Custom «In a Barn-Burning Speech» Essay Paper Sample

In a Barn-Burning Speech

The aspect of truth is decried in the novel barn burning. The William Faulkner’s barn burning is a short story that was first published in Harper’s magazine in 1939. The story is anchored on the inner feelings for a ten-year-old Colonel Sartoris Snopes who is the protagonists. The boy is torn between telling the truth and defending his father. If the boy tells the truth, this would be taken as family betrayal and he would lose the family warmth. He only has the option of defending his father in the court. The entire storyline focuses on conflicts among classes, vengeance and power of influence. Also, the book strongly focuses on the family relations especially the children to parents. The title ‘barn burning’ is derived from the offense that the antagonist is accused of, burning barn. Sarty, a young boy is to testify in a court against his father indicted of burning Mr. Harris barn. While I the courtroom, a stinky congested room, poorly ventilated, Sarty cannot see where his father and the opponent are seated. Although the judgment is dismissed, the ruling is not fair. Finally, Satyr’s father does not get a far judgment. He is sent out of the country for good. This brings the turnaround of the plot in the novel r the predicaments that beget Sarty and his family.

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Throughout the book, the author addresses the plight of lower class in the hands of the rich, giving instances whereby justice was not served. The class struggle between the poor and the rich is apparent in the novel. There is a strong hegemony rich seems hard to break. Faulkner presents two social classes of people. The rich and the poor they or have little which the squeezing through the nose.  In addition to this, the power of father’s influence is clearly depicted, as Sarty obeys his father despite his rebellious inner feeling. Moreover, vengeance is the drive that influences most acts in the story as injustice prevails.

Father to son relationship is depicted in a rather fascinating way. Sarty is torn between telling the truth in a court of law and protecting his father. The two are seen close; the son needs the father and the father needs the son. The family set up is also brought into focus. Lennie, who is satyr’s mother appears in ‘flights’; she is out of the main conflicts and issues. The who plot mostly revolves around Sarty and his father Abner Snops.

The author uses different literary aspects to arrive at the literary stints. Different styles like similes and metaphors, third person narration, dialogue, long sentences, irony, satire , character and characterization among others. The themes strongly viewed by the author among others include oppression, poverty and flatulence, avarice, revenge, family and family relations, loyalty, and racism. The story is told from the third person point of view. There is an omniscient narrator who witnesses all the events taking place in the novel. Though the author intrudes at some point, he is minimally felt in the novel and the events that take place.

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The story starts in the courtroom whereby Abner Snopes is sued for burning his landlord’s barn. The keg serves two purposes for the town court purposes. He is seated at the back of the courtroom and he cannot see where his father and the enemy are seated.  The evidence presented by Mr. Harris is of the several occasions where Abner’s hog ha severally his fence and get into his cornfield. Mr. Harris continues by stating that the man who was sent to fetch the hog in the latest incident warned him against claiming that hay and wood are combustible. It is the same night that his barn was burnt. With this, the judge asks for stronger evidence, and Mr. Harris point out Abner’s son, Sarty to testify (5). Sarty is reluctant as he is uncertain of the case, but at the same time, he knows he cannot afford to betray his family. Mr. Harris realizes the situation he is putting him in, and allows him to leave free. According to Abner, people should stand by their family no matter what, and should do anything for their good. With this, his father accuses him of being a traitor, saying that he would have betrayed his family. All in all, the judge dismisses the charges against Snops but warns him to leave the country forever. (William 75).  As they move out of the courtroom, a child comes from the crowd and calls them barn burners. The child knocks Sarty down for the second time. Sarty runs after the child for revenge but his father stops the young boy from revenging.

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The family set on their journey in search of a new home. It is in the next day they find their new home in Yoknapatawpha County. They are under the care of Major de Spain, who is also a character is other Faulkner’s works. Trying to be the best supervisor he could be, Abner supervises her two sisters cleaning a rug that was dropped. Later, he returns it to De Spain and leaves in on the floor after knocking his door severally (William 51). The next day, de Spain claims that the rug was expensive, and that Snopes has messed it by improper cleaning. As a repayment for the rug, major de Spain asks Abner to compensate him with twenty bushels of corn. For some time, everything is settled, but Snopes still thinks that it is unfair for him to be accused of other people’s mistakes.

Abner is back in the courtroom seeking justice for the offense is accused of committing. This time, Sarty defend his father claiming that Major de Spain is being unfair and that his father is not responsible for burning the barn. In favor of de Spain, the court rules that the plaintiff should be compensated and reduces the compensation to ten bushels of corn. The judge in a way sympathized with Snop’s poverty and took advantage of his poor state. The Abner’s family is angered by the injustice and plots revenge. Although Sarty and his mother disagree, Abner prepares to burn de Spain’s barn. Sarty is restrained from stopping his father, but manages to escape and blurts the word barn to a servant in de Spain’s house. It is now that he hears three gunshots and sees his father lying dead on the ground; major de Spain had killed him.

