Thesis Statement

Since symbols are often used in literary analysis, it is important to identify them in the text and relate their meanings to the themes of the whole story.


One of the most interesting and controversial stories written by William Faulkner is the “Barn Burning”. Essentially, the story is a fiction, but one may have some sense of reality in it. Depending on the content of the story, it might be easier for one to identify its category (Baym, Krupat & Levine, 2007). In most cases, authors of short stories outline their intentions in a manner that may add value to their story. They also may simplify the story in order to make it easily understandable for readers. Therefore, this essay is aimed at carrying out textual analysis to determine themes and symbols used in the novel “Barn Burning”written by William Faulkner. In addition, this literary analysis will focus on relating symbols to the whole story. The author of the novel strives to create distinctive themes in his story. Not only he narrates and controls personal emotional responses, but focuses on adversaries portrayed by Sarty and Abner (Baym, Krupat & Levine, 2007).

Analysis of the Symbol of Fire

In this novel a symbol of fire plays a very important role, especially in showing its relationship to themes of the story. In fact, every part of this novel is centered on the symbol of fire. It can be witnessed from the novel when Abner builds fire at night on the place where family camps before finally reaching the de Spain place. Author of the story vividly presents details about the fire that Abner builds at the camping site as one that is “neat, niggard almost, shrewd” (Faulkner, 2012, par.1).  Arguably, the word ‘niggard’ in this context can be interpreted to mean ‘stingy’. On the other hand, the word ‘shrewd’ has been used by the narrator of the story to mean that fire which Abner built was supposed to burn for long with only limited amount of firewood. Contrary to readers’ expectations is the statement made by the narrator which claimed that “if Sarty were older, he might have wondered why his father built small campfires” (Faulkner, 2012, par.2). This was followed by another controversial conclusion that Sarty could possible come to “if he were older” (Faulkner, 2012, par.2).

The following quoted statement from the novel shows the real importance of the elements of small fires: “The element of fire spoke to the mainspring of his father's being… as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity…, and hence to be regarded with respect and used with discretion” (Faulkner, 2012, par.2). It can be seen that the use of the symbol of fire has brought out its relationship to the theme of power as portrayed by Abner.

The above statement reveals that fire made it possible for Abner to feel in control of the situation. Moreover, it is clear that Abner would be completely powerless, if he could not control fire. This showed that fire is among the things Abner could control. In order to prove his mastery, it can be argued that Abner was capable of making big fires out of small ones, which ultimately burnt down barns. A central theme is built around the symbol of fire coupled with words ‘without heat’ which are used to illustrate the way Abner hits his mules and his son (Faulkner, 2012, par.2). This statement implies that Abner does not hit his mules and sons senselessly. He neither hits them as a result of emotions or anger. His hitting is a calculated move aimed at ensuring that both the person and animal follow his directives. However, this is quite ironical statement since Abner benefits at the expense of those who are around him. This is because he gains power through hitting and fire while people around him are made powerless. Therefore, it can be argued that the narrator has used both symbols of fire and hitting to give a sense of control and authority over person’s (Abner’s) life (Baym, Krupat & Levine, 2007).

In sum, the symbol of fire has been effectively used by the narrator to illustrate its theme of relationship between power and control. It is evident that Abner uses fire and hitting to show his authority over his subjects. As a result, this enables him to control those who are around him.

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