Comparing and Contrasting the works of William Faulkner

Introduction

William Faulkner was an American novelist who was known for writing mysterious works of literature. Some might would say that his literary works were somewhat “disturbing.” Family and community were always important aspects that Faulkner tried to incorporate into his literature. Faulkner’s, A Rose for Emily and Barn Burning focus on the protection of family and community over loyalty to the law.

Barn Burning

In 1939, William Faulkner published his short story, Barn Burning. This story is about a young colonel boy whose father, Mr. Snopes was a mass arsonist. He sets the barn of another townsman on fire for demanding money from him. The young colonel, Sartoris is called to testify against his father, which is expecting him to lie. When convicted, the judge demands the Snopes family to leave town. The family moves to the farm of Major de Spain, as his farm tenants. Mr. Snopes tracks horse manure on the expensive rug of the owner’s home. Major de Spain demands that Mr. Snopes be charged an additional twenty bushels of corn until he pays off the lavish rug. This angers Mr. Snopes into burning the barn of the wealthy land owner. With Sartoris’s attempt to warn the land owner failing, he flees for the woods and never looks back.

Themes in A Rose for Emily

A Rose for Emily contains certain themes, such as: tradition verses change, and the power of death. The town of Jefferson is faced with a problem. The town is ready to take on a more modern future for themselves, but town tradition seems to be in the way of that. Emily Grierson herself is a tradition in the community of Jefferson. Even though her town and community makes changes overtime, she continues to stay true to her real self. The kidnapping of her lover and her attic chamber are representations of Emily trying to prevent change, but a human’s life is the cost of these actions.

In this work, Faulkner shows us how Emily is in denial of the power of death itself. He does so by informing his audience of the disturbing relationship that Emily holds with the dead corpse of the man that she loved. Even though Emily is the cause of Homer’s death, she chooses to not acknowledge it. Her purpose in killing her lover was to keep him close, however the fact that he was dead kept them distant for good. These actions that Emily takes reveal her attack to combine life and death. In the end, the power of death prevails.

Themes in Barn Burning

Sartoris in Faulkner’s Barn Burning, portrays the theme of searching for peace. Throughout this short story, Sartoris faces the issues of fear and grief. He longs for a peaceful life, and knows the only path to this lifestyle is to rid himself of all these taunting emotions. Sartoris is constantly beaten down by the demands of his father and family, and he constantly struggles to develop his own morals and principles. Sartoris’s life in the Snopes’s household is anything but peaceful. Eventually escaping his burdensome life, the peace that Sartoris was hoping for doesn’t come right away. Happiness he may still not have, he is able to cleanse his life of all the baggage that he once carried. By doing this, Sartoris already accomplishes a small portion of peace. “He got up… He went on down the hill, toward the dark woods… He did not look back.”

Shared themes in A Rose for Emily and Barn Burning

Both A Rose for Emily and Barn Burning have their own individual themes that the other doesn’t, but William Faulkner finds a way to incorporate similar themes into both short stories. Some of the elements that Faulkner includes are: the setting, and symbols. The setting of both short stories takes place after the Civil War with an approach on Sothern values. The setting portrays what the characters face with social class within each of their communities. It also shows how the environment that surrounds the characters affects their life and actions overtime.

The symbols used in both short stories are important to the plot of each story. Even though they are not super obvious, they have a great bit of representation. A great example of symbolism that Faulkner incorporates into both stories are the character’s homes. The homes give the reader a chance to see the lifestyle of the characters, their background, and it also allows the audience to predict what may lie ahead in the future for the characters.

Arguably, one of the biggest themes that Faulkner uses in a lot of his short stories, and is present in both A Rose for Emily and Barn Burning is the protection and loyalty to family and community over the law. In Barn Burning, to Mr. Snopes, Sartoris’s father, family should be put before anything else. ‘You were fixing to tell them. You would have told him… You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you.” Being loyal to his father and family is a problem that Sartoris is faced with. To everyone in the Snopes family, but Sartoris, family loyalty is far more important than wrong and right.

In A Rose for Emily, loyalty to family and community over the law is also displayed by the community of Jefferson. Even though Emily Grierson is a criminal, (granted they don’t know that at the time) the community people still continue to worship the ground that she walks on, all because of the fact that she is the only thing left from the old blood of the South. ‘Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town.”

The love of community and tradition triumphs over loyalty to the law and right from wrong.

Conclusion

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past. All of us labor in webs spun long before we were born, webs of heredity and environment, of desire and consequence, of history and eternity. Haunted by wrong turns and roads not taken, we pursue images perceived as new but whose providence dates to the dim dramas of childhood, which are themselves but ripples of consequence echoing down the generations. The quotidian demands of life distract from this resonance of images and events, but some of us feel it always” (Faulkner). This quote describes the predicament that both Emily and Sartoris seem to be challenged with. Both of these pieces of literary work provide the reader with great detail by the different themes and elements that William Faulkner incorporates.

Works Cited

  1. Brown, Jerry. Barn Burning
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  7. Accessed November 20, 2018
  8. Kennedy, X. J., and Gioia G. Backpack Literature: an Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Pearson, 2020.
  9. LitCharts. “A Rose for Emily Summary.” LitCharts,
  10. https://www.litcharts.com/lit/a-rose-for-emily/summary
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