loyal to his father, Abner. Throughout the story, Faulkner masterfully weaves in themes of social class, justice, and the destructive nature of power.

One of the most prominent symbols in “Barn Burning” is the barn itself, which becomes a representation of both destruction and rebirth. Abner Snopes, Sarty’s father, has a habit of setting fire to barns as a form of revenge and rebellion. This act not only showcases Abner’s defiance but also highlights the tragic consequences of his actions. The barn burning serves as a physical manifestation of the societal structures that keep characters like Abner and Sarty oppressed. It also symbolizes the destruction of the old way of life, making space for new beginnings.

Faulkner’s use of the Snopes family as a microcosm of society allows readers to explore larger themes of power dynamics and the impact of societal norms. Sarty’s mother and sisters serve as examples of the collateral damage caused by Abner’s actions. They are trapped in a life of fear and uncertainty, unable to escape the destructive cycle. Sarty’s changing perspective throughout the story reflects the struggle of individuals caught in a web of social inequality and oppression.

As Sarty begins to question his father’s actions and becomes aware of the limitations placed upon him by his social status, he embodies the theme of coming of age and personal growth. Sarty’s internal conflict between loyalty to his family and his own moral compass creates a depth of character that resonates with readers. His decision to break free from his family’s cycle of violence and deceit is a testament to his courage and a glimmer of hope in the face of adversity.

Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” is a powerful portrayal of a young boy’s struggle for identity and justice. Through the themes and symbols, Faulkner explores the complexities of human nature and society. The story doesn’t simply exist as an analysis of a single character or event, but rather as a reflection of the universal human experience. Even when faced with the darkest circumstances, Faulkner’s characters demonstrate the capacity for growth, resilience, and ultimately, hope.

Barn Burning Analysis: Exploring Themes and Symbolism in Faulkner’s Classic

The character of Sarty, the protagonist of the story, serves as a symbol of hope and resistance in the face of adversity. Despite being raised in a family with a history of criminal activities, Sarty possesses a strong awareness of right and wrong. Throughout the story, he grapples with his loyalty to his father, Abner Snopes, who routinely burns barns as an act of revenge against those he believes have wronged him.

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While Abner’s actions are deplorable, Faulkner doesn’t simply paint him as a villain. Instead, he offers a nuanced portrayal of a man driven by his own sense of pride and desperation. In Abner’s own twisted defense, he sees the burning of barns as a way to regain a sense of power and dominance in a society that has constantly belittled him.

The act of burning barns becomes a symbolic representation of the tensions and power dynamics in the story. Barns, which represent stability and livelihood for the community, are destroyed by Abner as a means of asserting his own agency and wreaking havoc on those he perceives as his oppressors. This destructive cycle of revenge and anger permeates the lives of the characters and reflects the larger issues of inequality and social injustice that existed in Faulkner’s time.

The theme of change is also prevalent throughout the story. Sarty’s journey from a young boy who blindly follows his father’s commands to a young man who questions his father’s actions and seeks a different path is a testament to the transformative power of self-awareness. As Sarty witnesses the consequences of his father’s actions and experiences moments of kindness and understanding from those outside his family, he begins to question the validity of Abner’s beliefs.

Ultimately, “Barn Burning” is a tragic story that explores the complexities of family, loyalty, and morality. Faulkner’s vivid descriptions and masterful storytelling leave the reader with a haunting portrayal of a community torn apart by violence and injustice. The character of Sarty serves as a beacon of hope, showing that even in the darkest of circumstances, it is possible to break free from the cycle of destruction and forge a path towards redemption and personal growth.

Barn Burning Character Analysis

Sarty is a young boy caught between his loyalty to his father, Abner, and his own personal sense of justice. Despite witnessing the destructive nature of his father’s actions, Sarty initially defends him, showing his deep-seated fear and the powerful hold that Abner has over him.

Throughout the story, Sarty becomes more aware of the injustice and cruelty of his father’s actions. Faulkner uses Sarty’s perspective to show the reader the consequences of blind loyalty and the importance of standing up for what is right. The character’s internal struggle is evident when he sees Mr. and Mrs. Harris, the owners of the barn that Abner burned. Sarty realizes that they were innocent victims and feels a sense of guilt for his father’s actions.

As the story progresses, Sarty’s awareness and maturity grow. He begins to question his father’s values and the destructive nature of their nomadic lifestyle. When he sees the majestic mansion of Major de Spain, Sarty becomes aware of the stark contrast between the wealthy landowners and his own impoverished existence. This realization sparks a desire for change, and Sarty’s willingness to defend the barn becomes a turning point in his character development.

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Through Sarty’s character, Faulkner explores the theme of social class and the harsh realities of life in the rural South. Sarty’s desire for a different life, one without burning barns, symbolizes the universal human longing for a better future and a sense of belonging. His actions and changing beliefs allow the reader to question existing social structures and power dynamics.

