While “blood” can be a metaphorical way of referring to genetic relationships—an important theme in “Barn Burning”—blood is also referred to symbolically on a more basic, visceral level throughout the story. Sarty’s mother attempts to wipe off his bloody face after he fights with other children who call his father a barn burner, thus attempting to express her own affection for him, even as he brushes her off. Abner Snopes, in turn, is referred to as “bloodless,” an adjective that only underlines his generally strict, stiff, and rigid attitude.
Much of the thematic significance of blood in the story has to do with its inevitability: the adjective “old” is often affixed to the word “blood,” as in “the old fierce pull of blood.” Surviving through various generations, blood represents (as in terms of “bloodline”) the way in which the past works inexorably on the present, even in ways that are not immediately evident. In addition, though, the fact that Sarty cannot escape from his family heritage, the physical presence or absence of blood is more related to how the family responds to such bonds—with affection, for instance, or not.
Blood Quotes in Barn Burning
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.”
Then he was moving, running, outside the house, toward the stable: this the old habit, the old blood which he had not been permitted to choose for himself, which had been bequeathed to him willy nilly and which had run for so long (and who knew where, battening on what of outrage and savagery and lust) before it came to him. I could keep on, he thought. I could run on and on and never look back, never need to see his face again. Only I can’t. I can’t.