William Faulkner's rite of passage story as Sarty Snopes moves from his boyhood into manhood in the American South can be considered a work of the Southern Gothic. It is a style of literature that has a strong sense of place, and as itinerant sharecroppers, Abner Snopes and his family move throughout a changing South, with each move deepening Snopes's anger at both his lack of success and his socio-economic standing that places him near the bottom. This is particularly galling to him because of the racist feelings he harbors. The fact that Major DeSpain is affluent enrages Abner to the point where he burns his barn, just as he has burned the barns of other men who eclipse him.
Southern Gothic literature often carries themes of isolation and marginalization, and "Barn Burning" fits this description. Abner Snopes is a character that Faulkner developed over the course of several stories. He is grotesque, a type of character that is in some way damaged and delusional. Snopes believes that he is somehow entitled to better than he can muster for himself, perhaps because of his distorted thinking about being descended from Southern gentility or just the fact that he is a white man in the South.
Southern Gothic literature often explores violence and criminality, and Abner Snopes fits this description as well. He speaks roughly to his family. He deliberately destroys the property of others, as in the barns of his employers and the DeSpain's rug. His death is the result of an act of violence.
While the story's style is Southern Gothic, Faulkner uses a third-person narrator who is able to access the thoughts of Sarty, Abner's son. He employs the dialect of Southern sharecroppers, observable when Sarty thinks
"He aims for me to lie...And I will have to do hit."
The tone of the story captures the defiance and desperation of the Snopes family, both in solidarity with one another against a world that rejects and diminishes them and when Sarty begins to separate from his father's tyrannical and indefensible behavior.