Most critics of William Faulkner’s ‘Barn Burning,’ written in 1938, view the story as a ‘coming-of-age’ tale which pits blood ties against societal responsibility. Proponents of this interpretation generally argue that Sarty Snopes experiences a crisis in which he must negotiate the murky waters of duty. Sarty, torn between a desire to maintain loyalty to his family and a nascent moral sense that — increasingly — condemns his father’s actions, ultimately discovers as a mature man that a code of ethics grounded in binary categories of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is unsatisfactory in comprehending the range of human actions. Sarty’s jejune moral confusion, coupled with Faulkner’s intricate narrative technique, thus makes ‘Barn Burning’ a complex background on which critics may consider a series of ideological ‘opposites,’ including Southern/Northern, agrarianism/industrialism, aristocracy/sharecropper, violence/nonviolence, and individualism/communalism, to name just a few. Complicating this picture, Faulkner’s own views — as well as the perspectives of his contemporaries — frequently come into play as foils to the choices of characters such as Sarty, Ab, Flem, and Major de Spain. For such critics as Edmond L. Volpe, then, the text becomes what Terry Eagleton disparagingly labels the ‘expression of ideology’ (Eagleton 1978, 64). In this way, the work supposedly reveals a tension between ‘competing’ ideologies that is or is not resolved in varying degrees. Volpe, for instance, may therefore confidently remark, ‘the clue to Sarty’s conflict rests in its resolution’ (Volpe 1980, 75).
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- William Faulkner’s ‘Barn Burning’ and Institutional Ideology
James M. Decker
- Macmillan Education UK
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