Faulkner in many of his short stories writes stories that mostly revolve around an old southern town with old southern people who have old southern values. The characters Emily Grierson and Sartois in Williams Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and “Barn Burning” while sharing many characteristics of loneliness and overbearing parents in their upbringing differ in how close their relationship was to their parents primarily their fathers and how that affected both later decision making.
In William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” and its sequel The Hamlet, much significance is given to the names of the two boys.
Sarty, who is named for Colonel John Sartoris, represents those ideals of truth and integrity. Flem is no doubt an abbreviated form of “flimflam,” a slang expression meaning “to swindle.” Little attention, however, has been given to the father’s name, Abner, but the biblical connotations associated with it provide a valuable key in understanding the rise of the Snopes family (Loges, 43). Although Faulkner’s depiction of regional dialect in his characters’ speech is almost always right on target, it occasionally misses its mark.
Like Homer before him, Faulkner nods off on occasion and has a character come out with a verbal construction that somehow does not ring true. One such usage occurs (among other places) in the
short story “Barn Burning.” Summoned before the Justice of the Peace to testify against his father, who is being tried for the burning of his landlord’s barn, Sarty Snopes says to himself, “He aims for me to lie […] and I will have to do hit” (4-5).
Sarty’s addition of an h before the pronoun “it,” although characteristic of some rural Southern dialects, nonetheless strikes the ear of a Southern reader (particularly those of us who live in Appalachia, where “hit” is a familiar feature on the dialectal landscape) as strangely inauthentic, for even though the construction is used by Southern speakers, it is not used in quite the manner in which Sarty uses it here (McDonald, 46).
Our impression of the narrator is complicated by the account of the councilmen’s
visit to Emily. Here, the story shifts into the third-person plural, told wholly from “their”
perspective. We read, “They were admitted by the old Negro into a dim hall from which a
stairway mounted into still more shadow” (169); later, “they could hear the invisible
watch ticking at the end of the gold chain” (170). The narrator does not indicate having
been present, yet the degree of detail suggests that he or she either was, or has become
omniscient. For the moment, we may absorb such challenges as concomitants of fictive
art: the story needs the detail given, even though a “real” narrator could not have
reproduced it (Klein, 4).
Emily’s loneliness comes from the social standing that her family lives in “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (244). Emily couldn’t do much around town for there was a subdued sense jealousy going around town for the way her family carried themselves “believed that the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were.”(245) Her father being a former a colonel was very overbearing over Emily especially when it comes to her social life “None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such.”(246) Throughout the story while reading you find that Emily never really had much of a life. Throughout you find that everything in Emily’s life is pretty much premeditated by her father and what her father wants her life to be. The way of the south in most cases when it came to the prestigious daughters of a family.
Sarty’s loneliness comes from trying to find a loving connection with his father and just a normal childhood. Sarty like Emily is viewed in a different light than the rest of the townspeople. They look at Sarty as a poor boy looking for nothing but trouble. Sarty’s father is accused of being a barn burner and although nothing is proven without a shadow of doubt public opinion is that his father is one. Sarty’s father and his whole family are then kicked out town and are even told to leave the country. Sarty really has no chance of making any connection with any of the townspeople’s that he meets on there numerous journeys for a new home. The only one left that he looks up to his father who is one of the most vain people you could come around. Sarty’s attempts at making a relationship even by lying to judges mean nothing to his father. The father even goes to the extent of accusing Sarty that he wanted to tell on him “You were fixing to tell them. You would have told him.”(394)
When placed in an environment where they don’t have their father’s looking over them is when the consequences of their upbringing come to show. The protection of Emily’s father gives Emily a false sense of security and protection in her life and when it is taken from her is leads to Emily committing murder. Sarty unyielding quest for his father’s love and trust is unattained which leads to Sarty turning in his own father.
When Emily’s father passed away there was a definite hole in her life. The townspeople knowing of how close Emily and her father were speculating whether or not when Emily bought poison “She will kill herself” (247). With this empty void in her life the one thing that Emily wants more is another man in her life and why she starts seeing a Northerner named Homer Barron. Homer worked as a foreman with a construction company who was in town to do some jobs around town. Emily and Homer start dating each other and Emily starts falling for Homer. When comes word that Homer and his company may be leaving the town Homer disappears and is never seen from again. Years go by and Emily eventually passes away and people and town start reporting a smell coming from her house so the townspeople eventually came into the house and found that the smell was from Homer Baron rotting and decaying body on Emily’s bed.
Sarty throughout “Barn Burning” is constantly trying to get the affection of his own father. Sarty is willing to lie in court for his father just merely to maybe gain a little bit more trust and love from his father, “He aims for me to lieâ€¦And I will have to do hit.”(392) Sarty though by the end begins to have an epiphany on his family and his life. Sarty in his mind starts thinking of how great life would be without his father and his life abusing him and the rest of his family. When his father gets in argument with the owner of the land that they are working on his father in anger decides again to set a barn on fire. Sarty reflecting decides enough is enough and runs and tells the land owner that his father is in the process of burning his barn and when the owner finds Sarty’s father he shoots him dead.
The main contrast and Emily and Sarty is the relationship that they both shared with each other’s fathers. Emily had a father that showed her unyielding support and love throughout her entire life as if keeping her all to himself. Sarty relationship with his father is the total opposite. Sarty is constantly ordered around throughout the story and is also physically abused numerous times. Emily has always had protection and comfort in her life doesn’t know how to respond when someone in her life is about to leave her. Emily finds the love of her life and refuses to let him go because of the heartache and the unknown future so for her the answer to the problem is to simply kill the man and keep him. Sarty simply wants a better life for himself. The death of Sarty’s father lets Sarty free to live a better and normal life for himself.
The way people are raised has a lot to do with what kind of person they become. The characters Emily Grierson and Sartois in Williams Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and “Barn Burning” while sharing many characteristics of loneliness and overbearing parents in their upbringing differ in how close their relationship was to their parents primarily their fathers and how that affected both later decision making. The child which is raised with a silver spoon fears of her little world and estate coming crashing down and can’t handle change. The child raised poor looks at life with endless possibilities and strives for a better life.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Kirszner and Mandell 243-50.
“Barn Burning.” Kirszner and Mandell 391-404.
Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning.” Collected Stories of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1930. 3-25.
Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning.” Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner. New York: The Modern Library, 1930. 3-27.
Klien, Thomas. “The Ghostly Voice of Gossip in Faulkner’s A ROSE FOR EMILY.”
Explicator 65.4 (2002): 229-232.
Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell, eds. Literature: Reading, Reacting, and Writing. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2010.