Summary of Barn Burning by Faulkner

The story begins at the courtroom during the case against Mr. Snopes in which he has been accused of burning Mr. Harris' barn. The justice asks Mr. Harris for evidence incriminating Snopes. Harris says that Snope's pig had been straying into his corn fields for a long time and one day, Snopes sent one of his men to fetch the pig, but Harris asks for a dollar in return for the pig. The man threatens that wood and hay can be burnt and later that evening, the barn catches fire. The justice argues that Mr. Harris has no real evidence against Snopes and calls upon Young Sartoris, Mr. Snope's son. Snopes has already instructed his son to lie and save him, and Sartoris does not disappoint. The justice is forced to drop the case and orders Snopes to leave the county for good.

In the next scene, the author portrays Snopes as an unloving father and husband to his family. He fails to defend Sartoris as he is beaten by another boy and instead orders him to get into the waiting wagon. He even forbids his wife from wiping the blood on Sartoris' face. Later, Snopes reprimands Sartoris for wanting to give him away, and demands that he remains loyal to his family. From this, it is clear that Snopes does not care about his son and only wants to use him to get away with his crime.

The following day, the Snopes family arrives at their new home and Snopes takes his son to Major de Spain's house, the landowner. He tracks horse droppings onto a rug in front of the house despite the servant's protest. The servant takes the rug to Snopes and asks him to clean it, which he does with a rugged stone and lye detergent. This ruins the rug completely, and Major de Spain is upset. He orders that Snopes to pay an additional twenty bushels of corn, when the crop is ready. In court, Sartoris tries to defend his father, but the judge orders that Snopes pay ten additional bushels of corn. Snopes is angry, and he attempts to burn his new landowner's barn, despite his son's pleas. As Snopes runs off to burn the barn, Sartoris informs the landowner. Major de Spain storms off on his horse and shoots Snopes before he burns the barn. Sartoris goes away on his own that night and never returns to his family.