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Point of view

There is an omniscient narrator in the novel from whose the story is told. From the author’s point of view, it is clearly evident that the narration is staged from a third person perspective. To begin with, Falkner show in the novel is concerned with the protagonist who is Sarty. It is seen that Sarty is the focus of the story in every scene. In other words, the narration is passed through his eyes, and therefore, his thoughts are narrated as the author narrates the story through him. By the author choosing a third point prison to narrate the story, the author takes the audience to trusting his assertions.

Characters and Characterization

The novel barn burning has a number of major characters and minor characters who form the protagonists and the antagonists of the story. A young boy known as Sarty whose real name is Colonel Sartoris Snopes is the protagonist of the story. He is a young boy so innocent but equally witty and intelligent. The antagonist of the story is Satyr’s father called Arber Snopes. Abner is a fatalistic character. He is emotional and vengeful. However, he is courageous and a family man. The mother to Sarty is called Lennie Abner Snopes. She is also the husband to Abner, the antagonist of the story. Snopes’ second employer is called Major de Spain. Snopes is involved in a court tussle with him after he tracks horse’s droppings on his blond rug and later washes it with harsh lye soap making it get damaged completely. Abner’s first landowner who is mentioned is Mr. Harris. They too have a tussle in court.

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Abner Snopes

Abner is the antagonist of the story and the father to Sarty. Faulkner describes him as a cold, violent, emotionless man. He is depicted as a serial arsonist with a pebble-colored eyed, harsh voice and gray eyebrows. He limps because of a gunshot injury he succumbed thirty years ago for stealing a horse during the civil war. He is not easily convinced, and his temper drives him to destruction and revenge. Apart from being vengeful, he is also violent to people going against his will and does anything to get back at them. For instance he hits his son hard when he discovers that he is about to testify against him in a court of law. Abner is also a poor man. After Major de Spain argues that he pays him 20 bushels of corn for destroying his rag, the judge reduces them to ten; he takes advantage of his poverty.

Colonel Sartoris Snopes

Also known as Sarty; he is a ten-year-old boy and the protagonist in the story. He is described an innocent, trusting, loyal, obedient and brave boy, and is said to have inherited these qualities from his mother. He is wiry and small, with gray, wild eyes, and brown hair. He wears faded jean with that are too small for him. Unlike his father, Sarty believes in integrity and tries to stop his father when he tries to burn de Spain’s barn as revenge. When he learns of his father’s intent to burn the barn of Major de Spain, he cautions the major and runs back to his father. This innocence of his age is a clear depiction of his actions as a child. Sarty is irritated by injustice in courtroom, and is sent out because of speaking his mind. As young as ten, he understands the concepts of justice and allows the judicial system rule despite the view he has for system; this portrays him as an intelligent boy. The author uses Sarty to satirize the court system and the society. We are implored to the question the knowledge of Sarty about justice and fairness yet the society seems unaware or rather ignorant at this as depicted through Major de Spain.

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Sarty’s mother and a wife to Abner; She is emotional, caring, responsible and a sad woman who molds his son into a morally upright young man. She is always against her husband’s destructive impulses, but is unable to stop him. Though perturbed, she manages to remain calm despite being surrounded by violence and crime in her family and the souring relationship between her husband and her son. She is a typical caring wife and a mother. Being different in her family, she is not discouraged by violence stained around their world. By this, she is the source of happiness and comfort to his son, Sarty. Moreover, she is always nervous around Snopes and is afraid of his next move.

Mr. Harris

He is the landowner of the first location where the Snopes’ family was staying. He is only seen in a courtroom in the first seen where he had sued Snopes for burning his barn. However, his efforts to sue Abner go in vain, as he is not compensated for his loss because of insufficient evidence. Moreover, he is the reason as to why the Snopeses had to move to a new home. It is through him that we see injustice in the court system. Although there is no hard evidence on the charges against Abner, he is sent out of the country for good. It is through Mr. Harris that we meet and scrutinize Sarty in the court in the court of law; the young boy who was set to testify against his father.

Major de Spain

He is a wealthy and well-dressed landowner. He is Snopes proprietor in their new home. He is portrayed as a proud, unreasonable, and spoiled man. This can be seen in the manner he treats his servants, and how he answers question in the courtroom. He represents the high-class and is the source of trouble and suffering in abner’s family. He is quick to anger. When Sarty warns him of Snopes’ intent to burn his barn, he reacts swiftly and follows him on horseback and fires thrice in the air.

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Other Characters

Lula de Spain - Major de Spain’s wife. She is not different to his husband personality wise, and claims that her home was violated. Apart from being intimidating, she is also well dressed and look down upon the lower class. She forms the back of the minor characters in the novel. However she plays a major role in the development of the plot.

De Spain’s servant-he is a worker in de Spain’s mansion. He is portrayed as a slave as he seems to have no authority over anything. He is abused by his employer and does not defend himself. According to Snopes, he is a racist.

