Sarty’s Point of View
William Faulkner elected to write “Barn Burning” from his young character Sarty’s perspective because his sense of morality and decency would present a more plausible conflict in this story. Abner Snopes inability to feel the level of remorse needed to generate a truly moral predicament in this story, sheds light on Sarty’s efforts to overcome the constant “pull of blood”(277) that forces him to remain loyal to his father. As a result, this reveals the hidden contempt and fear Sarty has developed over the years because of Abner’s behavior. Sarty’s struggle to maintain an understanding of morality while clinging to the fading idolization of a father he fears, sets the tone for a chain of events that results in his liberation from Abner’s destructive defiance-but at a costly price.
Sarty’s dilemma arises from his father’s destructive envy of his wealthy employers. Abner Snopes frustration with being a poor sharecropper owned “body and soul”(280) by the South’s rich and elite leads him to exact his revenge on the undeserving blue bloods in the only way he knows how-by burning down their barns. While Sarty’s loyalty to Abner is proven after a court hearing held by “his father’s enemy . . . our enemy . . .ourn! mine and hisn both,”(277) after which he challenges and is beaten by a boy “half again his size”(278) because the boy called his father a “barn burner”(278) he is left to make a critical decision between saving his family or his own morality.
What prompts Sarty to betray his own moral character is his fear of Abner, who he describes as the “black, flat, and bloodless . . . voice harsh like tin and without heat like tin”(279). Time and again, Sarty has witnessed Abner’s propensity for inflicting fiery devastation upon wealthy people like Mr. Harris in a warped attempt to even the score. He is even more afraid of losing his father’s trust after Abner hits him “hard but with out heat”(280) not for telling the truth, but for wanting to. Sarty is conscious of the fact that if Abner knew his desire for “truth, justice, he would have hit”(280) him again and that Abner’s recommendation that he “learn to stick to” his “own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you”(280) is more of a threat rather than fatherly advice. Sarty learns to stifle any qualms he has and overlook his own developing morals in order to defend his father’s cold-blooded attacks. In the face of Abner’s “outrage and savagery and lust”(286) and the ever-present conflict these emotional outbursts cause, Sarty’s sense of obligation to his father out weighs his desire to “run on and on and never look back”(286). He hopes being forced out of town will transform the side of Abner that possesses an “inherent ly voracious prodigality with material not his own”(279) and he will be satisfied once and for all. As father and son walk within sight of an impressive manor “big as a courthouse”(280) owned by Major de Spain, a wealthy landowner with whom Abner has struck a deal to farm corn on his land, Sarty knows at once that “they are safe from him”(280). His father’s “ravening”(281) envy could not possibly touch these “people whose lives are part of this peace and dignity”(281). But, Abner is seething with “jealous rage”(281) at the sight of the de Spain manor and once again, Sarty sees that familiar “quality of something . . . ruthless . . . depthless”(281) emerge. Sarty’s piece of mind falters as he witnesses Abner walking an “undeviating course”(281) towards the de Spain manor with horse manure steaming from his shoes and a “ruthless”(281) glint in his eyes. He worries that Abner will revert back to barn burning as a way to ease his anger at feeling inferior and defeated by the aristocratic society he been a slave to. Sarty’s ever-present optimism that his father will change makes the audience almost sympathetic to Abner’s “ferocious conviction”(279) that there is none more deserving of economic independence than him and his family. Sarty’s hope that starting over in a new town will transform Abner “from what maybe he couldn’t help