Compare and contrast Ellison’s view of the South in “Battle Royal” and Faulkner’s in “Barn Burning.”

Both stories show societal inequalities between various groups of people, but “Battle Royal” shows racially driven inequalities while “Barn Burning” shows economic inequalities.

Expert Answers

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Both Ralph Ellison's "Battle Royal" and William Faulkner's "Barn Burning" are fantastic short stories; however, neither story is a story that I would describe as a "fun read." Both stories are thematically dark and depressing due to how they show societal inequalities between different groups of people.

"Barn Burning" and "Battle Royal" show readers characters that are downtrodden and abused. The narrator in "Battle Royal" is a smart and intelligent young man, and he believes that his work ethic and abilities can bring about an improved life for himself. Unfortunately, the current ruling class doesn't believe that. In fact, they think the narrator is nothing more than an object or toy to be manipulated for their own personal pleasure. The white men feel entitled to heap wrongs and abuse upon the narrator.

"Barn Burning" shows a similar kind of entitlement; however, this time the abuser is the "lower class" person. Abner Snopes has a chip on his shoulder. He believes that he was wronged in the past or didn't get what he deserved. He is currently a tenet farmer and very much at the mercy of the landlord, and Abner hates de Spain (and others like him) for it. It's why he tracks poop into de Spain's house. Abner hates men like de Spain because of their societal position, and Abner feels entitled to damage and destroy property of men like that.

Both "Barn Burning" and "Battle Royal" show a South that has massive divisions between people. They both show a society in which men feel it is appropriate to do harm to other humans for one reason or another, but the difference is that "Battle Royal" shows the attitude as racially driven while "Barn Burning" shows the attitude being driven by socioeconomic inequalities.

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