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Symbol of Fire in Literature

The Struggle For One's Character in Faulkner and London

In "Barn Burning," Colonel Sartoris Snopes must struggle between the truth and honor represented by his legendary namesake and the hatred and law-breaking nature of his father. William Faulkner uses the ambiguity and ambivalence of the Civil War as the background for this story about a young boy who wants to remain true to his "blood," but who knows that his blood will lead him astray. The story, however, is also about Abner Snopes' struggle to defy a world he sees as in opposition to himself. Faulkner does not explain why Abner feels such hatred and resentment toward the world, but it is not hard to imagine that he may resent those with more material possessions than himself because his life has always been so hard. Nonetheless, the duty falls on little Colonel Sartoris to break the blood ties that will make him like his father and instead open up a whole new world.

The apparent connection between Faulkner's "Barn Burning" and Jack London's "To Build a Fire" is the symbolism attributed to fire. In "Barn Burning," Abner Snopes uses fire as a means of terrorizing those he chooses. Colonel Sartoris wonders at his father's fascination with fire. However, while he is not able to determine his father's exact relationship with fire, Faulkner reveals it to us:

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 (119).

For Abner Snopes, fire serves as a great leveller. It removes the distinction between himself and those whom he resents, while putting him in the position of power to determine who will have and who will have not. He respects, then, the power of fire and is c...

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Symbol of Fire in Literature. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 01:19, February 24, 2017, from