‘A Rose for Emily’ and ‘Barn Burning’ is both short stories created by William Faulkner. In both short stories, Faulkner used the Old Southern setting as his character’s orientation of culture and societal norms. Emily from the story of ‘A rose for Emily’ and Abner from the story of ‘Barn Burning’ both guilty of terrible crimes, terror and violence yet Faulkner, with his creativity and unconventional talent in creating literature, manage to generate sympathy for both characters.
The continuous used of the Old South as the main setting of his both short stories suggests that the characters’ predicaments have to do with the place’s history. Though Emily and Abner are both portrayed as cruel and violent, Faulkner employed sympathy through subtly demonstrating that they are just victims of society, history and culture. Emily and Abner’s revelation of their dark side human nature was been provoked by their past experiences in the hands of cruel society.
Emily’s character was created with authentic insights about a woman who can not accept change. Emily was a spinster who was seen as a lonely and impoverished woman who was so attached to the past, a woman that shuts herself off from the rest of the world simply because she cannot accept change.
The story begins with Emily’s death at the age of 74 and flashes back to the near distant past of Emily’s life. She was a character who was so attached in the tradition of the past that she continually personifies until her death. Faulkner used the pronoun ‘we’ which tells that the narrator is some of the townspeople sympathizing Emily. It is a well structured and detailed events of Emily’s life the will give a deeper understanding why there is pride and isolation in her character. Emily’s structured character brought her to an unlucky fate. The story tells how Emily copes and accepted the nature of time, change and chance.
Emily’s father who represents the ruling class of the South contributed most in the construction of her pride and arrogance. Emily was raised in an upper class home which made them prominent in the community. She perceived herself as rich and powerful which motivated her poise and bearing. Their position in the community had unconsciously taught her to hold herself high from the surrounding people even after her father’s death. As time passes by, perspective about class and status change.
People accepted the changes of time and ideas. But Emily who was a complex and well developed character chose not to adapt. This made her a grotesque or unique personality in the setting that encouraged the townspeople to analyze her life.
Faulkner’s sympathy towards Emily is perceived through the narrator’s tone and how he symbolically represents the rose in relation to Emily’s life. The rose in the story represents affection. It is affection given by the narrator to Emily. Other people may perceive Emily’s pride and violence as something immoral, but the narrator’s point of view towards Emily is different. He clearly sympathize with Emily and understands the reason how Emily constructed such character.
The narrator justified her through presenting series of events about her past. She was a victim of bitterness and complete attachment. The community itself during her father’s time constructed her different reality that made her of what she became. I can also suggest that the rose in the story represents Emily’s love for Homer. It represents the soft side of Emily which the outside world can not see. She was perceived differently by the people as a scandalous and proud. But Emily like any other needs love and affection. Her love was violent and harsh though which represents the thorns of the rose.
The narrator gave detailed events of Emily’s history which suggests the gossip nature of the southern town where everyone knows everybody else. In the beginning of the story, the author emphasized those women in town had a different perspective in attending Emily’s funeral. Emily was respected by the men of the town but women were driven by curiosity. This suggests the domestic nature of women that time that seems more concern to the detailed events of Emily’s life. Women wanted to appease their long curiosity. Most of the time ladies in town find Emily’s scandalous and unusual. They find Emily a threat to the community. She was a symbol of the past.
Other readers may perceive this horrifying when the people in town discovered the secret of Emily after her death. She has kept the body of her lover named Homer Baron locked in a separate bedroom after she killed him years before. But the body was not alone. The Northern man had been locked with an embrace since behind the indented pillow was a strand of iron-gray hair of Emily. The dead man had not died without love and attention. It was a horrifying in a way that Homer’s death was not given a social justice. But it was sad for Emily who wanted to give love and be loved but the circumstances and public opinion will no permit her so.
The morality of Miss Emily Grierson was not justified in the end of the story. The consequences of her isolation and pride made the townspeople pity her all the more. However, her solitude made her missed significant chances of her happiness. Though destiny and fate is a choice but we must reconsider the factors that influenced Emily’s choices. The narrator was so clever on how he presented Emily not as an antagonist but a woman that has to be sympathized which made me see her as a victim.
Abner on the other hand on the ‘Barn Burning’ story is a barn burner and who have a 10year old son named Sarty who always wish to death that his father will stop his horrifying and unjust activity. Abner finds perverse sense of joy in setting a fire on someone else barn without reconsidering that farmers hold their livestock and harvested crops on barns which provide food and money for the farmers and their families in order to survive. Moreover, Abner also never reconsidered that his activity and crime may affect his son’s sense of morality at his very early age since his activities of barn burning is no secret in the family.
Faulkner generates a sense of sympathy to Abner’s character when he narrated Abner’s past involvement during Civil War. Abner grew accustomed to building small fires as a way to hide from troops during civil war. The threat of fire is Abner one and only source of power. Fire “spoke to some deep mainspring” of Abner’s character “as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity . . . and hence to be regarded with respect and used with discretion.”
Fire is Abner’s unconscious defense mechanism believing that no one will ever harm him anymore. In setting fire, he unconsciously acquired sense of power, protection and confidence that he will never be defeated by anyone who cross his path and anger him.
His experience in war continually haunts him. Ab has never held an allegiance to any man or thing. In war, to kill is for the purpose of self preservation. After the war, he has not changed. When he experience pressure to an employer or to any authority, he takes away the power from them through burning what they own. Someone who is more superior than him is bound to destruction. When one is gone, he moves on and takes another again. Abner is basically a Southern man attached by the role given to him during civil war that a man’s place in the society is derived by their actions during the war. In burning barns, Abner accumulates a sense of pride and of manliness disregarding that the war is over and that his life is now in reality.
Through the character of Abner, Faulkner illustrated the destructive psychological effects of war and how it distorts the participants’ sense of morality. Abner’s character manifests war’s ugly truths which are in contrast to the ideas of glory, courage and heroism associated with war. When the war ends, they perceive that everything is over. However for those who experience it, there is a greater battle that not everybody understands. Abner as a participant of civil war destroyed. He became a victim of political conflict.
Both Emily and Abner’s actions were motivated by the psychological effects brought to them by war and societal norms and standards.
Courtney from Study Moose
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