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Barn Burning

William Faulkner

Character List

Plot Overview

Analysis of Major Characters

Colonel Sartoris Snopes (Sarty) -  A ten-year-old boy and the story’s protagonist. Small and wiry, with wild, gray eyes and uncombed brown hair, Sartoris wears patched and faded jeans that are too small for him. He has inherited his innocence and morality from his mother, but his father’s influence has made Sartoris old beyond his years. He is forced to confront an ethical quandary that pits his loyalty to his family against the higher concepts of justice and morality.
Abner Snopes -  Sartoris’s father and a serial arsonist. Cold and violent, Snopes has a harsh, emotionless voice, shaggy gray eyebrows, and pebble-colored eyes. Stiff-bodied, he walks with a limp he acquired from being shot by a Confederate’s provost thirty years earlier while stealing a horse during the Civil War. Known for his wolflike independence and anger, he is convinced of his right to unleash his destructive revenge on anyone whom he believes has wronged him.

Read an in-depth analysis of Abner Snopes.

Lennie Snopes -  Sartoris’s mother. Sad, emotional, and caring, Lennie futilely attempts to stem her husband’s destructive impulses. She is beaten down by the family’s endless cycle of flight and resettlement and the pall of criminality that has stained her clan. Nervous in the presence of her irascible, unpredictable husband, she is a slim source of comfort for Sartoris in the violence-tinged world of the Snopes family.

Read an in-depth analysis of Lennie Snopes.

Major de Spain -  A well-dressed and affluent landowner. De Spain brings the soiled rug to the Snopeses’ cabin and insists that they clean it and return it. Snopes’s unpredictable nature unsettles de Spain, and he uneasily answers Snopes’s charges in court.
Mr. Harris -  A landowner for whom the Snopeses were short-term tenants. The plaintiff in the first court case, Harris had attempted to resolve the conflict over the Snopeses’ hog. In the end, he is left with a burned barn and no legal recourse, as his case is dismissed for lack of evidence.
Colonel John Snopes -  Sartoris’s older brother. Although his name is not given in the story, Faulkner’s other works of fiction feature the same character and identify him. A silent, brooding version of his father, John is slightly thicker, with muddy eyes and a habit of chewing tobacco.
Net and an Unnamed Sister -  Sartoris’s twin sisters. In his brief description of the two women, Faulkner focuses on their physicality and corpulence. They are described as large, bovine, and lethargic, with flat loud voices. They are cheaply dressed in calico and ribbons.
Lizzie -  Lennie’s sister and Sartoris’s aunt. Lizzie supplies a voice of justice and morality when she boldly asserts, at the end of the story, that if Sartoris does not warn the de Spains that their barn is about to be burned, then she will.
Lula de Spain -  Major de Spain’s wife. Lula wears a smooth, gray gown with lace at the throat, with rolled-up sleeves and an apron tied around her. Assertive but intimidated by the imposing presence of Snopes, she resents having her home violated.
The Servant -  A man in livery who works in the de Spain mansion. When Snopes bursts in and damages the rug, he calls the servant a racist epithet, viewing his presence as a mere extension of the slavery that dominated the South until the Civil War.

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