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William Faulkner is the author of the most remarkable novels and short stories. His literature work continues to be enjoyed by many people all over the world.  “Barn Burning” and “A Rose for Emily” narrate about the social life of the southern people, and their struggles in the society. However, William Faulkner uses a dramatic context of the two stories to create a feeling of sympathy. Faulkner makes the audience feel a part of the southern town.  The way most characters are portrayed in the two stories, Faulkner elicits a sense of sympathy from the audience. These two narrations have both similarities and differences in their context, an aspect that make the two stories interesting and unique.

Theme of Social Life of the Southern People and Their Struggles in the Society in Two Stories

In most Faulkner’s stories, the author uses an imaginary county in Mississippi known as Yoknapatawpha. This county has been used as context for his “Barn Burning” story. It is also thought that Jefferson town in "A Rose for Emily" to be located in the same county.  The story of a young boy struggling between loyalty to his family and community makes the “Barn Burning” story to be dramatic and exciting. However, a sense of unpleasantness, awkwardness and sympathy is reached from the story of how Jefferson town discovers that its longtime resident; Emily has been sleeping with the dead body of her dead friend with whom they had a relationship before his death.

In the stories “A Rose for Emily” and “Barn Burning”, William Faulkner makes it clear how individuals with two entirely different lives, could essentially share common problems, and how both persons attempt to solve their problems in a similar pattern. When these individuals experience unfortunate incidents in their lives, their defensive mechanism is activated, and the only possible to way to protect themselves is through the creation of their own world. Through this, these individuals lose their linkage and connection to the societal values and ethics.  Abner Snopes, who is a defiant sharecropper and Emily Grierson, a single woman from an exceptionally prominent family, are both disconnected from their respective societies. Both Abner Snopes and Emily are entangled in a kind of communal limbo. Once in that limbo, Abner and Emily no longer feel the essence of sticking to the values and ethics of their respective society. Therefore, they feel free to infringe both traditional societal morals and ethics.

The two stories “Barn Burning” and “A Rose for Emily” are both representation of the transformation in the south during the old and new industrial periods. Abner and Emily’s father are portrayed as experiencing a difficult time while accepting and coping with the dynamic environment that leads to problems with their neighbors.  In both “Barn Burning” and “A Rose for Emily”, their ways of resisting change lead to murder and property destruction. Abner Snopes in “Barn Burning” and Emily in “A Rose for Emily” have a lot of dissimilarities. This is because Abner comes from a family with low economic background. In contrast, Emily Grierson is on the affluent side of the social class.  This is evident from the Faulkner’s description of the house in the “A Rose for Emily” story where he states, “It was a giant, squarish frame household that was once white, ornamented with ceilings and pinnacles and scrolled verandahs in the profoundly light some flair of early seventies, built on what had once been referred as the most prestigious street”. On the contrary, Abner Snopes is portrayed in “Barn Burning” story as having an exceedingly poor economic background.  Abner is a sharecropper with no house or land property. Another difference between Emily and Abner is in the family. Abner is a family man with wife and children. In contrast, Emily Grierson has none and for the most part in the story, she is portrayed as living alone.

Symbolism of the New Generation in “A Rose for Emily”

Emily Grierson, who is the main character in “A Rose for Emily”, represents and advocates for the old views in the story. Emily consistently fails to accept the fact that she is not living in the old age, one that is restrained by old traditions. Emily has Negro domestic servant, Sartoris and the old board of Aldermen who represent the old views upheld by Emily in the story. The traditional perspective has been associated with the old south, and all enthusiasts are portrayed as being the survivors of the civil war. These are the same people who continue to reject the changing civilizations of the new society in the narrations.

“A Rose for Emily” signifies the struggle experienced by the people of the South in an attempt to maintain the modernization pace with the North that is experiencing accelerated industrialization. The conflict that has been expressed in the story between the new and the old thoughts can also be viewed as a rivalry perspective between progressing present and the past traditions. Emily experiences difficulties in accepting the death of a person with whom she had a relationship. Her obsession elicits a sense of sympathy from the audience since she is trying to stop time. Emily’s problems are first evident after the death of her father. She is unable to accept death, which makes it difficult for her to move on with life. Furthermore, the death of Colonel Sartoris stirs a tension in the community because he had previously been exempted from paying taxes.

In both “A Rose for Emily” and “Barn Burning” the influence of the father has been addressed. In addition, main characters in both stories who are protagonists make their own decisions. In “A Rose for Emily” story, Emily lives with her father who prevents her from dating. Her father’s actions enhance Emily’s thirst for love and security. Therefore, after his death, Emily gains the freedom of love she has waited for long. Therefore, when Emily meets Homer Barron, she assumes that she has found her true love. Contrary to her expectation, Homer is a homosexual; thus he can marry her. Thus, Emily opts to murder Homer in order to keep him with her forever. In the story, Faulkner implies that Emily sleeps with a corpse. This means that Emily must have been deeply in love with Homer, to persevere a rotten smell and the appearance of a dead body. These actions arouse a lot of sympathy from the reader for Emily, who consoles herself by living with a corpse. On the other hand, Sarty father who enjoys burning down others people’s properties presents a problem of loyalty to the family and community to his son Sarty. However, the son ends up showing loyalty to the community at the expense of his family.

