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Barn Burning

Barn Burning


by William Faulkner

Analysis: Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Christopher Booker is a scholar who wrote that every story falls into one of seven basic plot structures: Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, the Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Shmoop explores which of these structures fits this story like Cinderella’s slipper.

Plot Type : Rebirth

Falling Stage

"[…] feeling no shock when his head struck the earth […] " (17)

A story with this plot usually opens with the hero in deep…cheese? Maybe this is only the case for the hero of "Barn Burning," the heroically named Colonel Sartoris Snopes, the ten-year-old boy affectionately known as Sarty. Sarty isn't having a good time. He's feeling extreme hunger, fear and a healthy dose of other conflicting emotions. No wonder he's walking around in a daze. Like the classic Booker hero in this stage of the Rebirth plot, he's numb from "torment [and] despair." When know for sure we are in Sarty's falling stage when he literally falls to the ground, or rather is smacked to the ground by a kid his own size. You remember, the one who calls him "Barn burner!" (16).

Recession Stage

Sarty's family moves, and Sarty his new landlord's mansion

Booker says that in the Recession stage "all may seem to go reasonably well" and that "the threat may even seem to have receded." Seem is the key word here. When Sarty sees the de Spain mansion he thinks its white fanciness will influence his father, Abner, to turn over a new leaf, and stop burning down people's barns and whatnot. Little does he know that big white mansions and the people inside them are part of what makes Abner want to burn barns in the first place. Even when Abner tracks horse poop all over the expensive, white, rug, Sarty doesn't quite get it.

Imprisonment Stage

Sarty begins to sympathize with his father

This part is tricky. Booker says that in the stage, the hero's problems return in full force, and the hero is "imprisoned in the state of living death." In "Barn Burning" things are a bit more complicated. Sarty begins to sympathize with his father. This is, of course, after Sarty watches Abner direct the sisters in the washing and drying of the rug, and after he watches de Spain insult Abner. In fact, as far as Sarty is concerned, the story is still in the recession stage. He's still optimistic that his father has given up burning barns. Sarty even thinks that can live with his life again.

On the other hand, the readers probably don't share Sarty's optimism. We understand that all the business with the rug is probably going to get somebody's barn burnt down. We might even suspect that Abner tracked poop on the rug in the first place to start off the chain of events that would lead him to burn down the barn. So, even though he tries to deny it, and even as he seems to be gaining self-assurance, Sarty is still locked in the cycle of barn burning his father lives by.

Nightmare Stage

Gunshots and fire

Booker says that in this stage, "the dark power" making the hero's life miserable "seems to have completely triumphed." If what Sarty wants is for his father to stop burning barns, then the moment he realizes his father is planning to burn another barn marks the beginning of his nightmare stage. This is where Sarty either has to take action or continue to be his father's unwilling accomplice. Since he'll have to go against his father to do it, this dilemma is a nightmare for Sarty on top of the fact that everything is dark, blurry, and confusing. When he hears the gunshots, sees the "glare" of the de Spain barn burning, and still keeps running, he's trying to run his way out of the horrible unreality of "terror and fear" (108).

Rebirth Stage

The birds and the forest…

Booker says that the final stage of the Rebirth plot involves a "miraculous redemption." There is something miraculous about the story of a ten year old boy setting off on his own, to make his own life. But the miracle is of his own making. Nobody helps Sarty or advises him to run. He just does it. The final stage of the rebirth plot often occurs in spring, which is often used in stories as a symbol of renewal. "Barn Burning" is set in the spring, but only in the final moments are we made aware of this fact. Finally, Sarty is away from all the complications. He can breathe and appreciate the beauty of the world around him. We don't see him go into the forest with the birds, but we know that the solitude of nature is what he now seeks.

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