Essay, Research Paper: Barn Burning By Faulkner

Literature: William Faulkner

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In “Barn Burning,” Faulkner incorporates several instances of irony. He
utilizes this literary tool in order to help the development of his characters
and to express his ultimate message to the readers. Some examples of his use of
irony are the unintentional yet inevitable ending of the Snopes family time
after time, the similarities and differences between Sarty Snopes and his
father, and finally, the two distinct purposes for which Abner Snopes uses fire.
Separately, each is able to contribute to the development of the two main
characters in the short story. Collectively, they are also able to help Faulkner
convey his personal message that essentially, an individual’s sense of values
comprises who he/she is. The most obvious instance of irony is the uncanny
fashion in which each endeavor of the Snopes family concludes every time. To the
reader’s knowledge, it is neither intended nor premeditated that each attempt
of the family to make a new start results in the same outcome. Each struggle is
exactly that, yielding the invariable, undesired result of a barn being engulfed
in ravaging flames and the family being forced to search for a new beginning.
These trials help Sarty understand that in order to take control of his own
destiny, he must separate himself from his family and venture out on his own. If
he ever wishes to live a life other than that of a vagabond with no real chance
for happiness or stability, he must leave now. Another case of the use of irony
is the comparison between Sarty Snopes and his father. While they physically
resemble each other, their morals could not differ more. Sarty is “small and
wiry like his father (p267, paragraph 7).” However the similarities are
strictly limited to physical characteristics. The values and principles that the
father and son embrace reveal the true contrast between the two. Abner allows
his emotions and pride to get the better of him, controlling his actions and
making him react in an irrational manner. This tears young Sarty apart because
although he wishes to obey and honor his father, he cannot morally respect Abner
and his deeds. Faulkner uses this contrast in ideals to help Sarty realize that
he is does not want to grow up like his father nor is he obligated to follow in
his footsteps. It helps him to see that he must escape if he ever wants to
change his way of life. The final example of irony is perhaps the most important
and effective. Abner Snopes uses fire for two very distinct purposes which is
the epitome of irony. He uses the fire in a very destructive manner each time he
burns down a barn. This immense blaze serves no purpose but to keep intact his
pride, “the element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s
being,...as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity (p 270, paragraph
1).” However, when it comes to keeping his family warm, Abner sets only “a
small fire, niggard almost, a shrewd fire (p 270, paragraph 1).” To spare the
warmth of a large fire for his family while setting grand ones for the
unnecessary purpose of demolishing a barn seems ridiculous. Abner Snopes clearly
has his priorities out of order. He is too caught up in his own egotism to
realize that his family is suffering right before him. Although literally,
Abner’s habit is to burn barns, perhaps what he is really burning is the very
bridge his family needs to cross in order to achieve contentment, success, and
stability. Faulkner’s message about the importance of individual values and
ideals is well-expressed through “Barn Burning.” It is clear that Abner
lacks both and is therefore unable to provide for his family and induces his own
untimely death. Sarty represents the hope that could have easily fallen into the
footsteps of an overbearing father but instead was wise enough to realize the
fault in Abner’s ways and realign himself.
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