The Power of Symbols in “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner

The Power of Symbols in “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner

In William Faulkner’s classic short story, “Barn Burning,” he explores the power of symbols and their significance in understanding the characters and themes of the story. The symbols used in the story are a reflection of the tumultuous relationship between the protagonist, Sarty, and his father, Abner Snopes. Faulkner skillfully uses symbols such as fire, blood, and the barn to convey the complex emotions and conflicts within the characters.

One of the most significant symbols in the story is fire. Throughout the day, the burning of barns serves as a central motif, representing both destructive power and the desire for freedom. Faulkner’s use of fire as a symbol emphasizes the burning desire within Sarty to break free from his father’s oppressive control and seek a better life. The heat and intensity of the fires not only symbolize the literal destruction but also the internal turmoil and conflict within the Snopes family.

Another symbol that Faulkner employs is blood. Blood represents the ties of family and the loyalty that Sarty feels towards his father. However, it also symbolizes a sense of abandonment and the blurred line between loyalty and betrayal. Sarty’s internal struggle between his love for his father and his desire to do what is right forms a central conflict within the story, and blood becomes a constant reminder of his conflicting emotions.

The barn itself is another powerful symbol in the story. It serves as a representation of security, stability, and the hard work that Sarty’s father loathes. The barn symbolizes the ties that hold Sarty’s family together, as well as the constraints that prevent them from moving forward and seeking a better life. The burning of the barns becomes an act of rebellion and a breaking free from the limitations imposed on the Snopes family.

Through his skillful use of symbols, Faulkner gives depth and meaning to the characters and themes in “Barn Burning.” The use of fire, blood, and the barn all work together to create a rich tapestry of symbolism that enhances the reader’s understanding of the complex relationships within the story. Faulkner’s masterful craft and his ability to inspire deep analysis and thought through his use of symbolism are what make “Barn Burning” a work that continues to resonate with readers to this day.

Spring, Blood, and Fire

Another symbol explored by Faulkner is blood. Blood represents the ties of family, loyalty, and the weight of one’s past. Sarty’s conflicted feelings about his father and his loyalty to his family are symbolized by the presence of blood. It is a reminder of his familial responsibilities and the deep connection he feels towards his father, despite his father’s destructive behavior.

Furthermore, the wagon and camping store symbolize a sense of freedom and escape for Sarty. When his family is forced to camp and abandon the wagon, it marks a moment of liberation for Sarty. The absence of the wagon and the store here represent a release from the constraints of his past life and a chance to forge his own path.

Faulkner’s use of symbols in “Barn Burning” not only enhances the depth and richness of the story but also inspires readers to explore the complex themes of the narrative. The timeliness and universal nature of these symbols allow for a deeper analysis of the story’s themes, making it a compelling work of literature.

Work Cited – An Analysis of Symbols in Barn Burning by William Faulkner

One of the most prominent symbols in the story is fire, which symbolizes both destruction and renewal. Faulkner uses fire to depict the intense emotions and conflicts within Sarty’s family, particularly his father’s abusive nature. The fires that Abner sets symbolize his anger and desire to rebel against society’s expectations.

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Another symbol that Faulkner employs is the barn, which represents both safety and confinement. The barns that Sarty’s father burning symbolize the destruction of his family’s stability and the abandonment of their previous way of life. This symbolizes the tension between loyalty to family and loyalty to societal norms.

The wagon in the story symbolizes mobility and escape. When the wagon is described as “moving faster and faster” during Sarty’s escape, it represents his newfound freedom and the possibility of a different life outside of his father’s influence. The wagon symbolizes the need for change and the desire to break free from one’s past.

Faulkner’s use of these symbols gives “Barn Burning” a deeper layer of meaning and enhances the reader’s understanding of the characters and their struggles. The timeliness and crafty use of symbolism within Faulkner’s work are examples of his mastery of the literary craft, even blurred within the context of a simple camping day or a trip to the store.


[1] Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning.” Kibin. Kibin Essays, 2016. Web. 21 Dec. 2021.
[2] Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning.” Analysis of Symbolism. Youre Erroneous, 2015. Web. 21 Dec. 2021.
[3] Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning: An Analysis of Symbols.” Fires and Symbols in Faulkner’s Work. Strong Essays, 2014. Web. 21 Dec. 2021.

Symbolism In Barn Burning – The Food in the Store

The store, where Sarty and his family go to buy provisions, symbolizes the life that Sarty dreams of abandoning. The store represents a stable and secure existence, one that is far removed from the constant moving and burning of barns that his father leads them to. By taking his family to the store, Sarty’s father gives them a taste of this more stable life, but ultimately, he chooses to return to his destructive ways.

Faulkner’s use of food as a symbol also inspires a sense of longing and hope for a better life. The food in the store represents not only sustenance for the body but also nourishment for the soul. It symbolizes a life free from the constant fear of fire and abandonment. Sarty is drawn to the store and its offerings, longing for the normalcy and stability that it represents.

Furthermore, the food in the store serves as a significant contrast to the fires that plague Sarty’s family. While the fires symbolize destruction and chaos, the food symbolizes sustenance and order. The store becomes a symbol of the life that Sarty desires, one free from the violence and uncertainty that his father brings.

