Study Guide

Barn Burning Choices

By William Faulkner


"Damnation! Send him out of here!" (11)

Harris makes the choice not to make Sarty testify. He realizes that if Sarty doesn't testify, he has nothing. That's why Harris is angry. His sympathy for the boy overrides his desire to see Abner brought to legal justice.

"Answer me," his father said.

"Yes," he whispered. (29, 30)

Sarty knows that he either agrees with his father about the motivations of Harris and the Justice or he gets hit again. He chooses to lie to his father here to spare himself pain and trouble. Being forced to agree with something he doesn't believe in is part of what makes the experience so frustrating for him.

[…] the boy […] saw the stiff foot come squarely down in a pile of fresh droppings where a horse had stood in the drive and which his father could have avoided by a simple change of stride. (41)

Even though this moment is revealed through Sarty's eyes, he doesn't seem to quite understand that his father chose to track horse poop into the de Spain house. He can't quite imagine his father deliberately doing the deed. Otherwise, he probably wouldn't feel sorry for his father when de Spain belittles him.

"So I'm going to charge you twenty bushels of corn against your crop." (62)

De Spain knows that the whole family will suffer to come up with twenty bushels of corn. If he thought that the rug was an accident, and not a deliberate act of provocation, he might have chosen to be less harsh.

He began to run […] without ceasing to run, looking backwards over his shoulder at the glare […] (107)

This is the moment when Sarty chooses the unknown world in place of the known one. Even though the narrator only uses the word "glare" to describe de Spain's flaming barn, we understand that Sarty is specifically turning his back on barn burning, and everything barn burning means to him.