Colonel Snopes, Net and unnamed sister are Sarty’s siblings. John is not so different to his father and has a habit of chewing tobacco. His twin sisters net and the other unnamed sister described to be lethargic and have loud voices. They are cheaply dressed, and represent the lower class society.  Lizzie on the other hand is Sarty’s aunt and Lennie’s sister. She stands for justice, and is seen at the end of the story warning the de Spains of their injustices.


In the beginning of the narration, the author is not specific with the region; he only mentions that it is in the southern part of USA. It is through the deportation that he mentions where the family relocates to; it is in a small rural county in Mississippi. The town is fictional, although he uses it in many of his books, making the readers doubt whether it is real or not. The town is called Yoknapatawpha. The author is discrete about the locations, but through his other works, one can trace this location through the characters mentioned. In this case, major de Spain is mentioned in other books, and his Farm is known to be located in Yoknapatawpha County.  The narration only covers the events of five days, but is prolonged by covering twenty years in the future, and the past thirty years.

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To deliver his message, the author has used various literary stylistic devices. They are used for the development of the plot and to bring to the fore the various themes that come along way. These are:


Symbolism is a stylistic device used by many literary artists. It is where an author uses an object or a thing to represent another. Usually the represented aspect is more serious than the one in question. In the novel barn burning, the author has used credibly this stylistic device.


Just from the title, it is evident that fire is of much significance in the story. The moment the word ‘burn’ happens, there must be ana aspect of fire. In the ordinary circumstances, fire is used for various purposes: to cook, to purify or even to destroy. Fire portrays Snopes’s powerlessness and his pursuit to express his anger. For Snopes, fire is a means to seek revenge and punish the people going against his wishes. It is also through fire that Abner uses to attract attention; however, fire led to his death. The barn is set on fire and it land Abner in court. Therefore this fire here has been used to destroy. Destruction can happen due to malice or goodwill if whet is to be destroyed is bad. But otherwise it is wrong. Abner destroys a barn using fire. He is doing this to revenge. Instead of fighting whoever has annoyed him, he fights his property. It is here he has misused the good side of the fire because the barn was not built so that Abner would burn it!












Blood symbolizes the bond shared by relatives, and is seen as a form of the unity among family members. It is through this bond that people feel the need to care for each other and upholding loyalty in the family. Sarty knows that he will always carry his father’s blood, and for this reason, he is dragged to all the troubles caused by his father. He follows this blood not to speak the truth against his father. When he told major de Spain about his father’s intent to torch his barn, Sarty goes back to his father; this blood pulls him back to where he comes from.


This brings a sense of hope, as it is a symbol of renewal, life and rebirth. In this case, the moment at the hill after the death of his father was one of the peaceful moments he had. It also brings a sense of freedom, and sadness after the death of Snopes. In short, the spring brings the break and shows the other side of the story.


A theme is the main driving force in every work of literature. It is the message of the author to his audience.

Family and family relations

Various families are presented by the author. But the most conspicuous is the family of Abner. He is on the direct opposite corners with his son Sarty. Sarty is tied up in a force between being just and integral to defending his father and family. He tries to balance the two but he ends up giving more weight to his family’s side when he defends his father. The women in these families are seen as working from the behind of their husbands. They are lowly and subordinating.

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The need to seek revenge is the prevalent theme in this story covering the incidences that happened, and it led to the death of Snopes. The rich have a tendency of taking advantage of the poor, and as a result, influencing vengeance. Additionally, the judicial system also seems to favor the reach giving the poor another reason to seek justice through their own means. Sarty has a sense of morality and he understands that though the system is not perfect, justice should be done the right way, which is by law. From the beginning, Snopes is constantly looking out for ways to punish the people who go against him. However, his temper, and search for revenge was the cause of his death. Lack of power seems to be the obstacles that restrain the lower class from attacking the higher class who rule them and take advantage of their needs.

Sarty is faced with a dilemma, and has a dilemma; loyalty to his family or to the law and integrity. Loyalty is among the moral codes taught to Sarty by his family. The Snopeses believes that loyalty keeps them together despite the challenges they face. It is for this reason that Sarty cannot betray his father by testifying against him. As the story ends, Sarty betrays his family loyalty, and alerts de Spain when his father wants to burn his barn; however, he pays a high cost, by losing his father.

Living in a violence world, Sarty, and his mother Lennie are constantly in fear and grief and are in need of inner peace. They understand they must keep moving in search of peace in order to free themselves from the riotous emotions. Apart from the rule passed by the judge, the Snopeses were moving in search of a peaceful and better life. However, Snopes believe that they should learn to live that way, as he has no hope of a better future. De Spain’s house seems to be Sarty’s comfort place after the rumpus that took place in the south. However, it does take long for him to realize that it is just like where they were living. Sarty is not like his father, he has a sense of morality, and he dreams of a better life.

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The story is a prequel as some dashes left are filled in his other works. Even though the story is not the best of his works, it represents the literal works of its times. To some extent, barn burning embodies a concession of the brutal themes of Faulkner’s style and his convenience of his early prose. The author has succeeded in his literary creativity to communicate and relay successfully his massages. The themes are apparent; the characters are energetic and superb. 

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