Thursday, April 15, 2010

Barn Burning - William Faulkner

Author: William Faulkner
Date: 1939
Setting: The south, just after the Civil War
Availability: Read Barn Burning on line, free

by Carl Van Vechten, public domain LoC

Story: The 10-year-old Colonel Sartoris Snopes (Sarty) is called to testify before a local Justice as to whether his father had actually burned down their employer's barn. He is saved from testifying by the accuser's realization that a boy should not be asked to testify against his father. There is not enough evidence to convict his father, but once again, they are forced to move.

The boy is both an observer of, and integral part of this poor family. His father and mother, an aunt, stolid older brother, and lazy, bovine twin sisters are loaded into the wagon with all of their belongings. In four days time they have settled into another dilapidated house, working the ground for a rich landlord. The boy's father, perhaps on purpose, tracks horse manure across the owner's French carpet, and the carpet is brought to their poor home to be cleaned. In their ignorance, the carpet is ruined, and the father's resentment of those who have more once again boils to the surface.

Sarty knows he must choose his path for life. He is bound inexplicably by blood to be loyal to this family, yet there is a spark within him that knows right from wrong. He feels powerless to follow that urging.

Faulkner has a way of putting you both inside the head of the main character and maintaining narrative distance at the same time. In this story the perspective is the boy's, but the distance is created by occasionally telling the reader what the boy would think about this situation later, as an adult. And yet, he does not telegraph which decision the boy is going to make until the end of the story.

Short Story Masterpieces (Laurel Edition)Author info: William Faulkner was born and raised in Mississippi, and wrote provocative and emotional stories of life there. Many of his works were set in mythical Yoknapatawpha County (largely based on Lafayette County), and Colonel John Sartoris (for whom Sarty is named) was one of its founding fathers. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1949, and two Pulitzers.

Unusual Words:
quiring- like a choir, a chorus of voices
hame and logger-head- parts of a collar and harness for draft animals

Language skills 10
Depth of meaning 10


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