My 2 Year Old Has Blood Back In His Eye William Faulkner’s "Barn Burning" – Honoring Family Or Honoring Self

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William Faulkner’s "Barn Burning" – Honoring Family Or Honoring Self

William Faulkner is remembered for his many short stories and fictional essays. One of his best known, and most beloved, is a story titled “Barn Burning,” a coming-of-age narrative set in the war-torn South. Here a new protagonist, named Colonel Sartoris Snopes, confronts his antagonistic father, Abner. Colonel Snopes, or Sarty as he called it, named after a fictional hero of the Civil War, is a ten-year-old boy born into a poor family of sharecroppers headed by a ruthless, vindictive and angry man. Faulkner physically describes Sarty as a young boy, small for his age, thin, wearing patched and faded jeans too small for him, with no shoes on his feet. She has uncombed brown hair, gray eyes, and is “wild as a storm” (179). Emotionally Sarty is a desperate, grieving and fearful young man who learns to overcome these limitations to make the most important decision of his life and, in the process, becomes a man.

Faulkner does a masterful job of giving the reader an undeniable sense of Sarty’s despair. At Harris’s trial, waiting to be called as a witness, Faulkner states that the boy is filled with a mixture of emotion but “mainly despair” (178). The cause of this discouragement is twofold; he is expected to lie and adopt his father’s enemies as his own. The pressure to lie is exerted by his father. Sarty thinks to himself, “pretend I’m lying . . . with that frantic grief and despair. And I’ll have to get it right” (179). It is quite evident that Sarty was no stranger to his father’s demand for unity, and yet it is equally evident that he feels a great degree of intimidating desperation. Enemies are a different matter. This is self-imposed discouragement. In his teenage mind he can come to no other conclusion than that his father’s enemies must be his own. He sees his father’s “enemy” and reflects “in that despair” that they are “ours! mine and both! He is my father” (179). The despair comes from his feeling that he must hate those his father hates.

This hopelessness gives way to another even more bitter emotion, that of pain. Although the words despair and pain have similar connotations, it seems clear that Faulkner saw them as distinctly separate characteristics of this young man. Faulkner repeatedly states that Sarty is filled with “sorrow and despair” (179) both. Despair refers to the hopelessness that Sarty feels, while pain refers to the intense grief over the choice he must make. Sarty understands the morality of issues. Although he is hindered by his surroundings, he has an inner principle of moral decency. A war burns in his mind between his blood loyalty and his civic responsibility. It is said to be like “being pulled from two sides…between two teams of horses” (186). This pull pulls you to the core and demands a response. Sarty knows his father is wrong, but he also feels intense sorrow for the inevitable choice he must make; this is the source of their pain.

Such a young boy, faced with such a difficult situation, cannot help but feel fear. Indeed, Sarty is described as full of “fear” (178) and “terror” (182). Faulkner tells us that Sarty’s youth, coupled with his father’s brutality, creates a longing to be “free” (182) while also generating “enough weight to keep him rooted in place” (182). “Fear,” the Bible states, “has torment,” and Sarty is certainly a tormented soul. That is, until they arrive at Major De Spain’s and Sarty sees his house: “at that instant he forgot his father and terror and despair both” (182). And this sets the stage for our hero to shine.

In this visit, Sarty understands that it is possible to break free from his father’s influence. To him, the house resembles a “Palace of Justice” (182) which is a symbol of civic justice and which, no doubt, is the impression given to the young man by his inner desire for his father to account for his deeds. . He knows that his father’s crimes cannot continue. This visit marks the turning point in his mentality, the point at which the ten-year-old boy decides to become a man.

Faulkner seems to want us to see through the eyes of the child the fact that each of us must choose our own path, that life is a series of decisions that begin early in our childhood and define who we will be later in life. We control our course, not the blood of ancestry, or family relationship, and we can change our direction if we stay true to our convictions and choose to do good instead of evil.

Sarty makes his choice; he will be true to himself. As he runs along the dirt road that leads to De Spain’s house, Sarty can feel his blood quicken and his heart beat, although his blood does not slow him down as he would have supposed, but urged him on; overcoming despair, avoiding its fear and ignoring its pain; he is now, for all intents and purposes, a man. His childhood is as dead as his father seems to be; his future as dark and uncertain as the night sky and the dark forest he enters, as uncertain as adult life. The story ends with the dawn of a new day; symbolically representing the new life opportunity that this new protagonist has won. The old familiar feelings of “despair” and “pain” (191) are still present but the “terror and fear” (191) are gone. No future decision in life can be so difficult; no other night can be so dark, for now he is the master of his own destiny.

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