In this way, the food in the store is a strong symbol in “Barn Burning,” representing Sarty’s yearning for a better life and his struggle to break free from his family’s destructive cycle. The store and its offerings become a symbol of hope and possibility, driving Sarty to question the choices he and his father have made.

How Significant are the Symbols in “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner?

One of the most prominent symbols in “Barn Burning” is fire, which symbolizes both destruction and renewal. Sarty’s father, Abner, has an uncontrollable impulse to burn barns as a means of expressing his anger and frustration. The fires serve as a testament to Abner’s defiance and rebellion against the social order he feels has trapped him. However, fire also symbolizes warmth and hope, as seen in Sarty’s attempt to save the barn from burning down.

The symbol of blood runs throughout the story, representing the bond between family members and the conflict within Sarty between loyalty to his father and the desire for a better life. Blood symbolizes familial ties and the weight of tradition, as Sarty feels compelled by his father’s actions despite his own moral qualms. The blood symbolizes both the bond and the burden that Sarty carries as he grapples with his own identity.

Symbolism in “Barn Burning”

Symbolism plays a crucial role in “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner, as it adds depth and richness to the story. The symbols of fire, barns, and blood all contribute to the thematic analysis and enhance the reader’s understanding of the characters’ motivations and struggles. Faulkner’s careful use of symbolism allows the reader to interpret the story on multiple levels, inspiring thought and reflection.

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The Timeliness of Faulkner’s Symbols

Even though “Barn Burning” was written over 80 years ago, the symbols used by Faulkner are still relevant today. The themes of family dynamics, loyalty, and the conflict between individual desires and societal expectations are universal and timeless. The symbols of fire, barns, and blood speak to the human condition, transcending time and space. Faulkner’s use of symbols continues to inspire readers to explore and analyze these timeless issues in society and in their own lives.

William Faulkner’s Crafty Use of Symbolism in Barn Burning – The Wagon on Moving Day

Throughout the story, Faulkner masterfully weaves a tale of struggle, loyalty, and internal conflict within Sarty’s family. The wagon on moving day serves as a strong symbol that encapsulates many of these themes.

The wagon symbolizes the mobile and transient nature of the family’s life. They are constantly on the move, never able to settle down in one place for too long. This reflects their nomadic existence and the lack of stability within their lives.

Furthermore, the wagon represents the family’s reliance on their own resources and self-sufficiency. They do not rely on others for support or assistance. Instead, they take their belongings with them and set up camp wherever they find shelter, whether it be a makeshift structure or an abandoned barn.

Moreover, the wagon serves as a contrast to the barns that Sarty’s father burns. While the barns symbolize destruction and chaos, the wagon represents freedom and escape. It is Sarty’s way of leaving behind the burning barns and embracing a new, independent life.

Within Faulkner’s work, the wagon on moving day is one of the most significant symbols that highlight the themes of loyalty, family, and the power of personal choices. It shows Sarty’s transformation from blindly following his father’s destructive path to finding his own path and making a break from the cycle of violence.

Through the use of symbolism, Faulkner inspires readers to reflect on the blurred lines between right and wrong and the complexities of family dynamics. The wagon on moving day is just one of many examples of Faulkner’s crafty use of symbolism in “Barn Burning,” which adds depth and nuance to the story’s themes of loyalty, abandonment, and the power of personal choices.


What is the significance of the wagon on moving day in “Barn Burning”?

In “Barn Burning,” the wagon on moving day represents the recurring cycle of poverty and oppression that the Snopes family experiences. It symbolizes their constant state of displacement and the limited opportunities they have to improve their circumstances.

How does William Faulkner use spring as a symbol in “Barn Burning”?

Spring is used as a symbol of hope, growth, and renewal in “Barn Burning.” It represents the possibility of a fresh start and a better future for the characters in the story. However, this hope is ultimately crushed by the oppressive nature of their environment and the actions of their abusive father.

How significant are the symbols in “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner?

The symbols in “Barn Burning” are incredibly significant as they enhance the overall themes and messages of the story. They provide deeper insight into the characters’ motivations, emotions, and the social dynamics at play. Without the use of symbolism, the story would lose much of its depth and impact.

What does the symbol of blood represent in “Barn Burning”?

The symbol of blood in “Barn Burning” represents the tangled web of family loyalty and duty. It represents the internal conflict experienced by the main character, Sarty, as he struggles between his loyalty towards his father and his yearning for a different way of life.

What is the role of fire as a symbol in “Barn Burning”?

In “Barn Burning,” fire symbolizes both destruction and transformation. It represents the power and anger of the protagonist’s father, who uses fire as a means of revenge and control. However, fire also symbolizes the potential for rebirth and change, as seen through the character’s desire for a better future.

What is the significance of symbols in “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner?

Symbols play a crucial role in “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner. They enhance the deeper meaning of the story and help to convey Faulkner’s themes and ideas. Through the use of symbols, Faulkner creates a rich and layered narrative that explores themes such as loyalty, justice, and the nature of power.

How does William Faulkner use symbolism in “Barn Burning”?

William Faulkner demonstrates a crafty use of symbolism in “Barn Burning”. Through various symbols such as the wagon on moving day and spring, Faulkner conveys deeper meanings and adds complexity to the story. These symbols represent ideas such as freedom, change, and hope in the face of oppression and injustice.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.