Abner is a terrifying figure. He controls his family with physical and psychological violence, and makes them accomplices in his favorite pastime: burning barns. "Barn Burning" focuses on the impact Abner's behavior has on his ten-year-old son, Sarty. But Abner is a formidable character in his own right. Although Sarty isn't able to find a way to live with his dad, he has moments of empathy and admiration for the man that help transform Abner from a one-dimensional bad guy into a complex and mysterious character.