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William Faulkner’s story “A Rose for Emily” and Ralph Ellison’s story “Battle Royal” differ significantly, in a variety of ways, in their depictions of the south. Those ways include the following:
- In Ellison’s story, issues of race and racial discrimination are front and center; race is not nearly as important an issue in “A Rose for Emily.”
- In Faulkner’s story, many of the southern characters (almost all of whom are white), seem well mannered, genteel, thoughtful, and considerate. In Ellison’s story, many of the white characters (in a story with a large number of African Americans) are vicious, thoughtless, and abusive.
- Ellison’s story focuses on the experiences of a young black man; Faulkner’s story focuses on the experiences of a white woman whose great age is strongly emphasized.
- Both stories deal with social culture and social customs, but Ellison’s story is mainly satirical, whereas Faulkner’s (as its title suggests) is almost elegiac.
- Actual physical conflict is strongly emphasized in Ellison’s story; no such conflict is emphasized in Faulkner’s, which is a much gentler tale.
- In Ellison’s story, some characters go out of their way to dehumanize and brutalize other characters; in Faulkner’s story, some characters go out of their way to treat Miss Emily with dignity and respect. As the narrator notes near the very beginning of Faulkner’s tale,
Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from . . . 1894 . . .
- Miss Emily feels that she enjoys, and is entitled to, a great deal of power and respect in her town. The young black boy featured in “Battle Royal” is, of course, not nearly so confident of his status in society.
- Miss Emily displays a kind of pride throughout her tale; the attitude of the boy in “Battle Royal,” even after he has been brutalized, is one of great humility.
All in all, in would be hard to think of two stories about the south that are as different in tone, characterization, or intent as these two are.
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