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Barn Burning

William Faulkner

Dialect and Diction

Setting

Important Quotations Explained

In “Barn Burning,” Faulkner mimics the dialect (regional speech patterns) of the simple agrarian family he is portraying, which adds realism and immediacy to the story. For example, during Snopes’s hearing at the beginning of the story, Sartoris looks at Mr. Harris and concludes that he is his family’s enemy for attempting to bring charges against Snopes, thinking, “ourn! mine and hisn both!” When Lennie asks her youngest son whether he was hurt after his scuffle with another boy, Sartoris replies, “Naw, . . . Hit don’t hurt. Lemme be.” Through the words the characters use, Faulkner reveals much about the education and background of this farm family, and he stays true to their actual way of speaking.

The agrarian life that was only beginning to disappear in the turn-of-the-century South also provides the story with a rich lexicon of specialized diction. As Major de Spain rides up to confront Snopes about the ruined rug, Snopes is stooped over the plow, buckling the hame, one of the two curved pieces, usually made of metal or wood, on a harness. Later, during the course of the tense exchange, Snopes asks Sartoris whether he has put “the cutter back in that straight stock,” referring respectively to the blade and frame of a plow. Later, before the second hearing in the rural store, Sartoris dreams of his father reforming while “running a middle buster,” a special kind of plow used to break up the tough clods of earth in the center of a field row. Faulkner knew well the trappings and lingo of southern plantation and farm life, and he also meticulously researched his stories. The specific language choices that Faulkner makes give his tale the ring of authenticity, bringing the hardscrabble, labor-intensive lifestyle of the Snopeses vividly and memorably to life.

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