Moral Conviction of the Heart
The young Sartoris Snopes, otherwise known as Sarty, is introduced to us in William Faulknerâ€™s â€œBarn Burningâ€ as a young boy who is faced with a few issues in his life. He comes from blood that is very poverty-ridden and lives with a father who is an abusive criminal. The family is forced to move from county to county due to his fatherâ€™s obsession with burning barns belonging to employers that angered him. Sarty knew this was wrong and was faced with betraying his father and his blood. In his young life, he was taught the wrong way to live in a society, yet he still has second thoughts about what his father did, simply because he was is father. The fear of retribution, being at such a young age and witnessing crimes, and his father dealing with families of higher social class, leaves Sarty very confused about his fatherâ€™s actions, which has Sarty reacting differently to each incident throughout the story.
An example of identity crisis is Sarty having fear of retribution by his father. This takes place at the trial, which his father, Abner, is accused of burning the Harris barn. Sarty is faced with the possibility that he may have to testify to his fatherâ€™s whereabouts during the fire, creating a dilemma. Should he abide by his fathers demands of sticking to his own blood or should he do what he feels is morally correct and tell the truth?
If Sarty does not tell the truth, then he will live with his poverty-stricken, white-trash family and witness the crimes committed by his father which will continue to build the hatred he already has towards him. If he does tell the truth, then he will be severely beaten by his father and disowned by the family, which will leave him homeless and more poverty-stricken than being with his family. The only benefit of Sarty telling the truth is his own sense of moral relief, knowing he did what was right.. However, Sarty is dismissed before he has the chance to act and escapes from having to betray his criminal father, leaving him with ambivalent feelings; disappointed he could not tell the truth, yet relieved.
Another example of Sarty having fear of retribution by his father occurs as they were walking out of the courthouse and some kids call his father a barn burner. Although Sarty agreed with them, he immediately sticks up for his father and gets into a fight with the boys. One would not have predicted that Sarty would have defended his fatherâ€™s reputation a few minutes prior to as he was contemplating telling the truth about his fatherâ€™s actions. On the contrary, he spills his own blood to protect his fatherâ€™s name. This incident may have taken place because Sarty knew that he was going to be punished by his father regardless, so maybe he was trying to lessen the beating by fighting for his blood in front of his father. Regardless, Abner knows Sarty would have told the court the truth, so he received a beating anyway.
The simple fact that Sarty is only ten years old, but has seen his father do things that a young boy normally would not see, presents another identity crisis. The age issue is important because he is at a very tender time of his life that should be pleasant, loving and learning what is right and wrong. Yet, when he sees his father commit these crimes, this leaves him questioning his own beliefs.
Even though Abner does not teach Sarty the difference between right and wrong, he still looks up to his father, regardless of how he is treated. Sarty witnesses his father committing these acts of wrong doing and knows it is not right but his father insists that he stick by him because of the blood relation factor. It takes a lot of courage for a 10 year old boy to go against his father especially since wrong is all that Abner has been teaching Sarty.
A third example of identity crisis occurs when his father deals with families from higher social classes. An example of this takes place when the Snopes family arrives at the de Spain plantation. Sarty is wishes that the family gets another chance to start over and is hoping that his father will not commit another act of barn burning, but is sadly disappointed once again. As he watches his father step in the horse droppings on purpose and then proceeds to smear it all over the carpet of the de Spain mansion, Sarty wonders why his father would act in such a manner and deface such a beautiful place. As this happens, Sarty knows that this incident is the beginning of yet another crime that will eventually be committed. As Major de Spain demands Abner to clean the rug he ruins it on purpose, inflicting a penalty of 20 bushels of corn. Again, as Sarty was ashamed of his fatherâ€™s actions, he is also outraged of this punishment and backs his father by saying they will pay no such fine. As the incident ends up going to the courthouse, Abner is once again a defeated man; the burning of the de Spain barn is imminent.
That evening, Sarty overhears his own mother pleading with Abner not to burn the barn, but refuses to listen. This is the final straw for Sarty. He cannot standby any longer and let his father commit these crimes. Sarty knows that his duty is to do the right thing and warn the Major about the burning. As Sarty sees his father leaving for the barn, he reacts quickly but is suddenly held back by his mother. Sarty eventually breaks free from the mother, but does not make it to the de Spain mansion in time as he witnesses his fatherâ€™s revenge. Disappointed that he missed the opportunity to finally save someoneâ€™s barn, Sarty spots Major de Spain racing down the street on his horse towards the barn. As Sarty runs towards the barn as well, he hears gun shots. For that single moment in time, Sarty turns his emotions of anger, guilt and hatred into love and grief, hoping that his father is not dead. Unfortunately his wish is not a reality. The compassion for his father is short lived, turning into a sense of freedom.
As Sarty experiences many incidents with his father, resulting in identity issues, Sarty never loses sight of what is right and wrong. However, Sartyâ€™s love for Abner never spares as he defends his father on multiple occasions. As Abnerâ€™s death is of a shock, Sarty is somewhat relieved that his father is gone as he can now stop contemplating his actions for fear of retribution by his father. This strange sense of freedom and reality leaves Sarty the ability to grow up like a normal 10 year old boy and to know that he will be able to raise children of his own and teach them the proper morals and beliefs that Sarty was never taught.