Colonel Sartoris Snopes (Sarty) In "Barn Burning": Being Torn Apart
William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” is one of the author’s many works revealing the history of the Snopes family, which depicts few episodes from its life and continues to describe the crooked path of its members. While most of the Snopeses migrate throughout the whole Yoknapatawpha Saga, the major conflict of this short story is focused around the character, which only appears in this work and has no farther development in Faulkner’s novels. Colonel Sartoris Snopes (Sarty), portrayed in his desperate and excruciating inner struggle, not only presents the plot to a reader in terms of his own perception, but also embodies the crucial idea of social confrontation in the society, which reflects the moral dilemma he faces. The ruthless fight of his loyalty to the father and his natural integrity resulted in the duality of his nature, which overall defined his maturing process and led to the life-changing decisions. The boy’s name itself presents this duality as it comprises the names of two constant enemies in Faulkner’s works, Sartoris and Snopes families. In order to examine Sarty’s controversial character, one should consider its both sides in terms of their origin, interaction and development; therefore it is essential to take into account features resembling the family traits, differing from or confronting them, and the way they influence each other until one side dominates the other.
Even though the author did not give so many clarifying specifications introducing this character into the text, he created quite a holistic image of Sarty, appealing mostly to his appearance and social background. His description might lack some sufficient details, so the reader cannot imagine his face, but those given constitute an image of a bare-footed and miserable boy in worn-out cloth “small and wiry like his father” (Faulkner 4). This small enumeration of features already tells a reader what life this boy is bound to live, and where exactly on the social ladder his family stands. Moreover, comparing him to the father, Faulkner emphasizes their likeness, thereby making their family ties even stronger. Nevertheless, Sarty himself tends to forget where he belongs and has to remind it as if he could separate from his family: “He could not see … his father’s enemy (our enemy he though in that despair … He’s my father!)” (Faulkner 3). This episode is rather significant in terms of understanding how much the boy wants to be faithful to his father and “stick to … [Sarty’s] own blood” (Faulkner 8), despite his true nature, which is, in fact, opposite to the set of Spose’s family traits.
The author consistently points out the distinction between Sarty and other members of his family, whether directly or indirectly. Faulkner intentionally indicates that even though the boy has inherited some positive features from his mother, he still differs from her in a positive way: “he worked steadily … with an industry that did not need to be driven nor even commanded twice; he had this from his mother, with the difference that some at least of what he did he liked to do” (16). A thoughtful reader will find this opposing of characters throughout the entire text. Whereas Sarty is quick and impulsive, rushing to defense his father even before he was accused of anything (Faulkner 18), his siblings are similar to dull animals. His brother is “chewing with that steady, curious, sidewise motion of cows” (Faulkner 22), his sister’s features are “untroubled by any surprise even, wearing only an expression of bovine interest” (Faulkner 23), and even their voices “emanated an incorrigible idle inertia” (Faulkner 12). Thus, being so different from his own family, Sarty is “being pulled two ways like between two teams of horses” (Faulkner 17).
This inner struggle must be almost unbearable for a young boy, who faces the necessity of making the ultimate choice. Being a child, thus being “able to see with clearer, more innocent eyes” (Gold 78) Sarty is quite naive and full of “hopeless hope” (Wenz 90). Despite experiencing the same dramatic scenario for many years, he still hopes for the best, although not believes it. Faulkner masterly emphasizes this phantom hope the boy is not daring to have by overusing the word “maybe” when presenting his thoughts: “Maybe he will feel it too. Maybe it will even change him now from what maybe he couldn’t help but be” (11). Another important indication of his desperate state of mind is a denial of reality: “He won’t git no ten bushels neither. He won’t git one. We’ll…” (Faulkner 19). Such a behavior is typical for a member of a dysfunctional family (Wenz 88), but Sarty eventually manages to find the way out of this by overcoming his loyalty to the father and doing what he believes is right. One can track the way his mindset was changing throughout the text. At the first court scene, the boy could not think of disobedience to his father: “He aims for me to lie … And I will have to do hit” (Faulkner 4). As he was witnessing another crime happening, he allowed himself to think about escape, although not allowing doing it yet: “I could run on and on and never look back, never need to see his face again. Only I can’t” (Faulkner 21). That is a critical situation what finally forces Sarty to make a decision, but it is not an accident that led to it. His entire nature demands the boy to do what is right, even if it means sacrificing his own father.
Colonel Sartoris Snopes is a character depicted in its development, which, being the result of his inner struggle, constitute the plot of “Barn Burning”. Therefore, a reader must consider his duality not only as a skeleton of the character, but of the entire short story. Faulkner portrays Sarty as a boy torn apart between his family ties, his affection and loyalty to the father, combined with terror and grief on the one side, and his integrity, honesty and faith in what is right on the other. This moral dilemma makes this character so significant as it enables various interpretation of the story. One might consider “Barn Burning” not only as a history of becoming an adult through making tough decisions, but as a history of confrontation of moral positions, social ranks and, generally, Good and Evil.