A Troubled Relationship in “Barn Burning”
In “Barn Burning”, by William
Faulkner, the father/son relationship, between Abner Snopes and his youngest
son, Colonel Sartoris Snopes (Sarty), is troubled and sad. Abner is a troubled man that has anger
problems and this affects his family greatly.
The relationship that suffers most is that between him and Sarty. The young boy is torn between a moral stand
point and the sense of loyalty to his father.
Although the boy loves his father, he does not approve of his
actions. The type of relationship that
they possess is a love hate relationship and is very detrimental to the family’s
values and morale.
Sarty has a conflict with his conscious
when he is asked to tell the Judge that his father is responsible for a barn
burning in the community. Abner makes
the boy feel as if he has to lie about the barn burning. In the text the father tells Colonel
Sartoris, “You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to
have any blood to stick to you” (Faulkner 1735), this statement confuses the
child more. Sarty amazingly had a sense
of right and wrong despite the wickedness of his father.
He is scared of his father and sees
him as a silhouette. He feels as if his
father is shallow and cold. This is
evident in the text when it reads, “something cut ruthlessly from tin,
depthless, as though, sidewise to the sun, it would cast no shadow” (Faulkner
1736), explaining the impression Abner has on Sarty. Faulkner describes Abner’s face as having a,
“harsh level shaggy, graying, irascible brow,” (Faulkner 1735). A father, with this personality, would have a
hard time relating and connecting with his child. It is almost as Abner does not care for
anyone other than himself.
Sarty blames Abner for the family’s
trials. He wants to stay in one place
longer than a few weeks and because of Abner’s shady character the family is always
having to move to a different town. The
child thinks that they have finally moved for the last time and is convinced there
will be a happy ending. He is always
watching his father’s every move. When
Abner decides to burn the barn belonging to Major de Spain, Sarty no longer
struggles with the decision of justice and blood any longer. From the moment that he realizes that his
father is going to burn the barn, he fights and struggles to free himself so he
can warn the de Spain family. He runs to
the house and yells barn, barn and never thinks of the consequence of his
father being caught.
When Sarty hears gunfire he realizes
that his father has been shot and is distraught. Although he feared his father and was upset
with his actions Sarty loved him and mourned his death. He sits alone, morns and thinks, “the grief
and despair now no longer terror and fear just grief and despair. Father. My father, he thought” (Faulkner 1742),
and with a false sense of pride declares his father brave. Sarty ultimately chooses moral over his
father. He fights the battle between
good and evil and even though it means his father’s death he chooses to do the
All the love that is present between
a Father and a Son is not enough to develop a positive relationship. There has to be respect and caring on both parts. The relationship between Abner Snopes and Colonel
Sartoris Snopes lacks both of these aspects.
Without understanding and nurture, their relationship could never stand
a chance of being positive. Sarty not
only suffers physical abuse but he also endures emotional abuse. A positive relationship cannot be attained
with these levels of abuse. Abner and
Sarty developed a dysfunctional relationship that never recovered.