Barn Burning Summary: Key Points and Analysis

Barn Burning Summary: Key Points and Analysis

In William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning,” the protagonist, a ten-year-old boy named Sarty, is caught between his loyalty to his father and his desire for justice and morality. The story takes place in the post-Civil War era, where tensions between whites and blacks are still high in the South. Sarty’s father, Abner Snopes, is a poor farmer who has a history of burning barns when he feels wronged by their owners. This creates a constant background of fear and unpredictability in the young boy’s life.

Sometimes, Sarty is forced to testify in court against his father, which only further complicates his loyalty. However, he believes that this is the right thing to do, as he hopes to break away from the cycle of violence and find a better life for himself. The story often focuses on the internal struggles of the young protagonist as he grapples with his values and his loyalty to his family.

The plot of “Barn Burning” follows Sarty’s internal and external conflicts as he tries to come to terms with his father’s actions. Through Faulkner’s use of an omniscient narrator, the reader is given insight into Sarty’s thoughts and emotions. The story is set in a small town called Yoknapatawpha, which is often used by Faulkner as a fictional background for many of his works. Yoknapatawpha is a representation of the Deep South during this period.

One of the main events in the story is when Sarty’s father burns down the barn of the de Spain family, the owners of a large plantation. This sets off a chain of events that leads to Sarty’s decision to leave his family behind and start a new life. The story also explores themes of poverty, racism, and the effects of the Great Depression on Southern farmers.

Faulkner’s literary strategy in “Barn Burning” is to create a saga-like narrative that leaves a lasting impact on the reader. Through his vivid descriptions and compelling characters, he paints a picture of a society on the brink of change, where old traditions and values are disappearing, and new ones are emerging. The story also serves as a commentary on the tensions between blacks and whites during this time.

See also Thesis Statement Generator: Generate Strong Thesis Statements with Ease

“Barn Burning” was originally published in 1939 and received mixed reception from critics. Some praised Faulkner’s intricate writing style and his ability to capture the complexities of the human psyche. Others found the story to be too bleak and depressing. Nevertheless, the story has become a classic in American literature and is often taught in schools and universities.

Key Points of the Plot

The Snopes Family and Barn Burnings

The Snopes family, including Sarty, his father Abner, his mother Lennie, and his sisters, live a nomadic life as they move from one sharecropping farm to another. They face poverty and discrimination, constantly battling the limitations imposed on them by the wealthy landowners.

Abner Snopes has a reputation for burning barns, and it soon becomes clear that this is his way of rebelling against the injustices he faces. When the story begins, the Snopes family is summoned to court for burning yet another barn, and Sarty is torn between staying loyal to his family or telling the truth.

The Conflict Within Sarty

Sarty struggles with his conscience, knowing that burning barns is wrong and hoping that his father will change. He fears the consequences of speaking out against his father, as Abner is a violent and controlling figure. Sarty’s hopes for a better life and justice clash with his loyalty to his family.

As the story progresses, Sarty finds himself caught in a feud between his father and Mr. Harris, the landowner whose barn was burned. Sarty’s father insists that he needs to “stick to his own blood,” encouraging him to lie and protect the family, while the justice system expects him to tell the truth.

The Turning Point and Sarty’s Decision

Sarty’s loyalty wavers when he realizes that his father intends to burn yet another barn. He remembers the pain and suffering caused by these acts and realizes that he cannot support them any longer. In a moment of crisis, he warns Mr. Harris about his father’s plans.

Sarty’s decision puts an end to the cycle of barn burnings and signifies his break from his family’s destructive ways. He symbolically leaves his father and the Snopes lifestyle behind, showing his commitment to justice and a better future.

Overall, the plot of “Barn Burning” explores the themes of loyalty, justice, and the struggle between social class and personal morality. Faulkner uses vivid and impactful storytelling to create a compelling saga and sheds light on the complexities of life in the South during this time period.

Character Analysis:

Sarty’s father, Abner Snopes, is a poor tenant farmer who has a penchant for burning barns. He is described as being “small and wiry” and having a “ruthless face.” Abner is depicted as a proud and stubborn man, determined to take revenge against those who have wronged him. However, his actions often come at a high cost for his family.

See also 5 Essential Steps to Peer Edit an Essay for Successful Writing

Colonel Sartoris Snopes, Sarty’s older brother, is portrayed as cold and unfeeling towards his family’s suffering. He is often the one who accuses his father of starting the fires and relies on Sarty to provide information against their father. Despite their strained relationship, Sarty still cares for his brother and tries to protect him from the consequences of their father’s actions.

