Boiled down to its essence, "Barn Burning" is about choices, and the freedom and responsibility that comes with making them. This story also highlights how the choices people make affect others. In different ways, Sarty and his father both question authority and choose to act against the commonly accepted norms. Because Sarty's ideas of justice and honor are so different from his father's, and because his father uses him as a tool in his game, his father's choices often rob Sarty of the ability to choose for himself. His struggle to do what he thinks is right drives the plot to its conclusion.
Abner tries to deny the members of his family the power to make their own decisions.
Sarty empowers himself by refusing to allow others to make decisions for him.