Barn Burning

by: William Faulkner

Motifs

Darkness

The pervasive darkness in “Barn Burning” gestures to the lack of clarity that prevails in Snopes’s thoughts and actions as well as the bleakness into which Snopes drags his family. Several significant episodes in the family’s life occur under cover of darkness. For example, when the family camps by the roadside on their way to their new sharecroppers’ cabin on the de Spain property, Snopes beats Sartoris and scolds him for planning to reveal his guilt at the courthouse. Sartoris can’t see his father in the darkness, which reveals the alienation that is at the heart of their relationship. In the final portion of the story, darkness changes from being suffocating to suggesting freedom and escape. Snopes’s plan to burn yet another barn is hatched in the darkness, and the night seems to promise nothing but more crime and despair. However, Sartoris rallies his own sense of morality during this night as well, finally standing up for what he believes in. Sartoris embarks on his new life just as the darkness ends and dawn approaches.

The Word Ravening

The word ravening, which means devouring greedily, destroying, or preying on, appears several times in the story, and every time it highlights Snopes’s malicious character. In its first sense, “devouring greedily,” the word resembles “ravenous,” which gestures to the poverty the family must endure. When the family does eat, the meal is makeshift and cold. For example, when Snopes and his sons are in town to pursue their case again de Spain, Snopes buys a small portion of cheese, which he divides into three even smaller pieces. Faulkner also uses the word to link Snopes and fire. Snopes’s “latent ravening ferocity” and his “ravening and jealous rage” are expressed in the fire, which hungrily destroys the beams and dry hay bales of his employers’ barns. Finally, Faulkner’s use of the word also suggests the overpowering destructive impulse that defines Snopes. He is a parasite, preying on others to his own advantage, gleefully seeking the destruction of others’ livelihood and property in his own hunger for revenge.