“Barn Burning” and “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

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William Faulkner is one of the influential central figures of American literature of the last century. His works combine realism, historical drama, and social psychology. The writer was significantly influenced by the fact that he grew up in Mississippi when the defeat of the South in the Civil War was fresh in memory and bothered residents. Faulkner’s stories and novels are interconnected by the theme of the collapse of the old South, setting – invented Yoknapatawpha County, and its inhabitants, typical Southerners (“William Faulkner Biographic” para 2). His short stories named A Rose for Emily and Barn Burning are vivid examples of the author’s creativity, which have simultaneously similar and contrasting traits. Even though both short stories have characteristic features of Faulkner’s style as long sentences exciting attention, their characters are entirely different in temper and aspirations, which is reflected in the tone of the stories.

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The story A Rose for Emily begins with the death of the main character Emily Grierson, who is considered mysterious and strange. Further, the piece includes the memories of an unknown narrator, who gradually reveal the details of Emily’s life. Her father does not allow men to romance Emily, and she remains unmarried (Kennedy and Gioia 36). After her father’s death, Emily cannot accept his passing and allows the city residents to bury him only in a few days. A little later, she has a romantic interest – Homer Barron, who then leaves, then appears. At some moment, Emily buys poison from the pharmacy, and the residents think the woman will commit suicide. However, she continues to live in her house, where only an African-American servant comes in. After Emily’s death, residents come to her place, find old furniture in the dust and the dried-up corpse of Homer. According to some signs, it becomes clear that Emily slept next to him.

In Barn Burning, the Snopes family appears, and their head Abner “Ab,” is an angry man who cannot settle and find his place in the world. However, Abner is not the main character, and attention focuses on his teenage son, Sartoris “Sarty,” atypical Snopes. He feels an inner conflict between loyalty to the family, which his father instills him, and his ideas about decency and justice. In response to the employer’s insulting (in Ab’s opinion) behavior, the boy’s father decides to burn his barn, which he has already done before in other cities. Sarty does not support Abner’s behavior and warns the barn’s owner. As a result, he hears shots and thinks that his father was killed. The boy does not want to return to the family and runs away, and having mourned his father, and he feels better than before. As the reader learns, this story is a memory of adult Sarty.

As it becomes clear from the presented plots, the narratives are significantly different, although both have something gloomy. Moreover, a feature of both stories is the use of retrospectives. In A Rose for Emily, Faulkner’s writing style to use long sentences is fully manifested. The many details included in each sentence contribute to the immersion in the story’s atmosphere. For example, the author used this technique when people entered the room with Homer’s body:

A thin, acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere upon this room decked and furnished as for a bridal: upon the valance curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose-shaded lights, upon the dressing table, upon the delicate array of crystal and the man’s toilet things backed with tarnished silver, silver so tarnished that the monogram was obscured. (Faulkner, “A Rose for Emily” 8).

A long sentence does not allow one to take a breath and contributes to an additional shock.

The plot of Barn Burning, told in the third person, accompanies Sarty, and through the application of various styles, the author conveys his impressions and feelings. For example, the boy’s thoughts are often expressed in short phrases, which imply much meaning. At the story’s beginning, his father is interviewed by a judge, and Sarty thinks about him, “Enemy! The enemy!” (Faulkner, “Barn Burning” 2). This situation shows all the fidelity to the family that Abner expects. In the end, when Sarty runs away and hears shots, he thinks, “Father. My father” (Faulkner, “Barn Burning” 14). Thought unites at once the sadness of loss, farewell to family, and even relief. However, the text also has many long sentences for several lines characteristic of Faulkner’s style. For example, they describe Sarty’s escape and feelings after (Faulkner, “Barn Burning” 14). With their help, the author conveys the character’s entanglement, the peak of his emotions, and tension.

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Character differences, narrative points of view, and plot development directions set a contrasting tone for stories. As already mentioned, the narrator in A Rose for Emily is unknown, but they should be one of the town’s citizens. As a result, the first-person narrative conveys chatter and events that the narrator knows about, which gives the tone of dark gossip or confession. The fact that the story begins with a funeral and is filled with gloomy details, like a bad smell, Emily’s black eyes, poison, denial of her father’s death, and difficulty in letting go of the past make the tone grim and tragic. The characters in the story are more likely repulsive, reflecting the fall of the old South.

The tone of Barn Burning conveys the emotions of a teenage boy who is torn apart by an internal conflict. For this reason, the tone is anxious, tense, and keeps readers. For example, when the Snopes family stops for a night while moving to a new city, Abner beats his son Sarty, as the boy wants to tell the truth about the crimes. Sarty, for some time, cannot answer his father and does not even cry; he is in a daze (Faulkner, “Barn Burning” 4). However, in the end, after Sarty solemnly mournes his father and decides to leave only good memories of him, the boy wants to move on. Thus, the tone due to the main character’s experiences is very emotional and sensitive but leaves hope for the future.

The stories Barn Burning and A Rose for Emily, written by William Faulkner, represent contrasting plots and characters. Both stories are characterized by the author’s style, especially the use of long sentences that contribute to immersion in the narrative and intrigue maintenance. Moreover, Faulkner uses a retrospective to convey events in stories. However, the tone of Barn Burning and A Rose for Emily is very contrasting, although both narratives keep tense. The story about Emily is mostly confessional and gloomy, with a secret that opens at the end. Sarty’s story, thanks to the choice of the protagonist, is emotional and sensitive, giving hope.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. Gothic Digital Series, 1930. Web.

Faulkner, William. Barn Burning. Weber State University, 1938. Web.

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Kennedy, X. J. and Dana Gioia. Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Pearson, 2012.

“William Faulkner Biographical.” The Nobel Prize. Web.

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