Are there any common themes shared by the stories titled "The Storm" (by Kate Chopin), "Barn Burning" (by William Faulkner) and "Harrison Bergeron" (by Kurt Vonnegut)?The thesis sentence should...

Are there any common themes shared by the stories titled "The Storm" (by Kate Chopin), "Barn Burning" (by William Faulkner) and "Harrison Bergeron" (by Kurt Vonnegut)?

The thesis sentence should include a definition of the theme.



Expert Answers
vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Often stories that seem very different nonetheless share some common themes.  This is arguably the case, for instance, in “The Storm” (by Kate Chopin), “Barn Burning” (by William Faulkner), and “Harrison Bergeron” (by Kurt Vonnegut). Chopin’s story deals with an adulterous sexual affair in the late 1800s; Faulkner’s tale deals with a malignant pyromaniac in the first half of the twentieth century; and Vonnegut’s story deals with a postmodern society’s utter distrust and suppression of individuality.  What themes could these apparently divergent stories possibly have in common?  One idea emphasized in all three is the idea of violating social taboos – that is, of transgressing against society’s expectations.

Despite this similarity of theme, the stories differ in the ways the theme is presented and developed. In “The Storm,” the adulterers seem to get away with their illicit affair, and some people believe that Chopin even endorses their liaison since no one is explicitly punished.  Other critics, however, believe that the ending of the story is highly ironic and that Chopin implicitly condemns the adulterers. Yet Chopin never tried to publish the story because she knew that any condemnation it expressed of the lovers would have seemed too subtle, too understated, to please most of her readers. She also knew that the sexual encounter she describes was far too explicit (by the standards of her day) to pass muster with most members of her audience. She presents two people who violate social taboos and seem to do so successfully.

Faulkner’s satire of Abner Snopes is arguably far more explicit than any satire Chopin offers of her two adulterers. Snopes clearly violates social taboos (as the story opens he is being tried for his latest exercise in barn burning), and as the story ends he has decided to burn yet another barn and run the risk of violent and life-threatening punishment. His own son knows of Ab’s moral corruption and eventually turns against his vicious father. (Some critics have tried to express sympathy for Abner’s integrity as an enemy of the privileged classes, but this reading will strike many readers as implausible.) Snopes violates social taboos and may even be shot in retaliation (whether he is or isn’t is left unclear).

Vonnegut’s story clearly satirizes not the person who violates the taboos but the existence of these particular taboos themselves. The idea that taboos might exist against any kind of inequality or superiority seems absurd, but effective satire often pushes ideas to their logical but absurd conclusions. Harrison is obviously the object of readers’ sympathies, whereas Chopin and Faulkner seem to have treated their own central characters with a great deal more ambivalence. Near the end of Vonnegut’s tale, Harrison (performing in a dance as an “Emperor” with his talented ballerina empress) is killed by the woman whose job it is to enforce social taboos:

It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.

Violations of taboos went unpunished in Chopin’s tale; they do seem to have been punished in Faulkner’s text; they are definitely punished in Vonnegut’s story.



tabia724 | Student

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