The death of Santoris makes Emily refuse to pay taxes even when the new Board of Aldermen comes into power. Emily’s pigheadedness contributes to aggravation of her problems. This is because it makes her be shut out of the real world. Hence, she turns to be a crazy woman in the street of the town. Since her life goes against her will, Emily makes attempts to blur the present and the past, by murdering Homer Barron. Emily creates her own world of fantasy within the walls of her house. She locks Homer’s corpse and herself in a room, a situation that makes her be entirely disconnected from the rest of the world. The room becomes timeless, and every object within the confinement of the wall remains untouched.

In “A Rose for Emily”, Homer Barron symbolizes the new generation. Homer Barron is a working man who is familiarized to working with machines. Homer has consistently refused to be overtaken by time and traditions. This is entirely against Emily’s will and wish. In addition, Homer is not a marrying man and is well known to drink with men in the Elks club. In order to keep him forever, Emily chooses to murder and keep Homer in her room.

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Theme of Class Struggle in “Barn Burning”

Alike to “A Rose for Emily”, in “Barn Burning” there are two main characters, Abner Snopes and his son Sarty. Both Abner and Sarty uphold differing views and opinions that stir conflict. Abner Snopes has a habit of burning everything to ashes when he becomes angry. His son Sarty realizes that his father has a serious psychological problem. This makes Sarty remain undecided on whether to remain loyal to his family or to do what is right and justified. At the beginning of the story, Sarty would have testified that his father never burned the barn because it was the son’s responsibility to stick with his father. Nevertheless, at the end of narration, Abner's son Sarty warns Major de Spain of his father’s intention to scorch his beautiful plantation, although he is aware that this will tear apart his family. Furthermore, Sarty is aware that he might never return home after betraying his father.

Abner Snopes’ hostility and animosity towards Major de Spain stems from jealousy. This is because Major de Spain is wealthier and an influential member of an aristocratic family from the South, while, Abner Snopes is just a lower class man with extremely little money and a lot of pride. The class struggle that is evident in “Barn Burning” and disagreement in “A Rose for Emily” makes the characters in both stories live a life full of conflicts and incongruity. This elicits a lot of sympathy from the reader, especially toward Emily who is entirely disconnected from the social world. It is the characters’ narrow perspective, and the reluctance to compromise, which makes it difficult or impossible to resolve the conflict. Faulkner has used these events to make these two short stories unforgettable and emotional.

Although both Abner Snopes and Emily Grierson have many differences, they also have some similarities as reflected in their respective stories. William Faulkner has systematically structured the plots of both stories differently. Nevertheless, both narrations explicitly point out the effects of father’s teachings and advice. Emily and Abner Snopes have been depicted as having extremely little respect for other people, they have also been revealed as having the potential to harm others. In addition, they both struggle with self-pride that makes them believe that they deserve more in life. They defend themselves and make decisions about their lives without any external consultation.

William Faulkner has structured the plot of both “A Rose for Emily” and “Barn Burning” in a systematic way. Nevertheless, both stories express symbolic significance of the people’s thoughts when faced with tragic issues in life.  This is because Faulkner uses the lives of two different persons, Abner Snopes and Emily Grierson to reveal how a lady from a rich family can share similar problems with a person from a poor background, and their attempts to solve their problems in a similar manner. However, the problem solving technique employed by both characters in the two short stories has proved to be ineffective because it adds more misery to their lives.

Works Cited

  1. Faulkner, William. Collected Stories of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1950. Print.
  2. Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily and Other Stories. New York: Editions for the Armed  Services, 1942. Print.
  3. Faulkner, William.A Rose for Emily. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill, 1970. Print.
  4. Faulkner, William. Barn Burning, and Other Stories. London: Chatto and Windus, 1971. Print.
  5. Faulkner, William. Barn Burning. Logan, Iowa: Perfection Form, 1979. Print.
  6. Polk, Noel, and William Faulkner.A Rose for Emily: William Faulkner. Fort Worth: Harcourt CollegePublishers, 2000. Print.
  7. Vidal, Gore, and William Faulkner. Barn Burning. Agincourt, Ont: Book Society of Canada, 1970. Print.
  8. Youngblood, Sarah. Teaching a Short Story: Faulkner's Barn Burning. Princeton, N.J: College EntranceExamination Board, 1965. Print.
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