by William Faulkner
Barn Burning Introduction
In A Nutshell
"Barn Burning" is a short story by American author William Faulkner. It was first published in Harpers in June of 1939. (Click here to see the issue.) Faulkner, winner of a Nobel Prize for literature, and two Pulitzer Prizes, is a literary giant, best known for his novels As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury, and for the short story "A Rose for Emily." Like "Emily," "Barn Burning" is frequently taught and anthologized. It won the O. Henry prize the year it was published, and has been adapted for the screen (see "Best of the Web" for the lowdown on that).
If you've read "A Rose for Emily," you know Faulkner can be grim and creepy, focusing on disturbed adults and their disturbing lives. OK, there are disturbed adults in this one too, but it's from the fresh perspective of a remarkable ten-year-old boy, Sarty Snopes, who's at odds with his father, Abner Snopes. If you like this story, you should read The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion, otherwise know as The Snopes Trilogy. Those books will tell you as much about the Snopes family as you could ever want to know.
For now though, just sit back and enjoy this action packed coming-of-age story, straight from Faulkner's super-stylized pen. If you've tried "Barn Burning" and have gotten lost in the tricky wordplay, check out our discussion of "Writing Style" for some helpful hints.
Why Should I Care?
Have you ever had to chose between betraying someone you care about and being true to yourself? What did you chose?
"Barn Burning" deals with this situation exactly. Ten-year-old Sarty Snopes's dad has a thing for burning down his landlords' barns, and he wants Sarty join him, or at least cover for him. Sarty knows barn burning is wrong, but doesn't want to betray his dad. What would you do? Would you warn his next victim? Testify against him in court? Bring him the oil to torch the next barn? Run away? Check out "Barn Burning" to see what Sarty decides. And experience some fast-paced action, burning barns, and gritty psychological profiles along the way.