Won first O. Henry short story award as the year’s best short story. Adapted for television; broadcast on March 17, 1980, on PBS-TV as part of the American Short Story series. Directed by Peter Werner, screenplay by Horton Foote, and starring Tommy Lee Jones, Shawn Whittington, and James Faulkner (William Faulkner’s nephew). Like “A Rose for Emily,” “Barn Burning” is one of Faulkner’s most frequently anthologized, though its prose is a bit more ponderous than the garrulous first-person narration of “Emily.
Set roughly 30 years after the Civil War, the story focuses on two members of the Snopes family: Ab Snopes, a poor sharecropper who takes out his frustrations against the post-Civil War aristocracy by burning barns, and his adolescent son, “Sarty,” who dislikes his father’s destructive tendencies and ultimately must choose between family and morality.
This powerful coming-of-age story is notable for its conscientious prose styling, in which Faulkner mimics the inward turmoil and questions faced by his principal protagonist, as well as its carefully rendered settings of three historical milieus, each of which has important thematic concerns in the story: the sharecropper’s cabin, the planter’s mansion, and the town’s general store. Faulkner incorporated the basic narrative of the story into his novel The Hamlet, though it is told in vastly different language and tone.