Barn Burning

Fire Symbol Analysis

Fire Symbol Icon

Abner Snopes asserts his independence, his defiance, and his own view of justice through fire – by setting fire to the barns owned by those who he feels have slighted him. But fire, in “Barn Burning,” is not solely related to Abner—it is a generally ambivalent element that can signal both creative power and comfort as well as destruction. The Snopes family, for instance, crouches around a small, “neat” fire while they are between homes on the road, using the fire to warm themselves, to cook, and to keep themselves comfortable by a potent source of light. Fire was, after all, necessary to the development of civilization at all. And yet this same element can also be used for destruction and retribution, as Abner lights up both Mr. Harris’s barn and Major de Spain’s, enlisting both Sarty’s brother and Sarty (at least at first) in these tasks by filling up cans of kerosene. While fires can be restrained through vigilance—Abner’s neat, “niggardly” (that is, stingy) fire is an example—they can also quickly careen out of control. Fire’s dual function thus represents the junction between authority, control, and desperation at which the Snopes family’s experiences are located.

Fire Quotes in Barn Burning

The Barn Burning quotes below all refer to the symbol of Fire. 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

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Barn Burning quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

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:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Get the entire Barn Burning LitChart as a printable PDF.
Barn burning.pdf.medium

Fire Symbol Timeline in Barn Burning

The timeline below shows where the symbol Fire appears in Barn Burning. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Barn Burning
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... (full context)
Resentment, Race, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Independence and Justice Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
And if Sarty was even older, the story suggests, he might have realized that fire spoke to something deep inside his father and was his only weapon. Now, though, Sarty... (full context)
Aspiration, Desperation, and Defiance Theme Icon
Loyalty, Family, Blood Theme Icon
...bushels, that somehow the whole thing will all balance out between the corn, rug, and fire, or between the terror and grief. (full context)