"You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain't going to have any blood to stick to you" (Barn Burning, p. 1802). In this quote from William Faulkner's Barn Burning, Abner Snopes is speaking to his son Sarty about loyalty and blood ties. "Blood" is a major theme in this short story, and Faulkner incorporates it frequently throughout the work. In the previous quote, Abner expresses to Sarty the importance of being loyal to one's family, or "blood". However, Abner does nothing to exemplify loyalty or love towards his "blood".
He is an absolute dictator over his family, constantly barking orders at them and treating them boorishly, with absolutely no respect. The family is so afraid of Abner and his violent and rash tendencies, that, in order to maintain peace and some semblance of order, they submissively obey his every command. For example, when Sarty gets a bloody nose defending Abner at the courthouse, Mrs. Snopes attempts to get down from the wagon and assist her son in washing off the blood (another example of Faulkner's incorporation of "blood". ). Abner harshly snaps at her to "get back in the wagon", an order to which she dutifully obeys (p. 1800). Also, when Abner damages Major De Spain's carpet, he orders his two daughters to clean it.
When his wife offers to help, Abner instructs her to go back into the house to prepare dinner. When Abner puts a field stone into the wash pot in order to further damage the rug, Faulkner tells us. ".. and this time his mother actually spoke" (p. 1805), indicating that standing up to Abner risks unpleasant consequences for his family members. In regard to "sticking to his blood", Abner gives no regard to his family's happiness or to their well being. Due to Abner's refusal to yield to authority and to his violent tendencies towards those who possess more than him, Abner forces his famil to travel endlessly from place to place and from job to job.
The family lives in a dilapidated old shack, and the majority of the time their diet consists of "cold food remaining from the mid-afternoon meal" and "coffee" (p. 1805). It is because of Abner that his family endures a pathetic existence, devoid of any joy. Sarty endures inner turmoil over the wrongfulness of his father's actions. Sarty realizes the power his father has over his family. It is the family, not Abner, who suffers each time he burns down a barn and they are forced to move.
In the courtroom scene, Sarty is placed in the position to betray his father. Abner wants Sarty to lie before the judge. Sarty considers his father's enemy to be his enemy as well, and thus is prepared to lie for him. This scene exemplifies Sarty's loyalty towards his father, even though he despises his actions and maltreatment of the family. In the Justice of the Peace's office, Sarty tells us that the voices come to him "through the smell of cheese and sealed meat, the fear and despair and the old grief of blood" (p. 1800). Sarty senses "fear because mostly of despair and grief, the old fierce pull of blood" (p. 1799).
Faulkner juxtaposes the word blood with the words fear, despair, and grief to illustrate what Sarty's "blood" has brought him. The "fierce pull of blood" (p. 1799) contrasts with Sarty's own beliefs in truth and justice. Sarty describes his inner turmoil as "being pulled two ways like between two teams of horses" (p. 1807). In order to avoid choosing between his conscience and his loyalty to his father, Sarty suppresses his dislike of his father by denying the facts.
For example, in the courtroom scene, Faulkner tells us, "the boy said nothing. "Enemy! Enemy! he thought; for a moment he could not even see, could not see that the Justice's face was kindly" (p. 1799). Also, when making reference to his father's violent action of burning the barn, Sarty cannot even say the despicable deed that his father committed. "Maybe he's done satisfied now, now that he has" (p. 1801). The move to Major de Spain's property fills Sarty with hope because he thinks that the de Spain's are "beyond (Abner's) touch" (p. 1803).
Major de Spain lives a life of "peace and dignity" (p. 1803); a life unlike any Sarty has ever known. In contrast to Abner, Major de Spain is extremely successful, no doubt due to years of hard work. The Major treats everyone with respect, and demands to be treated with respect in return. Major de Spain is also deeply concerned with his family's happiness. For example, when Abner destroys the rug, Mrs. de Spain is extremely upset. In order to help ease his wife's unhappiness, the Major confronts Abner and forces him to make retribution for the rug.
This action appears to be very difficult for the Major. When he first approaches Abner, he is "trembling" and "speaking in a shaking voice" (p. 1806). Upon leaving, Major de Spain demands respect from Abner towards his family, telling him to "wipe your feet off before you enter her house again" (p. 1806). Sarty's hope of a "normal" life on the de Spain's property is shattered when his father continues on his path of destruction.
When Abner attempts to burn the barn of Major de Spain, Sarty is forced to make a moral decision in which he must choose between being loyal to his "blood" or being true to his conscience. Abner is well aware of the decision in which his son will make. He considers tying Sarty up to the bedpost, in order to prevent him from warning the Major of his evil intentions. Sarty's mother steps in, however, and offers to hold Sarty so that he cannot escape. Sarty eventually breaks free from his mother's grip and successfully betrays his father. In making this commitment to do the morally correct thing, Sarty escapes his flawed bloodline.
He "turns his back" on his "blood" and does not look back (p. 1811). Sarty is now free to live a life of "peace and dignity" like that of the de Spain's.