In William Faulkner’s story “Barn Burning,” a ten-year-old boy, Sarty develops his own qualities as he is trying to resolve the conflict between his loyalty to Abner, his father and accepted social norms of justice. Sarty is being raised in the south by a very poor white sharecropping family around the year of 1895. Sarty’s family has no ambition of improving the conditions of their own lives or others. They work on farms of rich landowners who pay them small portions of their crops as payment. In such circumstances Abner adheres to his own system of “justice” often manifesting his anger by burning the landowners’ barns. While doing so, he traumatizes and tyrannizes his young son, Sarty, and pushes him toward manhood prematurely by continually putting Sarty in a position to choose between his father’s idea of justice and his own. Although this is a terrible position to be in for Sarty, his character shows a tremendous amount of loyalty, integrity, and courage.
The conflict between Sarty and his father is so strong because Abner Snopes puts such an emphasis on being loyal to the family at whatever cost. If Abner did not utter on loyalty to Sarty so much he would have been able to make his own judgments based on his own morals. “He aims for me to lie, he thought, again with that frantic grief and despair and I will have to do hit” (195). Here is where we can see Sarty’s conflict. Sarty wants to respect and abide to his father, but on the other hand he doesn’t want to lie in the court in front of the justice system. Shortly in the story it is clear that Sarty has to sort of remind himself that father’s “enemies” are his own. Family is very important to Sarty as taught by Abner, “You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you” (196). The Justice of the Peace recognizes that Sarty is the only witness they have available and choose not to have him testify. Abner strikes Sarty shortly after because he believes that he would have told the truth, showing Sarty’s level on integrity.
In addition to the loyalty he possess, is the integrity and justice that Sarty believes. Sarty’s reluctance by delaying the inevitable of the trial of his father’s most recent barn burning shows that he does have a morally right conscience. “Maybe he’s done satisfied now, now that he has…stopping himself not to say it aloud even to himself.” (196). Sarty is thinking about what the people in the courtroom, specifically the Justice of the Peace really wanted, and that was the truth. Later on in the closing scenes of the story, Abner is preparing to torch Major de Spain’s barn. It is at this point in which Sarty decides to tell de Spain of his father’s intentions. With understanding what the consequences would be, he proceeds to tell de Spain, but with good intentions of never coming back. “I could keep on, he thought. I could run on and on and never look back, never need to see his face again. Only I can’t. I can’t” (201). Abner, his mother and older brother all seem to be against Sarty and leave his opinions and wishes brushed aside