One of the themes that Faulkner addressed in his short story ‘Barn Burning’ is the problem of competing devotions ‘conscience vs family’ that a person might face. Sartoris Snopes from Fulkner’s ‘Barn Burning’ is the victim of the physical and emotional aggression of his father, who is engaged in the class war against all those who are wealthier than he is. Thus, the relationship between Sartoris and his father are very complicated and are characterized by the high level of agression. The boy does not want to be engaged in the antisocial and destructive actions of his father, and thus becomes the scapegoat in his own family. He faces the need to decide what is more important for him – his attachment to his family or the moral values that he, regardless of his young age, adheres to. The story focuses on detailed description of the problem of differences in the values and moral beliefs of fathers and their sons, and the potential outcomes of this ‘gap’ in value orientations.
The situations when parents and other caregivers commit acts that harm the children they are supposed to be nurturing usually come into the public discourse only if their harm was obvious and tangible. At the same time, the incidence of children being traumatized by emotional abusers or by caregivers who neglect them, are often out of the public eye, partly due to the fact that the scars left from such types of abuse are often invisible. ‘Barn Burning’ short story manages to address this issue. Sarty feels connected to his community, however, his father moves the family further into poverty, and further away from society. As shown in the story, given that humans are innately social, isolation and social ostracism can have very negative consequences for individuals within the family. Sartoris’ family is detached from society-at-large due to the anti-social actions of the father who plays the role of the head of the family. The boy, however, feels connection to society and its values, and this is the reasons of the problematic relations between him and his father that result in physical and emotional child abuse.
The incidence of parents and other caregivers consciously, even willfully, using their children to achieve their private goals, unfortunately, is common and valid in different cultural settings. This is clearly demonstrated by the case of Sarty, whose father uses manipulation and stresses a focus on their family ties to force Sarty to lie in the courtroom – ‘You are getting to be a man, you got to learn to stick to your own blood, or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you’ (Faulkner 715). Both Sartoris’ worldview and morality and the fact that he can see through his father’s attempts to manipulate him demonstrate his maturity. However, his attempts to express his opinion are constrained by his father’s influence. Sartoris’ father continuously uses physical force whenever the boy tries to oppose to his violent and destructive acts against those who are wealthier than he is. Convention on the Rights of a Child, however, declares that the child shall have the right to freedom of expression (UNICEF), and in Faulkner’s story we witness the direct violation of it. The father expects Sartoris to share the same values, worldview and beliefs that he does.
The Faulkner’s story is short and, unfortunately, does not show the readers the life of Sartoris in a few years, but we can already observe the boy’s psychological trauma and a high level of anxiety caused by his father’s physical aggression and his intolerance to Sartoris’ own opinion. Although the story sounds horrifying, the scenarios like this happen on a regular basis and their consequences are just as shocking. A survey reveals that in scientific studies, physical abuse is linked with chronic arousal of stress responses and an increased level of arousal towards the environment, which makes the person more subject to stress (Jelic Tuscic, Flander, and Matescovic 28). Physical child abuse thus is incompatible with the normal physical and psychological development of a child, and certain difficulties in ‘child-father’ relationship can have very long-lasting negative consequences.
To conclude, Faulkner in his short story ‘Barn Burning’ tried to address the problem of the relationship between a child and his father that might take different paths. For many young children, father is the role model that a child looks up to. However, in a situation when child’s father demonstrates the behavior that does not fit child’s understanding of ‘good’ or ‘moral’, many difficulties might occur. More specifically, as shown in the story, in order to ensure his power upon his child, the father refers to physical and emotional abuse of Sartoris. Regardless of the effect that he was strongly affected by these actions of his father, in the very end the boy rejects his family, specifically, his father with his lifestyle and the absence of moral principles, and chooses society in ‘family-society’ dilemma, thus demonstrating his high level of maturity, regardless of his young age.
- Diaz, Junot. “No Face.” Drown. New York: Riverhead Trade (Paperbacks), 1997. 153-60. Print.
- Jelic Tuscic, Flander, and Dragana Matescovic. “The Consequences of Childhood Abuse.” Pedijatrija Danas: Pediatrics Today 9.1 (2013): 24-35. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
- UNICEF. “Convention on the Rights of the Child” UNICEF Home. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.