Abner Snopes is an insecure man at war with society, especially
those he sees superior to him in some way. His vicious behavior
suggests he lacks any self-confidence, so he rejects and brutalizes
others before they can do it to him.
Abner enlisted in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, not
because he empathized with the South but for his own selfish
reasons. "It meant nothing and less than nothing to him if it were
enemy booty or his own." His failure to choose sides in a war
fought for passionate causes, leading to Americans fighting
against other Americans, speaks volumes about how callous and
hateful he truly is.
Abner hates anyone who has anything he doesn't, which is just
about everybody because he has nothing but his wife, daughters, and
son. He abuses his family, forcing them to remain loyal to him,
citing the sacred ties of family bonds as the reason. He believes
he's always right, and everyone else is always wrong. He creates a
hell on earth for his family where they must live from job-to-job,
never having a home, food, or security. The more another man has,
the greater Abner's jealousy and rage.
Abner is a cold man, "harsh like tin and without heat like tin."
The fires he sets are symbolic of maintaining his integrity,
forcing other men to regard him with respect. The fires are
emotional, representing his anger and hatred of the world. Abner
has no morals and no conscience. His son finally refuses to live
that way anymore.