William Faulkner is one of the great authors of American History. “Barn Burning” and “A Rose for Emily” are counted as his best pieces in American literature. Both stories reflect the values pertaining to a typical Old Southern American society. Faulkner, through these two stories, has very intellectually illustrated the historical, geographical, economic, and social & moral values of life. He has also shown how people in the same setting and situation react differently; thus, arriving at a different set of decisions. In both the stories, the reader will find similar patterns of style and theme; however, there are various prominent differences as well.
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This paper compares and contrasts the similarities and differences existing in these two short stories. It shows Faulkner’s perception of society that has broken down into pieces because of war and other rigid social norms (Singal).
William Faulkner is a mastermind when it comes to writing short stories. “Rose for Emily” and “Barn Burning” are two of the most exceptional stories written by him. Faulkner has made use of his usual Old Southern culture and social norms while proceeding with both the stories. The main characters of the stories, Abner from “Barn Burning” and Emily from “A Rose for Emily,” are caught in the guilt of committing terrible crimes; still, as the readers proceed with the story, they cannot help feel sorry for them. Although the characters of both Abner and Emily are depicted as cruel and violent, still Faulkner using his creativity, has subtly demonstrated that they were the result of the malicious society and culture. The dark side was born in both the characters after they experienced the unkindness of society (Gioia).
Faulkner, like in many of his previous stories, has once again used his imaginary country set in the suburbs of Mississippi known as Yoknapatawpha. The characters of both stories are set in the Jefferson town of Yoknapatawpha. Burning Bar is a dramatic and exciting story revolving around a boy who struggles to stay loyal to his family, as the family goes against the community, but on the other hand, “Rose for Emily” is a rather unpleasant story portraying a miserable woman, Emily Grierson, who sleeps with the corpse of her long-dead lover to fulfill her insecurities about life (Tasha).
The “Barn Burning” story is set in a rural area; in contrast, “Rose for Emily” is established in an urban society. Paragraph two of “A Rose for Emily” proves that Jefferson is an urban area that is gradually moving towards the industrial era. The paragraph states, “Only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps” (Faulkner and Cowley 392).
On the other hand, the Snopes family is living on the outskirts of a rural town inhabitant by farmers and sharecroppers. The differences existing between a high class and a low-class environment become obvious when the two houses are explained in detail. The house of Miss Emily is decorated elegantly with several woodwork items, and the house of the Snopes is simple, just having two bedrooms. The structure of the homes acts as a symbol, demonstrating different classes of people, but as Miss Emily isolates herself from the entire society, her house also loses the touch of modernism and aristocracy. The environment and the locations of the houses contribute greatly to establishing the mood of the stories (Tasha).
Faulkner has also shown what happens to individuals when they isolate themselves from society and its cultural values. Emily Grierson, a spinster from a rich family, feels she is disconnected from the rest of the community, and Bob Aber Snopes, a sharecropper, also feels that he is stuck in an unbreakable societal limbo. Since they believe they are trapped in this limbo, they no longer feel the necessity to abide by the values of both traditional and moral values. At the starting of the story, it is revealed that Emily’s isolation was forced upon her by her father. As a child, she was not allowed to mingle with other members of the Jefferson Society as her father believed they both were “high and mighty.” As she grew up, her father condemned her from dating young men of the town, whom he saw as good for nothing rascals. As a result, her father was the only person she was close to. A few years later, when her father dies, she realizes she has nothing to hold on to. Without a father, friends, or a husband, she feels withdrawn from society, and thus, in frustration, commits shocking acts of violence (Gioia).
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While Emily’s isolation was forced upon her, Abner himself chooses to go into isolation. During the civil war, he, instead of going into war alongside the Confederate army, indulges in theft. Finally, when he gets caught, he tries to escape; as a result, the policeman shoots him in the heel. Still unable to see his faults, he blames the entire society for his personal failures. However, unlike Emily, since he has a family to feed to, it forces him to return to society. As his conflict with society becomes stronger, it makes it easier for him to commit crimes like setting barns on fire. Both Emily and Abner not only separated themselves from the communities but they no longer feel bound by society’s rules and regulations. As a result, Abner feels himself at ease while burning barns, and Emily feels there is nothing wrong in poisoning her lover and then sleeping with him for the next many years (Gioia).
Both stories are strongly influenced by their fathers. The death of Emily’s father gives her the freedom that she had always longed for. Instantly, she falls for Homer Baron, believing he is her true love. Unfortunately, it did not turn out as she had expected. Homer, her lover, being a homosexual, decides to leave her after some time. This news shatters Emily to the level that she does not only poison him to death but also keeps his corpse in her bedroom and sleeps beside him for several years. On the other hand, Sarty, the son of Abner, feels troubled with his father’s behavior. Abner’s rash attitude towards everybody and the habit of burning down barns tears him from inside as he continues to fight a losing battle to stay loyal to his family. When his father decides to burn another barn, Sarty finally decides that there is no need to put up with his father’s reckless acts. With this pursuit in his mind, he not only notifies the landlord about his father’s intentions but also runs away from his house to start a life of his own (Fargnoli, Golay, and Hamblin).
The manner in which the two characters Emily and Abner commit crimes is also quite different from each other. She kills Homer very quietly, in the boundaries of her own house. Her quiet nature also helps her in getting away with the crime. She lives her entire life in peace without anybody suspecting her of a crime. In contrast, Abner’s never-ending rage and flame for vengeance transform him into an unpleasant person with whom nobody wishes to interact with. Furthermore, he uses his rage to cause destruction, which is visible to everybody, such as burning barns (Tasha). The first time when he burns the barn, he sends a warning in advance, but the second time he decides to continue with the act without sending any warning. He believes he can make his own laws and live by them. In the same manner, Miss Emily also develops her own set of justice. Although she does not receive any sort of punishment from society, she still suffers. As she keeps the body of her dead lover with her, she becomes incapable of accepting any other man in her life. Not only this but she also completely isolates from the real world and hides in his own empty world. In the same pattern, Abner also loses his son as Sarty becomes renounces his loyalty and respect that he had for his father (Gioia).
Both the stories have several similarities, yet at the same time, they are unique in their own way, which makes them more interesting. After committing the crime, neither Abner nor Emily is punished by law, but still, they suffer the consequences. Emily is unable to find the support of a husband for the rest of her life while Abner loses his son as he runs away from home. As Abner and Emily turn their backs towards the society’s traditions, their life becomes empty, creating tragedy for those who are close to them. The setting and the environment displayed plays a very important role in setting the entire mood of the stories. The reader, while reading, feels that he is actually living in a dirty old house or on the outskirts of rural Mississippi.
Fargnoli, A. Nicholas, Michael Golay and Robert W. Hamblin. Critical companion to William Faulkner: A literary reference to his life and work. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2008.
Faulkner, William and Malcolm Cowley. The Portable Faulkne. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.
Gioia, Diana. “Symbolism in A Rose for Emily and Barn Burning by William Faulkner.” Web.
Singal, Daniel J. William Faulkner: The Making of a Modernist. North Carolina: UNC Press Books, 1997.
Tasha. Comparing The Setting Of Barn Burning To A Rose For Emily. Web.