The landlord, Major de Spain, is a wealthy and powerful figure who owns the land that the Snopes family lives on. He is portrayed as a symbol of authority and represents the stark contrast between the rich and the poor in society. Major de Spain’s barn becomes a focal point of the story and serves as a catalyst for the conflict between the Snopes family and the landlord.

Faulkner uses distinctive dialect and language to bring his characters to life. The Snopes family speaks in a vernacular that reflects their poor education and rural upbringing, while the other characters, such as the landlord and his wife, speak in more refined and formal language. This contrast highlights the social divisions within the story.

Overall, Faulkner’s character analysis in “Barn Burning” explores the complexities of family dynamics, morality, and social hierarchies during the Reconstruction period. Through the various characters, Faulkner creates a vivid and engaging portrayal of a poor farming family caught in a cycle of violence and poverty.

Symbolism in “Barn Burning”


The symbol of fire is central to the story, representing destruction, power, and change. The act of barn burning itself is a literal expression of Snopes’ anger and desire for revenge against those who he feels have wronged him. The fire also symbolizes the power dynamics between the poor tenant farmers and the wealthy landowners, as Snopes attempts to assert his control in a world that seeks to keep him marginalized.

Family Duty

The Snopes family represents a sense of duty and loyalty, although these values are often distorted. The story explores the tension between family loyalty and personal integrity, as Snopes faces moral dilemmas and must decide whether to blindly support his father’s destructive actions or assert his own values. The barn burning becomes a metaphor for the destruction of the family’s ties and the father’s influence over his son.

The Sartoris family, on the other hand, represents a different understanding of family duty. Colonel Sartoris is described as a proud and honorable man, contrasting with Snopes’ reckless and destructive behavior. Sarty’s struggle to break free from his father’s cycle of violence and find a different path reflects the themes of individuality and personal growth.

Race Relations

The racism and inequality prevalent in the Southern United States during this period also play a significant role in the story. The word “nigger” is used multiple times throughout the story, highlighting the deep-rooted racial prejudices and tensions that existed at the time. The interaction between the Snopes family and the wealthy white landowners underscores the power dynamics and the struggle for justice within a racially divided society.

See also How to Write a Strong Conclusion for a Compare-Contrast Essay

Overall, Faulkner’s use of symbolism in “Barn Burning” enhances the reader’s understanding of the characters and themes within the story. The barn burning itself serves as a catalyst for exploring complex issues of family, duty, race, and social justice, while also capturing the harsh realities of life during the Great Depression.


What is the summary of the short story “Barn Burning”?

“Barn Burning” is a short story by William Faulkner about a young boy named Sarty who is torn between family loyalty and doing what is right. The story follows Sarty’s internal struggle as he witnesses his father burn barns and must decide whether to stay loyal to his family or betray them for the sake of justice.

Who is the author of “Barn Burning”?

The author of “Barn Burning” is William Faulkner. He is considered one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century and is known for his unique narrative style and exploration of the Southern United States.

What events in history were happening at the time the short story takes place?

The short story “Barn Burning” takes place during the late 19th century in the Southern United States. At this time, the region was still grappling with the aftermath of the American Civil War, which had divided the country and brought significant social and economic changes to the South. The period was characterized by racial tensions, struggles for civil rights, and the rise of sharecropping as a dominant agricultural system.

How does Sarty’s internal struggle reflect the larger social and political context of the time?

Sarty’s internal struggle in “Barn Burning” reflects the larger social and political context of the time by highlighting the tensions between traditional family loyalty and the need for justice and moral integrity. The story explores the complex dynamics of power and loyalty in a society still recovering from the aftermath of war, where individuals are torn between maintaining the status quo and seeking social change.

What is the significance of the barn burnings in the short story?

The barn burnings in “Barn Burning” serve as a metaphor for the destructive nature of family loyalty and the cycle of violence. The burning of barns by Sarty’s father represents a desperate attempt to assert power and control over others, even at the expense of destroying property and people’s livelihoods. It symbolizes the destructive forces that can emerge within families and communities when loyalty becomes blind and morality is compromised.

What is the summary of the short story “Barn Burning”?

The short story “Barn Burning” is about a young boy named Sarty who is torn between his loyalty to his father, who is a serial arsonist, and his own sense of right and wrong.

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.