Barn Burning: Characters

This article focuses on William Faulkner’s use of characters in the short story Barn Burning. Learning about them will help you understand this work to the full extent. Sartoris Snopes and his father Abner are the two main characters in Barn Burning, but there are also plenty of secondary ones worth analyzing. The article will present an overview of Barn Burning characters along with relevant quotes.

Barn Burning's character map.

Colonel Sartoris “Sarty” Snopes

Sarty is a ten-year-old boy, the youngest son of Abner Snopes. He is Barn Burning’s main character, often referred to as “the boy” by William Faulkner.

Sarty goes through an enormous transformation throughout the story. He is loyal to his family and his father. Sarty’s father forces him to burn barns and to lie on the stand for him. When the boy appears in the story for the first time, he is asked to testify against his father. The reader can assume that this isn’t the first time. However, these actions are in opposition to his internal desire for justice and honesty.

He is quite different from the rest of the Snopes family members. He has hopes for the future and the courage to resist his father. He ends up metaphorically escaping the reality in which he lives by running into the forest.

Sarty Snopes’ Quotes

He could not see the table where the Justice sat and before which his father and his father’s enemy (our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! mine and hisn both! He’s my father!) stood, but he could hear them, the two of them that is, because his father had said no word yet

Later, twenty years later, he was to tell himself, “If I had said they wanted only truth, justice, he would have hit me again.” But now he said nothing

They are safe from him. People whose lives are a part of this peace and dignity are beyond his touch, he no more to them than a buzzing wasp: capable of stinging for a little moment but that’s all; the spell of this peace and dignity rendering even the barns and stable and cribs which belong to it impervious to the puny flames he might contrive . . .

Abner Snopes

Abner Snopes is another central character in the Barn Burning. He is a poor man trying to make a living for his family by harvesting crops. He despises rich people and influential society. He tries to instill the same type of hatred into his kids as well. Out of his resentment, he burns barns of wealthy people he works for. That’s why he has to move from place to place with his family continually.

There is no character development in Abner. He is a cold and abusive man throughout the story. He does not respect, nor is he afraid of the law. He takes justice into his hands. Abner’s inability to express his feelings and thoughts openly manifests in violent actions towards his family, wealthy members of society, and their property. Some critics believe that Abner is the product of the time he lived, and they even justify his actions.

Abner Snopes’ Quotes

His father spoke for the first time, his voice cold and harsh, level, without emphasis: “I aim to. I don’t figure to stay in a country among people who . . .” he said something unprintable and vile, addressed to no one.

You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you. Do you think either of them, any man there this morning, would? Don’t you know all they wanted was a chance to get at me because they knew I had them beat? Eh?

His father had not spoken again. He did not speak again. He did not even look at her. He just stood stiff in the center of the rug, in his hat, the shaggy iron-gray brows twitching slightly above the pebble colored eyes as he appeared to examine the house with brief deliberation. Then with the same deliberation he turned; the boy watched him pivot on the good leg and saw the stiff foot drag round the arc of the turning, leaving a final long and fading smear. His father never looked at it, he never once looked down at the rug

Major de Spain

Major de Spain is Abner’s new employer. He is a wealthy and influential landowner that presents himself as a just and law-abiding citizen. However, he doesn’t respect the law and thinks he can challenge the authority, just like Abner.

De Spain owns one of the most extensive plantations in the entire county of Yoknapatawpha. His social status immediately turns him into Abner’s enemy.

Major de Spain’s Quotes

Pretty and white, ain’t it?” he said. “That’s sweat. Nigger sweat. Maybe it ain’t white enough yet to suit him. Maybe he wants to mix some white sweat with it.

Major de Spain claims it cost a hundred dollars. October corn will be worth about fifty cents. I figure that if Major de Spain can stand a ninety-five-dollar loss on something he paid cash for, you can stand a five-dollar loss you haven’t earned yet. I hold you in damages to Major de Spain to the amount of ten bushels of corn over and above your contract with him, to be paid to him out of your crop at gathering time. Court adjourned.

Behind him the white man was shouting, “My horse! Fetch my horse!” and he thought for an instant of cutting across the park and climbing the fence into the road, but he did not know the park nor how high the vine-massed fence might be and he dared not risk it.

Secondary Characters

  • Lennie Snopes
    Lennie is the mother of Sarty and Abner’s wife. She serves as a voice of reason in the story. Lennie suffers violence throughout her marriage, yet she doesn’t turn into a bitter person. Even though her husband silences her, she can instill moral values into Sarty.
  • Sarty’s twin sisters
    The daughters of Abner and Lennie are different from Sarty. They don’t share the same moral struggles, and they are very passive throughout the story.
  • Sarty’s brother
    The brother’s name is not mentioned in the story. However, the reader learns that he is older than Sarty. He stays quiet about his personal feelings and struggles, but it seems that he supports Abner’s actions and is very loyal to him.
  • Lizzie
    Lizzie is Lennie’s sister who lives with the family and stays silent throughout the story. Only by the end, she tells Abner that she will inform Major de Spain about the barn’s burning.
  • Mr. Harris
    Mr. Harris is a farmer and an ex-neighbor of the Snopes. He takes Abner to court for the barn burning at the beginning of the story. He wants Sarty to testify against his father but refuses to pursue it after some consideration.
  • The Justices (I & II)
    Both judges preside over the case and rule against Abner. However, they still show mercy to him: the first judge tells Abner to leave the county, and the second one lessens the punishment because of Abner’s financial situation.
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