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Barn Burning
Submitted by Trudy Schrandt (profile)

Title and Author: Barn Burning (full text) by William Faulkner
Genre: Short story
Themes: Justice
Class Type: Male, different age groups, most with chemical dependency or violence issues

Set in the post-Civil War South, Faulkner creates a family that is at once self-centered and cunning. This is a story of one man's conviction regarding the righteousness of his own actions and the life-altering decisions this creates for his youngest son's (Sarty) sense of decency as it conflicts with his sense of loyalty to the family. The father burns barns as revenge for what he feels is injustice to his own person. The boy is coming of age and must either accept the father's view of justice and society or choose a path that is defined differently by society.

The story is from the point of view of the young boy co-existing with a non-participating narrator; as the boy's emotional stress intensifies and he reaches the point where he must choose "justice and society" over "father and family". This is a complex story and needs to be carefully taught. The intrusions from the narrator are meant to show the reader that the boy can't quite comprehend his situation.

Approach: It is imperative that the reader understand both the father and the son.

I begin by asking them to discuss Abner Snoops and their opinions of the man. I stress his role as a tragic hero:
--his concept of integrity
--his defiance of authority

I ask:
--What values does he live by?
--In what ways can you admire him?
--What is his downfall?
--How does he break his own code?
--What exactly is his code?

After that I move on to Sarty:
--What is your opinion of Sarty?
--What is his dilemma?
--Does he understand his situation?
--Does he understand his father?
--Are his actions justified?
--What does his future hold?

There are some powerful descriptions in this story, and we spend time dissecting the description of the father, son (along with his italicized thoughts), the DeSpain mansion, and the final eulogy given by Sarty.

The remainder of the class is spent discussing this is a history of justice and what concepts of justice emerge from the story. We try to explore similar situations in today's society and when we encounter them and how we deal with them.

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