by William Faulkner
Barn Burning Theme of Society and Class
We see several different economic classes in "Barn Burning." The extremely poor class of tenant farmers to which Sarty, our ten-year-old protagonist, and his family belong presents a stark contrast to the privileged class of their wealthy landlord, Major de Spain. While Sarty's father seems to be engaged in a personal class war against all those wealthier than he is, he also seems to be pushing his family further into poverty. As his father moves further away from society, Sarty is drawn closer to it. Sarty doesn't yet know that cruelty exists among all classes and that burning a barn is not the worst thing a man can do. But, he does know he wants to be of benefit to his community, and that he wants out of the mess of poverty. Since he's only ten, we only see the first steps he takes in obtaining these goals.
Questions About Society and Class
- What is your impression of the society in which Sarty lives? What are some of the different economic classes visible in this society? What about social classes?
- Do Sarty and his family belong to an educated class of people? Do they belong to a criminal class? How would you characterize the family in terms of social class?
- Do you think Sarty still considers the de Spain mansion is a symbol of "peace and dignity" (41) by the end of the story?
Chew on This
Sarty both conforms to and rebels against the norms of his society.
Sarty's plans to enter the woods at the end of the story shows that he wants to escape both his family and his society.
When Sarty warns de Spain, he shows that he feels a responsibility to his community.