The central theme in William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" is initiation and morality. Young Colonel Sartoris "Sarty" Snopes is confronted with the conflict between loyalty to his family and to honor and justice.
Emphasis on family loyalty becomes apparent immediately at the opening of the story, when Sarty is already feeling the "old fierce pull of blood" (400). In front of a Justice of the Peace in a makeshift courtroom, Sarty is already aware that everyone in the court room is not only his father's enemy, but his own as well: ."..our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! Mine and hisn both! He's my father!" (400) Sarty's father Abner is constantly reminding him of his responsibilities as part of a family and of the importance of family blood, apparent in his comment, "You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain't going to have any blood to stick to you." (402) Sarty knows that his father's habit of burning barns is wrong, but his loyalty to honor and justice almost get the best of him. Sarty nearly confesses the truth when he called to testify, but the Justice of the Peace dismisses him before he can speak.
Once outside the courtroom, Sarty is again loyal to his family, to his "blood ties." Another boy hisses "Barn burner!" as Sarty and his father are walking out of the courtroom, one thin, wiry body after another. Sarty immediately comes to his father's (and his own) defense and provokes a fight in which he literally sheds his own blood to protect the family name--a strong emphasis on blood loyalty. While Sarty does know that his father is a barn burner, he still defends his father's honor and hopes that "he's done satisfied now, now that he has..." (401-402) Sarty never finishes the thought, although it can be presumed that he means "now that he has burned down the barn."
After the courthouse incident, Snopes packs up his wagon and his kids and heads off to the next farm to be a sharecropper. He has a chat with Sarty about family loyalty, further complicating Sarty's initiation into manhood. Sarty notes that "if I had said they wanted only truth, justice, he would have hit me again." (402-403)
Once the family arrives at the new farm, the grand mansion owned by...