"Barn Burning" (Text Key 235)

short story

"Barn Burning" is one of Faulkner's most frequently anthologized and widely taught short stories. A tale of class and familial strife, crime, and conflicting allegiances, it focuses on two of the most important families in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha: the ascendant poor white Snopeses and the aristocratic de Spains. Flem Snopes, a central figure in the Yoknapatawpha fiction, appears in this story as a young adult, but is not referred to by name. His younger brother Sarty, the focal character in "Barn Burning," does not appear elsewhere in Faulkner's fiction.

Harper's Magazine first published "Barn Burning" in 1939, and it won the O. Henry award for that year's best short story. The events of "Barn Burning" are mentioned in Faulkner's 1940 novel The Hamlet. The story marks a return to the Snopes material that Faulkner had written much earlier, in his unpublished "Father Abraham" manuscript. Our representation of "Barn Burning" is based on Joseph Blotner's Collected Stories of William Faulkner (Vintage International, 1995).

"Barn Burning" poses a number of editorial challenges. Faulkner gives us neither exact locations nor an exact date. The date we've assigned its events, 1895, is based on the passage referring to Ab having been shot by a Confederate soldier "thirty years ago" (5). For locations, we have used clues from other novels. We have located the de Spain plantation in the northwestern quarter of Yoknapatawpha County. This flat and fertile area is the site of other prominent plantations, such as Thomas Sutpen's. Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! map shows the de Spain hunting camp in the far northwestern corner of the county. We have located the first general store, where "Barn Burning" begins, just outside southeastern Yoknapatawpha. Ab stands accused of burning down Harris' barn. In The Hamlet, published the year after the story, we learn that Harris' barn was in Grierson County, which borders Yoknapatawpha to the south. Grierson is the name of the original Frenchman for whom Frenchman's Bend is named. His massive plantation spanned parts of both Yoknapatawpha and Grierson counties.

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Harper's Magazine
First Publisher Date: 
June 1939
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Vintage International
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New York
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How to cite this resource:
Hagood, Taylor, and Steven Knepper. "Faulkner's 'Barn Burning.'" Added to the project: 2012. Additional editing 2018: Erin Kay Penner, Christopher Rieger.  Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, http://faulkner.iath.virginia.edu