Barn Burning "You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you. " This quote from William Faulkner’s "Barn Burning" does reveal a central issue in the story, as Jane Hiles suggests in her interpretation. The story is about blood ties, but more specifically, how these ties affect Sarty (the central character of the story). The story examines the internal conflict and dilemma that Sarty faces. When the story begins, Sarty and his family are in a courtroom.
Sarty, known in a proper setting as Colonel Sartoris, which in itself gives an insight into the families mentality. Sarty’s father, Abner Snopes is being accused of a barn burning. Right away, as Sarty is called to testify, you get an idea of what is going through the boy’s head, and the mentality that has be ingrained in him. He thinks to himself, Enemy! Enemy! , referring to the people that his father and his family for that matter are up against. Sarty would later discover that things are not always the way that his father leads everyone to believe they are.
Sarty, somewhere deep down wants to just do what is right, but being roughly 10 years old, I don’t think he quite has that figured out yet. His sense of right and wrong has been biased under the tyranny of his father. We also get a good idea of the personality of the father, Abner, by the way Sarty describes his physical appearance. Abner is not a man of a lot of words, demonstrated in many instances. We see this in the way he addresses his family, in the way he communicates with other characters, and most importantly in his outrageous stunts in his attempts to prove that know one will ever run over Abner Snopes and his family.
He more or less uses actions to speak for him. That’s sort of the whole idea behind Abner Snopes. He’s a man with so much pride that he will go to any lengths to get revenge upon those who wrong him or try to own him, even if it means breaking the law. His actions, make bold statements about what kind of man he is. Barn burning is his largest and always final statement. But, he sort of builds up to that, as we can see in the story. Once Abner and his family are run out of town in the beginning of the story (which seems to be a frequent occurrence with this family) they find another home and another farm to work.
Immediately, Abner takes Sarty up to the landlords house, where Abner purposely steps in manure and walks into the house and proceeds to rub the manure into a very fine rug. There seems to be no apparent reason for the action other than the fact that the landlord in a way owns Abner Snopes and his family, because the landlord own the land they will have to work for a living. Therefore, they are at the mercy of the landlord. This doesn’t sit well with Abner, and the purpose of soiling the rug must be, again to make a statement about who he is, and to let the landlord know that he doesn’t bow to anyone.
Soon, the rug is brought down to the farm and presented to the family, who must now clean it. Abner, instead of getting his wife, or his sons to clean the rug, (not to mention himself as well) instructs his two daughters, described as big, lethargic and bovine, to take care of the task. The rational behind this is, Abner knows that the two daughters will more than likely not do a proper job of washing the rug. He’s a very spiteful man. When the rug is returned to the owner and determined to be ruined, Abner is ordered to pay the land owner twenty bushels of corn against his families share of the crop.
It is later decided in court, by the Justice of the Peace that he will only be required to pay ten bushels of corn. Of course, Abner, being the way he is, will still not stand for it. Inevitably, one night Abner decides he will make his signature statement, the barn burning. Of course, the story doesn’t come right out and say this, there is an ambiguous quality to this work by Faulkner. We are clued into Abner’s plans for the burning when Sarty is sent to get the oil. Then, when Sarty, says "Ain’t you going to even send a nigger? " we can confirm what is planned.
It is at this point that the conflict within Sarty arises once more. Sarty had hoped that his father would stop this evil pattern of destruction and disregard for the law and the property of others. However, Sarty at this point is beginning to realize that his father will probably never change. He contemplates running away, something he will soon do. After being detained by his mother for a short time, at his fathers request, Sarty breaks free and heads directly for the land owners house. He knows now what he must do. He must warn them of what his father and older brother and about to do.
Continually on the run, Sarty warns the people in the big white house and takes off down the road. Sarty soon hears a number of shots, which he assumes to be his father and brother being shot by the landlord who has caught them in the act. This may or may not be the case, again, this shows the ambiguity of the story in various places. Regardless of what actually happened, he knows he can never go back. He just keeps on going, and never looks back. It is at this point that Sarty breaks the blood ties, and the fear of suffering the wrath of his fathers. Sarty is free.
But, not without paying a price. I believe Sarty still feels that pull of blood that the author speaks of, and he made this decision with obviously a lot of feelings on both sides of the issue. He still cares for his family, he still loves his father, even though he now realizes that what his father does is wrong and he had to try to stop it and cease to be a part of it. The fact that Sarty can never return home is not a question of whether he choose that, but rather it’s not a choice, he can’t go back. So, the conflict within Sarty is not really every resolved, just the situation changed.