William Faulkner’s short story, “Barn Burning,’ discusses the problems of the sharecropper, in the late nineteenth century South. Primarily a story about the relationship between father and son, the story presents itself through the use of symbolism. The most vital symbol in the story is fire. The fire symbolizes the father’s anger and, his lack of respect for other peoples property. The story uses the symbolism of fire in two ways. The story begins and ends with the burning down of a barn.
When Abner becomes angry, rather than searching for a reasonable answer for his problems, he resorts to rashly destroying the property of whoever he thinks wronged him. Abner definitely has a lack of respect for other peoples property. This side of Abner that thinks he can destroy anything to make things better relates perfectly to fire. Fire destroys anything in it? s way, and has respect for nothing. It will not stop until it is forced to quit.
Just like fire, Abner does not respect boundaries. He stops at nothing and respects no ones property. Abner? s son, Sarty, was the person trying to stop this? fire? when he was not going to lie for his father. Sarty was sick of his family? s way of life and was ready for a change no matter what it would take, even going against his own blood. Abner’s behavior makes him unwanted in any community so he is constantly moving his family from place to place. The family has become so used to this nomadic life, that they have few memories of a stable place to call home.
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This causes them to know life under the stars as well as they do under a roof. The scene in which the family moves to the next town, after being kicked out of their last one, offers a tremendous understanding into the state of Abner’s anger. Due to the extreme cold Abner builds a small contained fire. Faulkner describes this fire as “a small fire, neat, niggard almost, a shrewd fire; such fires were his father’s [Abner’s] habit and custom always.’ (483) From this, one understands Abner’s deeper relation to fire, its potential and its power. He respects it, and as a result of this respect, he uses it as his greatest weapon. In this sense, his relation to fire demonstrates his relation to his own anger, and the immense power that his anger has over him.
Rather than venting his adverse feelings, Abner holds them in, as he contains the small campfire, until he can lash out with the full force of his hatred. In “Barn Burning’ fire represents anger and power. Through his sheer enjoyment of the negative sides of his anger and power, Abner rips his family apart. In a way, Faulkner writes as a moralist. He demonstrates through his character Abner why a reasonable approach to adversity and letdowns is necessary, to avoid allowing one’s problems to get so bad that they engulf the subject like an inferno.