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Sarah Reyner
23 April 2013
ENG 203
Decisions Determine Destiny
“I have read, understand, and am in compliance with the Academic Honesty policy. In
particular, I have not committed any kind of plagiarism. There are no un-attributed direct
or indirect quotations or paraphrases from printed materials, websites, other students'
papers, or any other sources in my essay."
Whether fate, fortune, or philosophy, the ways in which we define “destiny”
reflect how we live our life. When at a fork in the road, the term suddenly resurfaces as
we struggle to determine who we are and what we must become. In both “Othello” and
“Barn Burning,” destiny plays an antagonistic role within the minds of the tales’
characters. William Shakespeare’s playwright “Othello” is a tragic tale that analyzes the
consequences of defying social norms and the human motivations behind them. The
tragedy focuses on the interracial marriage between Desdemona, the daughter of a
senator, and Othello, a prominent venetian leader as well as a racial and cultural
outsider. The struggle between the couple’s preordained destiny and their destiny
chosen based on free will is exemplified through the mere social defiance of their
interracial relationship. William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning” depicts destiny
regarding familiar bonds and depicts the consequences of practicing free will. Destiny’s
influence on Colonel Sartoris Snopes, otherwise known as Sarty, is portrayed through
his battle between loyalty to his father and his personal moral judgment. Throughout the
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text Sarty is conflicted between his blood ties to his sadistic “barn burning” father and
his innate tendency to do what is right.
As each of these texts exemplifies, life is simply an abundance of choices. We
are born within a specific spectrum of possibility defined by the conditions that we
inherit. What sets us apart are the contrasting human motivations that influence us to
follow our predestined fate or to act against it. Each option is a choice, a matter of free
will, and each decision either broadens or narrows our range of opportunity. Both
“Othello” and “Barn Burning” portray the power of free will as well as the effects that our
decisions have on our life outcome.
Even before birth, our race, religion, social class, and wealth determine our role
in society and the opportunities that life will grant us. Society analyzes these innate
conditions and composes destinies that coincide with social norms. In “Barn Burning,”
Sarty is enslaved by his inherited conditions that he attributes to his father’s pyromaniac
vices. Sarty credits the source his innate destiny when acknowledging “the old habit,
the old blood which he had not been permitted to choose for himself, which had been
bequeathed him willy nilly” (Faulkner 351). The habit mentioned refers to his father’s
senseless arson crimes that numerously uproot his family to flee incarceration. Sarty’s
migratory lifestyle is revealed by Faulkner’s imagery of the Snopes arriving at their new
home following Mr. Snopes most recent arson incident. “In the early afternoon the
wagon stopped before a paintless two-room house identical almost with the dozen
others it had stopped before even in the boy’s ten years” (Faulkner 343).
The majority of the Snopes family’s innate fate originates from the towering
presence of Abner Snopes, Sarty’s father. Sarty is a blank canvas in the eyes of his
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father, untouched by the world, leaving him as an easy target to reign over. Mr. Snopes
uses indirect manipulation on Sarty following the trial by threatening “You got to stick to
your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you” (Faulkner 342). His
methods of instilling guilt and fear are the primary formula of Sarty’s inherited fate.
In comparison to Sarty’s inherited role as his father’s follower, the innate
destinies in “Othello” are defined by society, but likewise share the same influential
power over the characters. As the daughter of a senator, society defined Desdemona’s
role as one associated with posterity, wealth, and high social status. Her expected role
was to marry a bachelor with an identical destiny and live a life fulfilling a purpose
analogous to her father’s. Such expectations explains Desdemona’s father, Brabantio’s
disbelief upon the news of his daughter’s rebellious love affair. The uncharacteristic
nature of choosing a “Moore” leads Brabantio to revert true love to being a demon-like
bewitchment as Brabantio exclaims “O foul thief, where hast though stow’d my
daughter? Damn’d as thou art, thou hast enchanted her” (Shakespeare 511).
Brabantio’s accusations and discontent with his daughter’s decision to marry Othello
additionally portray the social curse that society has placed on being a “Moore.”
