William Faulkner is concerned with the south and its problems with black slavery. The issues in Barn Burning deal with the conflict between father and son. The theme of this story focuses on justice. The boy, Sarty, objects to his father burning barns and wants people to be treated fairly. His father, Abner, believes his son should respect and support kin. Abner thinks family is right no matter what. Faulkner’s intent is to show that choosing between one’s own family and justice is very difficult to do, and in the end justice must prevail. The theme is best illustrated by its point of view, its characterization, and setting.
Faulkner represents his point of view using both first and third person to translate his theme. The story is being told by Sartoris Snopes who is a boy at the time the story takes place. Throughout the story he shifts from first to third person narrative voices. At times in the story he would speak as only a child would, then something would be said by him which was too knowledgeable for a boy his age to know. This gives an impression that he is older and is remembering things of his past. Switching between first and third person shows that the choice he made greatly affected him.
The way the characters are portrayed remarkably depicts Faulkner’s theme. The two conflicting characters are described in similar ways to show their differences. Abner is described by how people see and think about him. From the beginning his character is clearly depicted by the way people shout at him in the small, southern courthouse for burning barns. The story shows us he enjoys to burn barns and he feels no remorse in doing so. Sartoris sees what his father is doing as wrong. Even though Abner is his father, he objects to what he does. Sartoris is seen as a decent boy from the beginning of the story. His father argues with him throughout the story since he would betray him for justice. Sartoris does it anyway because it is what he believes is right. These characterizations of the main characters represent of the theme of Barn Burning distinctively.
The setting in Barn Burning also greatly illustrates the theme. The story takes place during black slavery and reconstruction in the south around the 1890s in a town called Yoknapatawpha. This in itself gives the reader an idea of the conflict that will arise in the story. The setting focuses on one thing for the boy Sartoris – justice. From the beginning in the courthouse to his walk to Major DeSpain’s house he walks toward justice while his father is heads in the opposite direction. This presents the conflict between them.
In Barn Burning the major theme is the conflict between father and son who portray family and justice respectively. Throughout the story this theme is illustrated by its point of view, its characterization, and its setting. Faulkner uses this approach to illustrate his theme in a way the reader can interpret more clearly.