Friday, July 13, 2012

Faulknerian Style in the Climactic Scene of 'Barn Burning'

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Chelsea Nichols

Faulknerian Style in the Climactic Scene of 'Barn Burning'

In the climactic scene of 'Barn Burning', William Faulkner displays many literary talents in order to describe the remarkable scene in which Sarty Snopes, the main character of the story, breaks away from the loyalty to his family to satisfy his own moral hunger . Faulkner’s unique style of writing is very recognizable in this scene, and he uses many successful techniques to make this part of the story flow quickly while relaying the always-present source of inner turmoil in Sarty. The Faulknerian style cannot be exactly defined, but how he presents this climactic scene shows the way Faulkner can manipulate the English language to create feeling and action.



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Faulkner creates a magnificent sense of movement as Sarty runs to Major Ds Spain’s house to betray his father, and as he runs away from what he’s done. Although he is being pulled between the loyalty to his father, and the loyalty to his own morals throughout the whole story, it is here you feel the physical pull of his struggle. Faulkner uses adjectives and verbs ending in ‘ing’ to create this effect.

"…the pale ribbon unspooling with terrific slowness under his running feet, reaching the gate at last and turning in, running, his heart and lungs drumming, on up the drive toward the lighted house, the lighted door."


The length of the sentences furthers the terrific sense of motion and urgency created by the use of such words. This distinguishing feature of Faulkner’s style gives more movement to the writing, because each sentence is allowed more time to gather momentum. The sentences surge by quickly, allowing you to run alongside Sarty.

In the few speaking parts in this scene, the sentences spoken by the various characters are simple and incomplete. They display nothing more than the barest verbal communication, which contrasts the flowery narration beautifully. The reference to the speaker is also as base as possible, mainly using the he-said, she-said format. The contrast between the expressive descriptions of the scene and the simple statements of the family creates a friction, which is plainly Faulknerian. This friction of words also seems to mirror the tension felt by Sarty, and create an even sharper sense of struggle.

“Better tie him to the bedpost,” the brother said. “Do like I told you,” the father said. Then the boy was moving, his bunched shirt and the hard, bony hand between his shoulder-blades, his toes just touching the floor, across the room and into the other one, past the sisters sitting with spread heavy thighs in the two chairs over the cold hearth, and to where his mother and aunt sat side by side on the bed, the aunt’s arms about his mother’s shoulders.


Faulkner creates this tension by allowing the reader to be pulled along with the story in the descriptions and narrations, but abruptly interrupts the movement with blunt, rough dialogue. He creates an unsettled atmosphere in the climatic scene by allowing these gruff interruptions to interfere with the action. The scene never satisfies the clash of morals Sarty faces, and the unsettled atmosphere created by the contrast in words echoes this unresolved conflict.

But there was no glare behind him now and he sat now, his back toward what he had called home for four days anyhow, his face toward the dark woods which he would enter when breath was strong again, small, shaking steadily in the chill darkness, hugging himself into the remainder of his thin, rotten shirt, the grief and despair now no longer terror and fear, just grief and despair. "Father. My Father," he thought. “He was brave!” he cried suddenly.


The story is also written in words obviously above the boy’s intelligence, and although follows Sarty, uses language and introspective which are beyond him, adding to the sense of conflict and unsettledness.

Another characteristic of Faulkner’s style is the repetition of words. It seems as if, by offering words more than once, he is giving the reader an option to visualize the scene in different ways. Each word repeated offers a different angle in which to view the scene. For example,

"…a long, swirling roar incredible and soundless, blotting the stars, and he springing up and into the road again, running again, knowing it was too late yet still running even after he heard the shot and, an instant later, two shots," pausing now without knowing he had ceased to run, crying “Pap! Pap!”, running again before he knew he had begun to run, stumbling, tripping over something and scrabbling up again without ceasing to run, looking backward over his shoulder at the glare as he got up, running on among the invisible trees, panting, sobbing, “Father! Father!”


The word ‘run’ and ‘running’ are so significant in this sentence, that Faulkner injected them into it seven times. In this case, he wants to show Sarty still at war with himself, between the pull of blood and the pull of grief, but still physically moving forward. The repetition pushes the motion of the long sentences ahead further, to instill in you a strong sense of movement.

Faulkner uses the long sentences and the repetition as devices not only for movement, but also to capture as many feelings and expressions of one moment in time as possible. His style is to describe everything he can about instantaneous periods of time. Instead of reciting events as they come, he chooses tiny moments and paints a vivid picture of each, then allows you to string the moments together yourself. For example, as his aunt and mother struggle to recapture him, his mother cries out to one of his sisters to grab him.


"But that was too late too, the sister (the sisters were twins, born at the same time, yet either of them now gave the impression of being encompassing as much living meat and volume and weight as any other two of the family) not yet having begun to rise from the chair, her head, face, alone merely turned, presenting to him in the flying instant an astonishing expanse of young female features untroubled by any surprise even, wearing only an expression of bovine interest."


Faulkner could have described the action of the girl trying to grab her brother, but failing react quickly enough, however he instead illustrates her cow-like presence, her slothfulness, and the passive expression on her face at that instant. As the scene progresses he uses fewer instantaneous descriptions the more action increases, but quickly resorts back to deep descriptions of the moment as Sarty starts lose the fear and terror, and gains grief and despair.

In the climactic scene of 'Barn Burning', Faulkner demonstrates his unique literary style well, identified primarily by the long, colorful sentences dotted with repetition and the frequent use of verbs ending in -ing to express motion. Faulkner entwines the simple, plain language of the Snopes family with flowing, hypnotic descriptions to create tension in the wording, a direct reflection of the conflict and tension that the story is all about. Although it is impossible to define the exact Faulknerian style, much less recognize all the techniques he uses in his writing, these points seem clearest in this particular scene of Barn Burning, and best demonstrate the Faulknerian style used here.



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