Although Othello’s talent in combat and leadership earned him a high social status
within Venice, the color of his skin and his cultural difference prove to be a continuous
source of oppression.
Such conditions are not permanently etched into our future. Destiny switches
course when there is a conscious decision to act against it. The rebellion of both
Desdemona and Sarty allude the idea that destiny and free will coincide with one
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another. Against the forces of social and familiar forces, their free will predominates
when they act against their innate purposes.
Every individual is essentially “free.” Regardless of the role that society has
allocated, free will plays an active role in composing every life story. Whether we
surrender to the influence of social norms or clamor against their current, we are
actively making a decision to do so. In “Othello,” Desdemona actively defies her destiny
when she chooses to marry Othello. As in the eyes of society, her father characterizes
this consummation as “against all rules of nature, and must be driven to found out
practices of cunning hell” (Shakespeare 516). Yet Desdemona’s free will suppresses
the temptation to follow social order when she announces to her father “I am hitherto
your daughter: but here’s my husband, and so much duty as my mother show’d to you,
preferring you before her father, so much I challenge that I may profess due to the Moor
my lord” (Shakespeare 519).
Faulkner’s illustration of Sarty’s defiance additionally exemplifies the power of
free will over destiny. This rebellious act displays such significance because it
insinuates that even the most impressionable individuals have the power to take control
of their own life. When Sarty realized that “[he] could run on and on and never look
back, never need to see his face again” (Faulkner 351) the acknowledgment of his free
will entered his mind and soon flooded his thoughts. This realized freedom resulted in
the decision to flee his inherited lifestyle. Ultimately, the power of free will suppressed
the pressures of innate destiny. By choosing to with his moral judgement over his Mr.
Snopes’s sadistic reign, Sarty knowingly betrays his father and fractures his loyalty to
his family. Our decisions dictate the direction our lives follow. As with Sarty, when we
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choose to act against our innate destiny there are additional circumstances that branch
off of our decision.
Destiny is a choice. Whether you succumb to inherited circumstances or select
an alternative contradictory route, all decisions have consequences. In Othello,
Desdemona sacrifices her social prominence in venetian society by choosing to marry a
Moore, a quality pronounced by society as socially unacceptable. Additionally she risks
the loss of relation with her father. When Desdemona pronounces “To you I am bound
for life and education; my life and education both do learn me how to respect you” the
love and respect for her father is revealed. However, she knowingly sacrifices these
relations when she next nobly states “You are the lord of all my duty; I am hitherto your
daughter: but here’s my husband” (Shakespeare 519).
Sarty also is faced with the aftermath of a life of solitude following his escape.
When he changed his destiny by abandoning his immoral life under his father, he lost
his only sense of security. Yet, at the end of the story, the desire to do what is right
overcame the security that home provided and therefore “[Sarty] did not look back”
(Faulkner 353).
We are born within a certain spectrum of possibility. Based on the conditions that
have been inherited by birth, we are ascribed a specific purpose and allotted the
opportunities and resources to carry out our preordained destinies.
Just as a river sweeps captive debris along its current, many individuals are imprisoned
by the current of society. Contrary to popular belief, destiny is not abiding. The
decisions we make either broadens or narrows the range of possibility we are born into.
The freedom of choice, otherwise known as free will, allows us to take charge of our
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own destiny regardless of the shackles that society has placed on it. One may take
charge of their life by actively choosing to act against their predicted future. However,
when doing so they must accept the consequences that correlate with it.
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Works Cited
Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning.” Global Crossroads A World Literature Reader. Ed. Luis A.
Iglesias, Mi!ael Ma"s, and Linda M. #iere. $out!lake, %e&as' Fountain!ead #ress,
())*. +,)-+,*. #rint.
$!akes.eare, William. /t!ello. Global Crossroads A World Literature Reader. Ed. Luis A.
Iglesias, Mi!ael Ma"s, and Linda M. #iere. $out!lake, %e&as' Fountain!ead #ress,
())*. 0)1-2(3. #rint.