Barn Burning

The patriarch of the Snopes family, Abner claims that he was once a “horsetrader,” though he was actually little more than a stealer of horses during the Civil War, as well as a mercenary (someone who fought for money rather than out of loyalty or patriotism). This is perhaps the reason he was shot during the wary by a member of the police, and now walks with a limp. Now, Abner attempts to support his family through sharecropping, though he never lasts long in one place before being forced or pushed away. Tall, stiff, and somber, Abner’s physical appearance is bolstered by his psychological resentment and bitterness with respect to his position in society. His rage against what he sees as the unfairness of this position leads him to ultimately self-defeating actions, like burning barns and soiling Major de Spain’s rug. Abner cannot see any way out of his predicament other than defiantly challenging the status quo, despite (or perhaps because) he knows nothing will change.

Abner Snopes Quotes in Barn Burning

The Barn Burning quotes below are all either spoken by Abner Snopes or refer to Abner Snopes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Barn Burning published in 1995.
Barn Burning Quotes

He could not see the table where the Justice sat and before which his father and his father’s enemy (our enemy he thought in that despair, ourn! mine and him both! He’s my father!) stood.

Page Number: 3
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It was not even sadistic; it was exactly that same quality which in later years would cause his descendants to over-run the engine before putting a motor car into motion, striking and reining back in the same movement.

Related Characters: Abner Snopes
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:
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And older still, he might have divined the true reason: that the element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being, as the element of steel or of powder spoke to other men, as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity, else breath were not worth the breathing, and hence to be regarded with respect and used with discretion.

Related Characters: Colonel Sartoris “Sarty” Snopes (speaker), Abner Snopes
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 7-8
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

He could see his father against the stars but without face or depth—a shape black, flat, and bloodless as though cut from tin in the iron folds of the frockcoat which had not been made for him, the voice harsh like tin and without heat like tin: “You were fixing to tell them. You would have told him.”

Related Characters: Abner Snopes (speaker), Colonel Sartoris “Sarty” Snopes
Related Symbols: Blood
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you.”

Related Characters: Abner Snopes (speaker), Colonel Sartoris “Sarty” Snopes
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
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It was as if the blow and the following calm, outrageous voice still rang, repercussed, divulging nothing to him save the terrible handicap of being young, the light weight of his few years, just heavy enough to prevent his soaring free of the world as it seemed to be ordered by not heavy enough to keep him footed solid in it, to resist it and try to change the course of its events.

Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
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Hit’s big as a court house he thought quietly, with a surge of a peace and joy whose reason he could not have thought into words, being too young for that: They are safe from him.

Related Characters: Colonel Sartoris “Sarty” Snopes (speaker), Abner Snopes
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
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And now the boy saw the prints of the stiff foot on the doorjamb and saw them appear on the pale rug behind the machinelike deliberation of the foot which seemed to bear (or transmit) twice the weight which the body compassed.

Related Symbols: The Rug
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

“Pretty and white, ain’t it?” he said. “That’s sweat. Nigger sweat. Maybe it ain’t white enough yet to suit him. Maybe he wants to mix some white sweat with it.”

Related Characters: Abner Snopes (speaker), Major de Spain
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
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He saw the man in spectacles sitting at the plank table and he did not need to be told this was a Justice of the Peace; he sent one glare of fierce, exultant partisan defiance at the man in collar and cravat now, whom he had seen but twice before in his life, who wore on his face an expression not of rage but of amazed unbelief which the boy could not have known was at the incredible circumstance of being sued by one of his own tenants.

Page Number: 17-18
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“Ain’t you going to even send a nigger?” he cried. At least you sent a nigger before!”

Related Characters: Colonel Sartoris “Sarty” Snopes (speaker), Abner Snopes
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:
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But there was no glare behind him now and he sat now, his back toward what he had called home for four days anyhow, his face toward the dark woods which he would enter when breath was strong again, small, shaking steadily in the chill darkness, hugging himself into the remainder of his thin, rotten shirt, the grief and despair now no longer terror and fear but just grief and despair. Father. My father, he thought.

Related Characters: Colonel Sartoris “Sarty” Snopes (speaker), Abner Snopes
Related Symbols: Fire
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
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Abner Snopes Character Timeline in Barn Burning

