Meaning of William Faulkner’s fire act in Barn Burning
What Does Fire Mean
The campfire scene in Faulkner’s Burning Barn story explains and shows many different characteristics of the Snopes family. The family is on their way to a new farm to work because Abner the farther was forced to leave the other one where they were because he burnt the barn down. Later in the story we find out that they are on their way to Major de Spain’s house. The family stops to rest for the night in an oak grove near a stream.
First Faulkner describes where the family decided to camp out for the night. “That night they camped in a grove of oaks and beeches where a spring ran.” Tree groves are considered nice places and sometimes show the wealth of families. The grove of oaks and beeches may indicate that the family was staying on a well, established landowner’s property, possibly Major de Spain’s land. There was also a stream nearby which might have been why the family decided to camp there for the night.
Next the family needed to make a fire to keep warm that night. “The nights were still cool and they had a fire against it, of a rail lifted from a nearby fence and cut into lengths a small fire” The family then builds a fire in the grove, but instead of picking up branches that had fallen from the trees they choose to damage someone’s else property by using a fence rail instead. This again shows how Snopes acted and did not care about damaging someone else’s property, like Abner does not care when he burns someone’s barn down. If Abner fills no shame burning someone’s barn down, he is defiantly not going to care about breaking and burning a piece of someone’s fence. The next line goes into more detail to describe and show Abner’s character. “Small fire, neat, niggard almost, a shrewd fire: such fires were his father’s habit” this shows Abner’s character, always having to have his way and not caring about anyone else around him. Even though it was a cold night Abner only builds a small fire, he refuses to build a large fire. This may be because when Abner was hiding during the war he always built small fires so no one would find him and since he is a character that is set in his ways and refuses to change he continues to build small fires. However, there is another theory on why Abner will only build small fires, Sarty realizes thing in the next couple of lines.
Next Sarty thinks about the real reason his farther builds such small fires, it was not to stay hidden but “that the element of fire spoke to some deep mainspring of his father’s being, as the elements of steel or of power 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.” This shows how Abner might see fire as his weapon to how a soldier sees his rifle as a weapon. Abner fills as if fire gives him power and control over people, it is his only weapon against the rich people like Major de Spain. Without fire, Abner would be without a weapon and powerless in his mind. So, he might have looked at fire as something that did not need to be wasted for something like warmth but saved for something bigger like burning down barns.
Next “Older, the boy might have remarked this and wondered why not a big one: why should not a man who had not only seen the waste and extravagance of war, but who had in his blood an inherent voracious prodigality with material not his own, have burned everything is sight?” This shows that once again Sarty is questioning his farther judgment, he wants to know why his farther will not build a bigger fire for his family especially since he is burning someone else’s property. He then goes on to describe how his farther use to steal horses from both sides during the war. “blue or gray, with his strings of horses (captured horses, he called them)” This again shows Abner’s character, always stealing and destroying what is not his. At the end of the story Sarty is forced to either stay with his own blood and become like his father or going off on his own and have nothing except for the opportunity to not be like his father.
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