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
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.
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.