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Sarty's Reliability As Narrator In William Faulkner's "Barn Burning".

955 words - 4 pages

Sarty's Reliability as Narrator in "Barn Burning"The question of whether or not Sarty Snopes is a reliable narrator is sure to raise debate among various literary critics. Although the story is told from Sarty's perspective twenty years later, Faulkner also leads the reader to believe the events taking place are happening in real time. The essence of the story is actually more about how Abner's obsession with fire and disregard for authority and conformity affect the grown up Sarty rather than the trials he endures with his father when he is ten years old. Since Abner's actions have an enormous influence on the man Sarty becomes it is difficult to place complete trust in the accuracy of Sarty's account."Barn Burning" is essentially Sarty's reflection on the events of his childhood that molded him into the man he is in the present. By interjecting the mature Sarty's thoughts into the story while at the same time allowing the reader to see how the ten year old boy reacts, Faulkner reiterates his idea that the thirty year old man is driven by emotion when recounting his story. The reader should notice that emotions run high throughout the entire story. Sarty observes the men in the courtroom with a sort of blind loyalty to his father:He could not see the table where the Justice sat before which his father and his father's enemy (our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! Mine and his both! He's my father!) stood, but he could hear them, the two of them that is, because his father had said no word yet [. . .]. (Faulkner 177)In this passage, Faulkner illustrates Sarty's youthful desire to believe his father's actions are justified. Sarty's childlike instinct to protect his father demonstrates the emotional power Abner has over his young son. This type of power effects Sarty even in his adult years. He is naturally biased in his portrayal of Abner as a cold and domineering figure because he still holds him accountable for his indiscretions.As Ford points out in her essay "Narrative Legerdemain: Evoking Sarty's Future in 'Barn Burning', in a later work Faulkner uses the character of V.K. Ratliff to describe Abner in a more favorable light (5). This reverse portrayal of Abner Snopes is indicative of Faulkner's allusion to Sarty's unreliability as narrator. Sarty is still too influenced by the memory of his father's domineering and occasionally frightening presence to give any kind of credible account of Abner's character.Thirty year old Sarty is primarily concerned with justifying his response as a 10 year old boy. Faulkner paints the young Sarty as submissive and frightened by his father. As a grown man, Sarty focuses on his inability to take a stand against his father's coolness. This is evident by the narrator's inclusion of his own thoughts while simultaneously retelling past:'Don't you know all they wanted was a chance to get at me because...

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