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Faulkner Barn Burning Summary

William Faulkner’s famed 1939 short story, Barn Burning, opens in a small store which is doubling as a Justice of the Peace court in a small American town. Young Colonel Sartoris Snopes or Sarty is asked to testify against his father Abner Snopes on the charge of barn burning. Sarty is torn between telling the truth and supporting his father. However, before he can answer the question the Judge decides to let Abner off the hook due to lack of evidence, but tells him to leave the county. Abner Snopes duly takes his meager possessions and his large family and leaves the county.

That night as the family camps, Abner takes young Sarty aside, hits him, accuses him of being disloyal and explains to him that nothing in life is more important than family loyalty, more important than even the truth. The next day the family arrives at the farm of Major de Spain, where Abner has found employment as a tenant farmer. Abner and Sarty go to meet their new landlord at his palatial mansion, where Abner shows disrespect by insulting the African-American servant and spoiling the precious rug with the horse droppings that was stuck on his shoe. Later that day, Major de Spain leaves the rug at the shack where the family is staying so that they can clean it.

Abner does such a bad job of cleaning it that the rug gets spoiled. Major de Spain seeks compensation from Abner of twenty bushels of corn, which Abner manages to get reduced to ten bushels at the Justice of the Peace court. But with his pride wounded, the violent Abner decides to burn down Major de Spain’s barn with the help of his elder son. He asks the mother to hold Sarty so that he does not try to warn Major de Spain.

However, Sarty manages to free himself, runs to the mansion and warns the Major. Then as he is running off into the woods he hears three shots being fired and assumes that his father is dead. The next morning he walks away from the place and away from his family. He had chosen truth and justice over family loyalty and for that he had no place with his family. But it also meant that he was at peace with himself and he could make his way alone in life with his values intact.

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