Barn Burning Theme
Although, all of these connotations and many more exist, yet, the main context in which fire is used in “Barn Burning” is as a way to represent Abner’s lack of power through self-expression. The first time that we are introduced to fire in this story is when Abner is on trial for burning down Mr. Harris’ barn. Harris states that he continuously tried to help Abner make a fence for his pig, even by providing the materials. After these repeated attempts, however, Abner still burned the man’s barn down.
Although the author doesn’t clearly state this in this section of the story, as the judge dismissed the case for lack of witness, we can infer that Abner did in-fact burn the barn down from his later actions. The reader can begin to see the connotation of self-expression here by seeing that it was Abner’s reluctancy to take a simple order which caused him to burn the barn. Abner’s son Sarty nearly has a panic attack at the thought of having to lie to save his father as he approaches the stand. The men can clearly see Sarty’s un-comfort and let him go without testifying.
Even after seeing his son sweat bullets, Abner is still raging at the fact that his son couldn’t lie to protect him. In this instance we can see how Sarty disobeying Abner sends him in a rage as a result of feeling a loss of power. Later, we see the fire Abner has built to keep his family warm through Sarty’s eyes as he stares into it blindly as they rest at camp. The boy had so many questions to ask yet knew to keep them to himself; he “wondered why not a big [fire]” (394). The fire that Sarty had been accustomed to seeing his father make for the family was always that of a small, shrewd fire.
He tried to imagine what compelled his father, the man who burns down barns at the slightest sign of disrespect, to build such small fires. I feel like this is where we learn the most about Abner and his infatuation with this wild flame because the author boldly and outright tells us. “The element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being” Sarty exclaimed; “the weapon for the preservation of integrity” (394). We, the reader, can clearly see where Abner’s connection between fire and expression stems from in these two excerpts.
Fire is the one thing that this man can control in his life. Abner acknowledges his control over fire by building a “shrewd” one this night. As I read this portion of the story I couldn’t help but thinking that Abner is not only making a “shrewd” fire so that it will keep them warm longer, but how he is also teaching his boys, so that they will learn to think the way he does. Yet, we also see the obvious connotation that society has given fire; destruction. His family and others that come into contact with him become aware quickly of his uncontrollability and unstableness, just like fire.
Abner has used fire as a way to strike back against these men that are trying to own him and strip him of his ability to freely express it. Abner sees this as a huge sign of disrespect and burns down the most important thing to a farmer, the thing that supports his livelihood, his barn. The following morning we meet up with the family at their new home, a small slave-like house on the De Spain plantation, where Abner will be working. After the family settles in Abner drags Sarty along up the road to go meet with “the man that aims to being tomorrow owning [Abner] body and soul for the next eight months” (395).
In the following portion of the story Abner and his son ride up to this huge white house and barge in only to find that De Spain isn’t home. Abner saw this house as his biggest challenge yet; a very clear, bold expression of the classes system. In my opinion, Abner sees this house as a sign from the owner that he is better than everyone else and that they should recognize that. Whilst in the house, even though he is warned not to track mud, Abner purposefully smears his muddy boot on a clean white rug that lay in his path.
Such a man to have a clean, pure white rug as his welcome mat to a mansion such as this one was a slap in the face to Abner. The rug symbolizes the white collar worker and his control over men like Abner. Throughout the entire story we can see clear points in which Abner expresses his disrespect towards authority figures. As we do in the following scene when Abner will not speak to the judge or answer his questions while on trial for ruining the rug. The final scene is where we see how the connotation that Abner has developed with fire finally arise in Sarty, but not exactly the way in which Abner had hoped.
Sarty learns the act of self-expression from the fire by allowing himself to betray his family in order to finally release himself from the restraints his wicked father kept on him. Sarty is finally free to make his own decisions and no longer has to lie or hurt people with his family to get by in the world. Sarty uses the fire to relinquish himself to the point where he can now follow the law and live in peace with the rest of the world like he has always wanted to. The larger theme that comes to mind after reading this story, for me, is that the Faulkner felt trapped during the time when he was writing this.
That Faulkner felt as if he wasn’t being able to express himself like he wanted to and was trying to portray that through Abner. Faulkner, like the rest of the us, sometimes wished that he could act out and do something to project this to the public. The difference between characters like Abner and real life people, like Faulkner and the rest of us, is that Abner can be written to commit any act of revenge and it’s okay because it’s only a story. Faulkner, as a writer, has the ability to express himself through his characters and it is clearly evident that he utilizes that ability in this short-story. Nathan Huebner Note I really liked this writing this paper. Even when I was first reading the story I knew that this was the topic I was going to write about. It seemed so clear that fire was an important part of this story to me and I’d like to think that I explained that clearly to the reader in this analysis. I feel as if I used enough information from the story to get my point across and that I did a pretty good job of making those quotes flow in my analysis. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Shrewd: Meaning that it will burn as long as possible on as little wood as possible.