"Barn Burning" by Faulkner: Element of Fire

Essay by MarchCollege, Undergraduate November 2002

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The element of fire is a very powerful and destructive force to those who encounter it. It is often interpreted as an evil symbol as fires tend to be violent and uncontrollable towards anything in its path. This strong, devastating element of fire can also be used as a central symbol to describe a psychological conflict within one's mind or the problem with interacting with others. In Faulkner's short story "Barn Burning" and Barreca's poem "Nighttime Fires," the fire is used as a symbol to represent the revenge, and anger towards the world felt by the fathers, who in turn, trigger a response in their children.

In the short story "Barn Burning" by Faulkner, Abner Snopes was the angry and controlling father of the protagonist. He was an aggressive, violent and bitter man who worked as a sharecropper and destructively burned barns. Abner had a strong longing for revenge against the socio-economic system and burned barns as a means of getting even with the upper class.

He constantly viewed himself as a violated victim in a society where the aristocratic class prevailed. Abner was unable to accept pressure from an authority and by burning what they owned, he felt he took power away from them. Abner "burns with a ravening and jealous rage." He burned to sustain his own virtue, feeling that he was treated unjustly in life. "...the element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of [his] being, as the element of steel or of powder spoke to other men, as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity..."

When Abner came into conflict with an employer, he reverted back to his old mercenary ways of non allegiance to benefit himself. In the old Civil War, "he [wore] no uniform, admitting the authority of...