William Faulkner’s Barn Burning Analysis of the Characters

Sarty’s Transformation

Sarty, initially a young boy influenced by his father’s immoral actions, becomes aware of the consequences of his father’s behavior as the story progresses. Sarty’s perception of right and wrong begins to shift, and he starts to question his loyalty to his family. This internal conflict is evident when Sarty is torn between warning Major de Spain about his father’s intentions or remaining faithful to his blood ties.

Throughout the story, Sarty shows signs of growth and a realization that his father’s actions are not justified. In one instance, after witnessing the burning of a barn, Sarty’s speech to himself reflects his turmoil: “He aims for me to lie… And I will have to do hit” (Faulkner, 140). This moment portrays Sarty’s struggle between his awareness of the truth and his loyalty to his family.

Abner Snopes: A Symbol of Destructive Forces

Abner Snopes, Sarty’s father, represents the destructive nature that threatens to burn down their lives. Abner’s constant burning of barns symbolizes his desire to destroy any form of prosperity or wealth that he, as a poor sharecropper, cannot achieve. His actions are fueled by a deep-rooted sense of resentment and a desire for revenge against those he believes have wronged him.

Faulkner portrays Abner as a man consumed by his own pride and anger. His rigid defiance towards authority and his defiant nature towards society lead to a tragic and destructive cycle that constantly repeats itself. Abner’s sense of entitlement and his refusal to conform to societal norms ultimately lead to his downfall and the destruction of those around him.

In Faulkner’s “Barn Burning,” the characters, especially Sarty and Abner, serve as prime examples of the complex dynamics between individual morality and social expectations. Sarty’s growth and change throughout the story highlight the struggle between one’s own conscience and familial loyalty. Abner, on the other hand, represents the destructive forces of pride and resentment.

Through the analysis of these characters and their interactions, Faulkner brings to light the consequences of blindly following one’s family or community, and he challenges his readers to question their own beliefs and values. “Barn Burning” stands as a powerful reminder of the complexities of human nature and the impact of social forces on an individual’s life.

An Analysis of Abner Snopes as a Tragic Hero in Barn Burning by William Faulkner

Abner Snopes is a man who is deeply entrenched in his community and his role as a father. However, his actions throughout the story demonstrate a deep-seated fear and resentment towards those around him. He feels powerless and marginalized in a world that doesn’t understand or appreciate his way of life. This fear drives his destructive behavior and his burning of barns. The barns, seen as symbols of wealth and prosperity, become targets for Abner’s anger and frustration.

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Abner’s relationship with his son, Sarty, also plays a significant role in showcasing the tragic elements of his character. Abner often uses Sarty as a justification for his actions, believing that he is protecting his son and teaching him the ways of their world. However, Sarty begins to see the injustice in his father’s actions and begins to question the morality of burning barns. This internal conflict creates a tension between father and son, as Sarty grapples with his loyalty to his father and his own burgeoning sense of right and wrong.

William Faulkner’s portrayal of Abner Snopes as a tragic hero showcases the complexities of human nature and the ways in which individuals are shaped by their environment. Abner’s internal struggles, his desire for justice and recognition, and his tragic end all make him a compelling and complex character within Faulkner’s works.

Overall, through the analysis of Abner Snopes as a tragic hero in “Barn Burning,” we can see that Faulkner explores themes of social hierarchy, family dynamics, and the individual’s struggle for identity and justice. Abner Snopes’ actions and the consequences he faces highlight the tragic elements of his character, and ultimately serve as a larger commentary on the society in which he lived.


What are the themes and symbolism explored in “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner?

In “Barn Burning,” Faulkner explores themes of loyalty, justice, and the struggle between family and personal values. The story also incorporates symbolism, such as fire representing both destruction and rebirth.

How is Abner Snopes portrayed as a tragic hero in “Barn Burning”?

Abner Snopes can be seen as a tragic hero in “Barn Burning” because he possesses qualities of a hero but is ultimately flawed by his destructive behavior. Despite his intelligence and resilience, his inability to control his anger and desire for revenge lead to his downfall.

What is the analysis of the character Sarty in “Barn Burning”?

Sarty is a complex character in “Barn Burning.” Initially torn between his loyalty to his father and his own sense of justice, he undergoes a transformation throughout the story. Through his internal struggle, Sarty ultimately chooses to break away from his family and make his own path.

What is the overall analysis of “Barn Burning”?

Overall, “Barn Burning” is a powerful exploration of family dynamics and the conflict between personal values and social expectations. Faulkner’s use of symbolism and vivid descriptions creates a haunting atmosphere that leaves readers with a sense of both despair and hope.

How does Sarty’s character change throughout “Barn Burning”?

Sarty undergoes a significant change throughout the story, starting as a young boy trying to understand his father’s behavior and ending as a young man who breaks away from his family’s cycle of violence. His transformation is marked by a growing awareness of the injustice around him and a desire to live a different kind of life.

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.