Literary Essay Sample: The Theme of Loyalty in Barn Burning by William Faulkner

Published: 2017-08-20
Literary Essay Sample: The Theme of Loyalty in Barn Burning by William Faulkner
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Literature Loyalty William Faulkner
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 912 words
8 min read

Barn Burning by William Faulkner is a short story that explores a lot of themes in it. Some of the minor themes that this short story touches on include: authority, conflict, power, control, renewal and justice. A critical analysis of this story may however, indicate that all these themes may not touch on all the aspects of the story. To that effect, they can merely be described as the auxiliary themes; employed by the write to expound on the major theme (Michael et al 47). The major theme in this story is the theme of loyalty. This paper discusses the theme of loyalty in Barn Burning by William Faulkner across the aspects of the story such as the characters, style of writing, plot of the story, the applied tone as well as the context of the story.

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The theme of loyalty is an inclusive theme in Barn Burning. Primarily, loyalty entails devotion to somebody or something. At its optimum heights, loyalty can instigate a massive experience of dilemma between the two involved parties (Michael et al 17). In Barn Burning, it is this loyalty that is used to stir controversies and thus contribute immensely to the plot of the story. The story is built on a family, the Snopes family that constantly stir problems by burning burns that belong to other families that secretly run away from the grips of the authorities. Even though the burnings are timely and not easy to caption, it is highly evident that the success of this family in evading arrests primarily lies on the loyalty that each member of the family has for the family itself. This argument can be supported by Snopes words to Sartoris that he should be loyal to nothing else but his blood. Still in the plot, the Snopes family relies so much on loyalty for and from each other that they seem not only to be living outside the law, they also live outside the confines of the society.

Michael and his friends argue that William has explored the style of realism in depicting the intentions of this story (46). This argument can be supported from the point of view that the story is told from a narrator, who exemplarily explains an account that sounds to have occurred in reality. Application of realism in depicting the theme of loyalty is very relative and can be a standing point in anchoring minor themes. In reality, many people will find it difficult to either protect the law or protect the family, just as it happens to Sartoris in the plot of the story. Realism is also evident in the consequences of the actions of the characters. Loneliness sets in immediately after Sartoris betrayed his family leading to the death of his father.

Characterization is another aspect of this story that clearly depicts the theme of loyalty at length. The major conflict arises between protection of the family and protection of the law. To create a bigger contrast between these two conflicting interests, William employs characters who are characteristically related in some form or manner. There are ties within the family. There are also ties between the characters and the context (Michael et al 33). The ambiguity here is broken down through the consistent actions of the characters. Snopes gets involved in all the unlawful acts (burning burns belonging to other families) all in the name of loyalty to the name of his family.

The tone of this story is much tensed. The tensed tone can be seen right at the beginning of the story when Sartoris sees the only alluring promises of life as joy, dignity and peace. Unfortunately, Sartoris is constantly tensed by believingthat he will never reach to enjoy these allures of life if only his family continues with their evil ways. Petsinis asserts that, to this effect, Sartoris is depicted as a tensed character who hails in the notion of unawareness of what could happen next in his life. The tensed situation in which the protagonist is situated would oblige many people to take sides early in the story. Mysteriously, Sartoris keeps the tensed mood by being loyal to the name of their family up to the last juncture when he betrays the family. The wording and other aspects of the story such as the constant search for peace clearly depicts a tensed mood in the midst of loyalty to the family.

Finally, the settings of the story keep changing from one point to the other. According to Petsinis, the change in the setting is instigated by the rogue actions of Snopes (1). Apparently, every location context that Snopes family lands into is characterized with what he really wanted- the barns. Constant movements and the characteristics of the recipient contexts simply depict the loyalty and dedication that Snopes had to his actions in the short story.


Of all the themes that are evident in Barn Burning, the theme of loyalty proves a little more conspicuous. Not only is this theme literally portrayed throughout the story, there are as well a lot of symbolic motifs that support this theme (Petsinis 1). This comes even after the most critical aspects of the story such as characterization depict the theme of loyalty in numerous occasions as has been discussed.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. Barn Burning. Logan, Iowa: Perfection Learning, 1979. Print

Michael, Goyay et al. Critical Companion to William Faulkner: A literary Reference to his Life and Work. NY: Facts on File, 2008. Internet resource

Petsinis, Christina. Barn Burning by William Faulkner. Prezi.

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