The timeline below shows where the character Abner Snopes appears in Barn Burning. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Barn Burning
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
...also being used for a court of the Justice of the Peace, where a boy—Sarty Snopes, though we’re not yet told his name—is crouched at the back, smelling the cheese and... (full context)
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
Sarty can’t see his father (Abner Snopes) nor his father’s “enemy” at the front; then he tells himself that it’s... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
...asks the other man (the enemy), Mr. Harris, for his proof. Mr. Harris says that Abner’s opponent’s hog got into his corn several times: first he warned him, then gave him... (full context)
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
...this doesn’t count as proof. Harris says the boy should come up and vouch for Abner—not the protagonist’s brother, who’s older, but the boy, who looks so muich like his father. (full context)
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
...looks at the serious faces and at the shabby, older Justice beckoning him up. His father doesn’t look at him, but he realizes his father wants him to lie, and he... (full context)
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
The Justice asks for his name, and he whispers “Colonel Sartoris Snopes.” The Justice says a boy with that name must tell the truth, while the boy... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
...to have halted, but now begins to flow again. The Justice says he can’t find Snopes guilty but advises him to leave the area for good. Snopes agrees, saying he doesn’t... (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
Sarty follows his father in his stiff black coat out of the room. His father walks stiffly, since a... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
...pounces on the boy and begins to beat him until the boy runs away. Sarty’s father grabs him, ordering him to get in the wagon. (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
...mother’s dowry. She begins to cry once she sees that Sarty is hurt, but the father orders her to get back in the wagon. (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
Abner gets in the wagon and strikes the mules savagely: it is the same movement with... (full context)
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
Sarty wonders to himself whether his father is satisfied, now—maybe it’s over. His mother asks Sarty if his shoulder hurts, and he... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
His father, Sarty knows, always can stop himself—he has a “wolflike” independence and courage that impresses strangers,... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
The family camps that night and makes a small, neat fire, something the father excels at. If Sarty was older, he might have wondered why the fire was so... (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
...the story suggests, he might have realized that fire spoke to something deep inside his father and was his only weapon. Now, though, Sarty just thinks of it as normal. He... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
When they are alone, Abner says that his son was going to tell them during the trial—would have told on... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
...the wagon, while one sister says the house probably isn’t fit for hogs. But her father tells her to help unloading, and the two sisters, bovine and passive, wearing ribbons, begin... (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Abner tells Sarty to accompany him to see their new employer, who the father says will... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
The two come to a huge house: when Sarty sees it he forgets his father, his terror and despair. He’s never seen anything like this house, and, with a feeling... (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Abner’s stiff foot comes down into a pile of fresh horse droppings, which he could have... (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
...tells the “white man” to wipe his feet, and that the Major isn’t home. The father orders the servant, calling him “nigger,” to get out of his way, and flings open... (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Shakily, Miss Lula asks Abner to go away. He doesn’t speak again or look at her: he pauses, then just... (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Abner stops to clean his boot, and looking back at the house, tells his son disparagingly... (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
...the rolled-up rug. They deposit the rug at the corner of the house where his father and brother are sitting and gallop back. (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
The father begins to shout for his daughters, one of whom drags the rug into the house,... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
...them all afternoon, lazily and reluctantly cleaning the rug with harsh homemade detergent while the father stands over them implacably. Then the mother comes over and looks at them in despair.... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
...eat the cold food left over from their afternoon meal and then go to bed. Abner, though, is not yet in bed, and the last thing Sarty remembers before going to... (full context)
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
When Sarty comes back with the mule his father is standing with the rolled rug over his shoulder, and he orders his son to... (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Early that morning, father and son are equipping the mules for plowing when the Major rides up. He tells... (full context)
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
Sarty calls to his father and cries that he did the best he could. Mr. de Spain won’t get his... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
...mother. With the older women he builds pens for the animals. One afternoon, when his father is absent, Sarty goes to the field where his father is plowing. He wonders if... (full context)
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
On Saturday, Sarty’s father orders him to gear up the wagon, and the father and two sons go to... (full context)
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
Sarty goes up to the Justice and cries that his father didn’t burn—but his father interrupts him and orders him back to the wagon. Rhe Justice... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
...remains in the back of the room, where he can hear the Justice ask if Abner thinks twenty bushels of corn is too high for the damage done. Abner says he... (full context)
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
The Justice says he’s going to find against Abner, but twenty bushels seems high for someone in his circumstances. October corn will be worth... (full context)
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
After the trial, while Sarty imagines they’ll return home, his father instead marches past the wagon to the blacksmith shop. Sarty whispers to his father that... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
...they fix some of the problems with the wagon, which has become run-down, and then Abner orders Sarty to hitch up the mules. Sarty listens to his father tell the blacksmith... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
The father gives his two sons some cheese and crackers to eat and they sit silently, eating... (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
...his mother cry her husband’s name and repeat, “No!” He turns around and watches his father empty the lamp reservoir back into the kerosene can as his wife tugs at him,... (full context)
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
Abner orders Sarty to get the can of oil from the stable. Sarty begins to ask... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
Sarty runs back and hands the can to his father, crying that at least his father sent a “nigger” before as a warning. Instead of... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
...which he’ll enter when he’s recovered his strength. Shaking and sobbing, he thinks of his father, then cries aloud that he was brave—he was in Colonel Sartoris’s cavalry. He doesn’t know... (full context)