Barn Burning is a story written by William Faulkner in 1939. The short story can be difficult to follow as Faulkner uses long and meandering sentences with complicated structures. Moreover, he burs crucial details that can give the reader an idea of the main message. That leaves most readers frustrated and may feel like giving up. This text, therefore, presents a plot overview of the story.
The Complete Synopsis of the Barn Burning
As the story opens, Colonel Sartoris Snopes aged 10 years is sitting in the makeshift courtroom used in the small time. There is a case in which his father faces the accusation of the burning barn that belonged to their neighbor. Young Sarty is also called to the stand as a witness. However, the plaintiff does not want to compel him to give testimony against his father. As such, the case is closed. His father, Abner Snopes, is directed to move out of that part of the country. As the family moves out of their home that night to their next new home, Snopes, who has made barn burning a systematic way of protecting himself from men who yield more power as compared to him, feels broken. He strikes Sarty and pointing an accusing finger at him that he was ready to betray his father given a chance at the courtroom. Snopes emphasizes to Sarty the importance of sticking to the family members regardless of how hard the situation might be.
The movement from one run-down tenant farmer shack to the next is a situation that Sarty has become accustomed to. In the course of his existence, they have been forced to move his family several times. When at first Sarty and his father approached the home of Major de Spain, the land on which they had come to labor, Sarty feels like that hat here is the family is one that his father cannot attempt to challenge. Their mansion is located in a place with peace and dignity. However, Snopes, who is proud and envious, immediately begins a confrontation with the landed de Spain family. This is even though he is a landless tenant. As Snopes and Sarty walk up the drive, Snopes does not want to alter his stiff strides. Therefore, he steps on some fresh horse droppings and refuses to clean his feet before walking across the pale French rug placed on Mrs. de Spain’s hall to the hall. The shaken Mrs. de Spain asks the Snopes to vacate her house. Later, Mrs. de Spain brings the rug for them to clean in their home. Though Snopes’s wife makes a plea that she should be allowed to clean the rug properly, Snopes decides that his lazy and incompetent daughters should work in cleaning this rug. The intention is that they should ruin it. Snopes damages it further by putting a scar on it using a piece of sharp stone.
Major de Spain, frustrated by this act, seeks compensation for the destroyed rug. He wants 20 bushels of corn on Snopes’s next harvest. De Spain is surprised that instead of Snopes accepting that fine, he claims fine is too extravagant. Luckily, the fine is lowered to ten bushels. Even with that fine, Snopes feels like his dignity has been lowered. Despite the protests from his wife, he gathers kerosene and oil and decides to burn de Spain’s barn at night.
At that point, Sarty has to make a life-changing decision. His father is already aware of the kind of decision he is likely to make. Snopes directs his wife to hold on to the boy so that he does not give any warning to de Spain. When Snopes leaves, Sarty does exactly what his father tried to warn him against; informed De Spain about barn burning. He struggles and frees himself from the grasp of her mother. As Sarty running back toward the barn, de Spain passes on his horse. When Sarty is on the road, he hears several gunshots. When he begins to run again, he is now escaping from the gunshots.
At midnight, Sarty is sat on top of a hill. His back is facing towards their home of four days. On the opposite side, he is facing towards the dark woods. Meanwhile, he tries to persuade his unsure self that his father possessed a high level of bravery. The proof is that that he had even served with nobility in the recent war that took place. He came to learn later that his father was only in the war to get the boots that were being offered. At that point, Sarty dozes off for a short while. Close to dawn, as the birds begin to make their call, he walks off towards the woods. As he walks, he never looks back.