The story "The Barn Burning" has a theme of good versus evil and innocence versus guilt. The story begins with the boy sitting before the Justice of the Peace. His father is being questioned and accused of having burned a man's barn in retaliation for the man having held the man's hog when it repeatedly had escaped his father's pen. The boy keeps telling himself that the other man is his enemy just like he is his father's enemy. When the child is called to speak his father refuses it. The father is not found guilty as there is no proof.
As the story progresses the reader learns that the family has moved often for one reason or another. The father is lifted up as a positive mental picture by his exploits in the Confederacy. He had been a soldier who was brave and had served his land. However, this is set against the reality of the truth about the father. He is miserly. He is not concerned about his family's comfort. He demonstrates this by having them use a small fire instead of one in a size that could keep them warm. The boy tries to rationalize his father's actions by saying to himself that he probably has a small fire because he had to during the war.
The family goes to the next place of employment. The boy and his father go to the property owner's home. His father has no respect and a strong sense of anger for the people he works for. He walks in and gets dirt all over the rug. When he is addressed about his inappropriateness at not wiping his feet, he goes outside and leaves even more dirt scraped off on the steps.
The servant brings the rug to the family of the boy for it to be cleaned. The sisters struggle to clean it. His father takes the rug and returns it. The rug has been burned. The owner vows to have the funds taken from the father's crops and changes him for the crime. Sitting before the Justice of the Peace he is convicted of his crime and told he ahs to pay for part of the damage to the rug. The cost is fair to the father but not to the rug's owner.
The father begins to collect oil in containers and looks at his son. He knows that the boy is aware of what he is about to do. He orders the boy held. The boy escapes and runs and tells that his father is going to burn the barn. His father is shot and killed in the process. The boy runs away.
While sitting alone in the dark the boy's love for his father and his need to justify his father emerge, he begins to think about his father as the confederate war hero instead of as the mean and abusive man that he really was. The boy can not bear to identify the truth about his father, even though he knows his father was evil and would hurt people.
Justice of the Peace: Represents law and righteousness
Boy: Innocence and the need to believe in the good of his father
Father: Evil cloaked.
Mother, Aunts, and Sisters: Victims of his father's control.