In William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning,” ten-year-old Sarty Snopes faces many challenges in regards to his upbringing. He has witnessed his father’s destructive and illegal behavior for many years, and Sarty makes a difficult decision in the end to choose morality and the good of others over the well-being or protection of his own father.
Although many believe that allegiance to family should have precedence in every circumstance, there comes a time when corrupt familial cycles require a brave member to rise above the boundaries of kinship for a noble cause; therefore, Sarty was justified, although not ithout consequence, in his decision to tell of his father’s disastrous plans to burn de Spain’s barn. Initially, the narrator introduces Colonel Satoris Snopes, “Sarty,” in a courtroom. Sarty’s father is standing trial for burning down another man’s barn, and Sarty is scheduled to testify regarding the supposed incident.
The victim and Justice have mercy on the sensitive predicament that Sarty is in and relinquish him from testifying for or against his father. Although Sarty does not speak of the barn burning in court, the narrator provides a glimpse of the hild’s plan regarding the testimony, “He aims for me to lie, he thought… And I will have to do hit” (225). It is clear that Sarty is willing to lie about his father’s illegal actions, and his father expects him to. Strangers in the courtroom have more compassion for Sarty than his own father. Why should Sarty protect his father who is unconcerned with his best interests?
Although Sarty is willing to lie in court on his father’s behalf, it is not his desire. After the courtroom incident, Abner, Sarty’s father, confronts Sarty about his intentions in court and accuses im of planning to betray him, “”You were fixing to tell them. You would have told him. His father struck him.. on the side of the head. ” Abner continues badgering Sarty, “You got to learn to stick to your own blood” (227). Although Sarty is willing to lie for his father, Abner is aware of Sarty’s overwhelming desire to speak up for the truth.
Furthermore, although Abner is portrayed as a cold, harsh, and violent man, Sarty mysteriously sees his father as harmless, “he no more to them than a buzzing wasp: capable of stinging for a little moment but that’s all” (228). Sarty also hopes that his father will change his disturbing and destructive behavior and views the marvelous de Spain home as an opportunity for his father to embrace a new beginning, “Maybe he will feel it too. Maybe it will even change him now from what he couldn’t help but be” (229).
This passage reveals that Sarty does indeed care for his father and is not eager to betray him, but he dreams of having his father emotionally healthy. Abner’s next action will deny Sarty that opportunity, “the boy watched him pivot. leaving a final long and fading smear” (229). Nothing has changed. Sarty is unable to bridle his father’s corrupt nature, but there is something he can do. He can stand for truth and justice which wins over in the end when Sarty tells of his father’s plans to burn de Spain’s barn. Sadly, although his decision is justified, the consequences are great.
Sarty still cries out in his father’s death proclaiming that his father was “brave” (236) and clings to the positive attributes he wants so desperately believe about the man who is unworthy of the leadership role in their family. Oftentimes, we are faced with similarly excruciating choices between what is good and ho we love, especially our own family. I have also been faced with these painful choices, and I can fully relate to Sarty in this sense. Several years ago, seven girls came forward with information that turned my entire family’s life upside-down.
Eventually, my four children, all boys, confirmed the accusations, for they had personally witnessed the incidents. We discovered that my father-in-law had molested seven girls over a period of two years. For two years these girls had been victimized by a sixty-year-old man whom they trusted, and he used my boys as a way to have access to the victims. My father- in-law is a man who I respected and leaned on in times of need. He had always been a loving grandfather and role model to my boys; he was the only constant, positive male figure in their lives. My father-in-law was dependable, hardworking, and sacrificial.
In an instant of truth our family stability was shaken. I loved this man, but that did not deter me from seeking justice for the victims of his hurt. To further complicate the situation, my father-in-law was sick and had struggled with bipolar disorder because of his physically and sexually abusive upbringing. So, I sympathized with him and hurt for the pain that he experienced as a child that had obviously contaminated his mental stability. However, the cycle had to be broken, and my children possessed the key. Prosecutors informed me that my children’s testimonies would be the deciding factor in the outcome of the case.
They were the puzzle piece that linked each of the cases together, and without their cooperation, justice could not be served. I had an agonizing decision to make: should I convince my children to testify on behalf of the victims, or should I protect my family and my children by not articipating in the case? I was confident that the latter would result in the decimation of our family. Sadly, my in-laws were much like Abner: their mentality was that family should defend and protect one another regardless, and anyone who interfered were shunned.
So, when my children chose to reveal their grandfather’s dark secrets to the district attorney and detectives, my husband and his family turned their backs on my boys and on me. Although the ruin of our family was the most painful thing we have ever endured, we maintain our confidence and know that we acted honorably. Seven girls are ble to rest knowing that justice has been served. Telling the hard truth broke us in many ways, but the sacrifice has given us a greater purpose in life.
I firmly believe that it is an injustice to live with the simplistic and foolish view that family ties automatically trump the well-being or needs of others. Nevertheless, many may argue that “blood is thicker than water” and believe that families should stick together in any and all circumstances. This view is not unique nor is it a modern approach. From biblical times to today, women continue to protect the secrets of their husband’s infidelity, children are ncouraged not to tell of the abuses they endure, and mothers defend their sons and daughters regardless of the circumstance.
This narrow and crooked perspective has encouraged negative conduct for centuries. However, wrong is wrong, and oftentimes the only person that can aid the victims of mistreatment is the family of the offender. It is often the family of the culprit that knows the most intimate details of the incident, therefore, their knowledge and compliance is essential to not only safeguarding the victim, but also ending the cycle of destructive and harmful behavior. In conclusion, if family members were to always conceal an offender’s crime, most would never be held accountable.
Therefore, Abner Snopes depraved and vicious behavior cannot be defended solely based on family ties, and Sarty’s noble, yet agonizing decision to divulge his father’s heinous plan is not only justified, it is heroic. Although family members should never be forced by law to testify against their own, if relatives are able to find the courage and integrity to stand for the truth, they should be commended as any hero should be, with vigourous applause and tremendous honor.