The Image of Fire in Faulkner’s Short Stories, Barn Burning and Shingles for the Lord
Length: 500 words (1.4 double-spaced pages)
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The image of fire was very prominent in Faulkner’s short stories “Barn Burning” and “Shingles for the Lord.” Throughout the two stories, fire emerged as a destructive device. The production of fire directly or indirectly destroyed property and the image of the characters, Snopes and Pap. Fire symbolized the character’s deceitful ways and destruction of his identity in society.
The fathers present in the two stories possessed deceitful natures. In the story “Barn Burning,” Snopes’ ill manner erupted into arson. He appeared as the defiant worker. After destroying the landowner’s expensive rug, he refused to pay the ten bushels of corn and burned the landowner’s barn (18-21). His resort to fire symbolized his derogatory ways. Fire was his most destructive tool to facilitate his revenge. In comparison, in “Shingles for the Lord,” Pap indirectly produced fire. In his misleading plot, he tried to outsmart a fellow worker by removing shingles off the church roof at night. However, the lantern he used for light created a fire in the church (39). His accidental manufacture of fire was a result of his deception toward his fellow worker. Fire was an ultimate consequence of his behavior.
Each character used fire as a destructive weapon and ultimately destroyed himself. In “Barn Burning,” Snopes’ use of fire in the beginning of the story presented him as an outcast. At a trial for arson, the judge told Snopes, “I can’t find against you, Snopes, but I can give you advice. Leave this country and don’t come back to it” (5). Snopes’ use of arson destroyed his self-image in front of societal figures. He was banished due to his actions. In “Shingles for the Lord,” Pap’s destruction of the church by fire destroyed society’s perception of him. The use of fire labeled him as an arsonist, a reduced man, and an untrustworthy individual. The preacher, Whitfield, told Pap, “If there is any pursuit in which you can engage without carrying flood and fire and destruction and death behind you, do it. But not one hand shall you lay to this new house until you have proved to us that you are to be trusted again with the powers and capacities of a man” (41). Pap’s arson destroyed society’s respect for him and labeled him as an outsider among the people.
Faulkner’s use of fire signified the father figure’s deceitful ways and the ultimate deconstruction of each father’s presence in society.
The image of fire appeared as a violent product of the character’s behavior. Snopes produced fire to destroy and create revenge on his enemies. Pap burned the church down by accident through his own deception. Furthermore, each character’s use of fire labeled him as an outcast among his own people. Society banished each father for his wrongful ways. Ultimately, the presence of fire in the short stories created damage not only to material objects but also the very image of a man.