Sarty’s sisters are described in extremely odd ways by the narrator of “Barn Burning.” They are sometimes “hulking” (802), “big, bovine, in a flutter of cheap ribbons,” (803), “blinking slowly and steadily at nothing apparently” (807), and possessed of “incorrigible idle inertia” (805). Since most of the story revolves around Sarty and Abner, what role do his sisters play in the story? Why do you think they have been described in this way? What does their curious behavior imply about the Snopes family?
The narrator describes the stamp of Abner’s stiff foot as he enters de Spain’s house as a “clockwork finality, a sound out of all proportion to the displacement of the body it bore and which was not dwarfed either by the white door before it, as though it had attained to a sort of vicious and ravening minimum not to be dwarfed by anything” (804). Assume that the narrator provides this description of Abner’s limp through Sarty’s perspective, then describe the effect on Sarty of Abner’s war injury. What does Abner think it allows him to assume, to take, to demand for himself? How must his son reconcile his own judgments of his father’s actions with his belief in his father’s courage and sacrifice in the past?
As Sarty speeds away from the burning wreck of Major de Spain’s barn, he thinks to himself that despite his father’s crimes, “‘He was in the war! He was in Colonel Sartoris’s cav’ry!’ not knowing that his father had gone to that war a private in the fine old European sense, wearing no uniform, admitting the authority of and giving fidelity to no man or army or flag, going to war as Malbrouck himself did: for booty—it meant nothing to him if it were enemy booty or his own” (812). Paraphrase these lines and what they mean for the reader, even if Sarty doesn’t know the truth about his father. How do they make us read the ending differently than if we hadn’t known them?
Multiple times, the story takes the reader twenty years into the future and provides Sarty’s retrospective thoughts on these events. When the narrator describes Abner building a small fire, for example, the text allows “Older, the boy might have remarked this and wondered why not a big one…”; then, further on in the same paragraph, we find “And older still…” (802-3). When Abner strikes Sarty for almost telling the Justice that he had burned the first barn, then lectures his son about family and blood ties trumping the laws of the country, the narrator says “Later, twenty years later, he was to tell himself, ‘If I had said they wanted only truth, justice, he would have hit me again.’” What effect do these retrospective insights give us within the story, especially this early in the narrative? What do they allow us to know, and how do they serve to develop the Sarty’s character?