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Barn Burning

William Faulkner

Important Quotations Explained

Dialect and Diction

How to Cite This SparkNote

1. Maybe he will feel it too. Maybe it will even change him now from what maybe he couldn’t help but be.

This quotation occurs as Snopes and Sartoris slowly approach the de Spain house and Sartoris, overwhelmed by the peace and joy he feels in the presence of the large home, wishes for the eradication of sorrow, envy, jealousy, and rage from his family life. Similar sentiments are echoed later, during the incident with the rug. Sartoris hopes that his father will learn a lesson from having to pay for the carpet’s replacement and will finally “stop forever and always from being what he used to be.” Both of these statements reveal that Sartoris has a core of morality that is separate from Snopes’s influence. Although Sartoris’s loyalties are divided through most of the story, Faulkner makes it clear where his wavering sympathies ultimately lie: Sartoris desires to conform to a generalized sense of justice that applies equally to all, not the moral relativism of his scoundrel father who expects the family to lie on one another’s behalf. Sartoris believes in the capacity for change, even in his father’s case. His journey in the story involves his gradual acceptance that some individuals are unwilling or unable to reform their criminal ways.

2. Maybe it will all add up and balance and vanish—corn, rug, fire; the terror and grief, the being pulled two ways like between two teams of horses—gone, done with for ever and ever.

This quotation occurs after Major de Spain has informed Snopes that he owes twenty additional bushels of corn for destroying the rug. It is notable for the way Faulkner’s narrative voice is able to vary throughout the story, approximating and mimicking the thoughts of Sartoris, his ten-year-old protagonist. The “for ever and ever” adds a childish lilt to the end of the phrase and underscores the impossibility of Sartoris’s hopes ever being realized. Sartoris wants all the shame and burdens his father has heaped onto the family to merely disappear, to be erased. However, Snopes’s transgressions are too vast to simply “vanish” as Sartoris hopes. Snopes’s anger and sense of inferiority are not expressed merely through fire; rather, as is evident in this brief list—“corn, rug, fire”—he does not discriminate when it comes to destroying the property of others.

The quotation also reinforces the idea of a lack of peace in Sartoris’s life; he is always aware of the reality in which he lives. The joy and peace of the de Spain property are fleeting, quickly giving way to the dark-coated, limping figure of the father arriving to unsettle the home. Faulkner fully captures young Sartoris’s indulgent fantasies as well as the truly painful struggle he undergoes. Divided between family loyalty and loyalty to the law, he feels as though he is being torn apart by teams of horses pulling in opposite directions. Sartoris yearns for all of this—his father’s transgressions, his own tumultuous emotions—to simply disappear. In a way, these things do disappear in the end, but only after Sartoris takes action by warning de Spain about the imminent fire. Sartoris himself eliminates them rather than waiting passively for them to vanish on their own.

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