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Barn Burning | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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Barn Burning | Character Analysis



Colonel Sartoris Snopes, known as Sarty, longs for a peaceful, stable life. He bears no ill will toward those more prosperous than he and is willing to work hard and honestly. However, his values are tested by his violent, vengeful father. Sarty struggles to remain loyal to Abner, his father, whose actions go against his own nature. In the end Sarty summons the courage to stand up to his father for what is right.


A horse thief during the Civil War, Abner Snopes claims to be a soldier hero to his family. His poverty and lack of social status rankle him, and he resents having to serve wealthy landowners who, in his opinion, do not deserve what he perceives as good fortune. He defies authority at every turn, doing exactly what he wants to do, usually a demonstration of his nastiness—no matter the cost. Abner uses his strong will, physical strength, and domineering personality to terrorize his family and others. Although both Sarty and his mother try to intervene to prevent further violence, Abner is set in his destructive ways and has no wish to change.


Lennie is the Snopes family workhorse and the person who takes the brunt of Abner's nastiness. She and her sister Lizzie do most of the work around the home, from unloading the wagon to cooking food. Although she fears her husband, Lennie tries to stop his destructive behavior more than once. However, she has little hope for the future and obeys her husband when he orders her to hold Sarty on the night of the final barn burning. Although she wishes for a different life, she is not strong enough to stand up to Abner.

Major de Spain

Major de Spain represents everything Abner Snopes loathes yet envies. De Spain lives in a house built by slave labor and enjoys a luxurious life, enabled by servants and poor, dispossessed workers like Abner. Major de Spain is haughty and condescending, expecting others to cower at his commands. He is astonished when Abner has the audacity to sue him, not seeing how Abner's retaliation is spurred by his own arrogance.

Mr. Harris

Mr. Harris presents a more sympathetic portrait of a landowner, less wealthy and less arrogant than de Spain. Independent of the law, he tries to work out the problem of the marauding hog with Abner, even offering free materials so Abner can fix his hog pen. Harris's hand is forced when Abner burns down his barn, so he turns to the law for justice. Even then Harris shows mercy and humanity during the trial. Although he knows Sarty could offer proof of Abner's guilt, Harris does not force the frightened boy to testify. Instead, he accepts his loss and no restitution to protect the child.

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