In tone and style, how does "Barn Burning" compare to "A Rose for Emily"?

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The short stories “Barn Burning” and “A Rose for Emily” are both set after the Civil War, featuring white protagonists who live as outsiders to their surrounding community. The style and tone of the stories are very different, but both contribute to climatic endings.

First, the...

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The short stories “Barn Burning” and “A Rose for Emily” are both set after the Civil War, featuring white protagonists who live as outsiders to their surrounding community. The style and tone of the stories are very different, but both contribute to climatic endings.

First, the stories’ styles contrast each other. “Barn Burning” is told by a third-person omniscient narrator in a straightforward, objective voice. This story has a chronological, linear narrative with plot action that occurs over a week or so. “A Rose for Emily” is told by a first-person-plural narrator (“we” the townspeople) that at first seems to be omniscient but later is revealed to be limited. The “we” describes Emily’s family history and past suitors like a nosy busybody, but the “we” is shocked in the end by the revelation of Emily’s homicidal scheme. The narrative voice is biased and gossipy in its observations of Emily’s relationship with her overprotective father, her suitors (especially the appearance of her last suitor) and her family’s snobbery, Finally, “A Rose for Emily” does not have a short linear narrative; the story’s actions span years and encompass both present and past actions told through flashbacks.

Second, the stories’ tones are very different, but both make their climactic endings even more shocking. “Barn Burning” has a tone of tension created by the underlying, coiled violence of protagonist Abner, ready to spring at any moment. Malevolent Abner erupts periodically throughout the story, and Faulker sustains this undercurrent of tension and violence with angry dialogue. In fact, Abner’s eerily calm but angry demeanor make his words seem like ominous threats: his “face absolutely calm, the grizzled eyebrows tangled above the cold eyes, the voice almost pleasant, almost gentle: ‘You think so? Well, we'll wait till October anyway.’” Physical violence–like Abner striking his son–and abrupt movements–like Abner’s “stiff foot as it came down on the boards with clocklike finality”–generate more anxiety, culminating in the final excitement of Abner’s son running to expose Abner’s plan to burn down yet another barn and Abner’s death from shooting.

On the other hand, the tone of “A Rose for Emily” is more lighthearted. In fact, the townspeople portray her as unthreatening (“Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care”) and even pitiable and humanized (“When her father died, it got about that the house was all that was left to her; and in a way, people were glad. At last they could pity Miss Emily.”) In fact, the townspeople see her as harmless and powerless and feel really sorry for her: “She was sick for a long time. When we saw her again, her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl, with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows--sort of tragic and serene." Although this story does not have a tone of heavy or violent tension, there is underlying suspense. What little dialogue exists is not angry, but matter of fact. Only the townspeople’s removed observations (the strange smell emanating from her house, her unmoving shape/ silhouette, the suitor who disappears) generate tension. These hints, however, are not enough to prevent the ending from being so shocking. The discovery of the murdered suitor seems like both a surprise and an understandable (and unfortunate) conclusion given the townspeople’s earlier observations.

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In terms of style, Faulkner weaved into both stories his observations of how the Civil War and Reconstruction created an American South in which some people had trouble reconciling past and present.

Abner Snopes is a white man who lives the life of a sharecropper: a vocation constructed to keep farmers impoverished with no way to move up economically or socially. He is chronically angry about his station in life and lashes out again and again in self-defeating acts that take his family down with him. Literary critics suggest that the final victim of his anger, Major de Spain, represents a mixed-race person who outranks Snopes, economically and socially, and deepens his anger and feeling that, as a white Southerner, he should not be at the mercy of someone like de Spain.

Emily Grierson, too, has trouble accepting social changes in the South. She prefers to live in the past when her family was wealthy and socially prominent and her life had a genteel rhythm. Like Abner Snopes, she cannot reconcile how the South has moved on, and the target of her rage becomes Homer Barron, the Yankee man whom she sees as failing to properly value her reputation and social standing.

In both stories, the characters who represent unadaptable personalities must die, as new generations replace them and bring modern ideas and values. In this way, the stories are tonally similar.

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"A Rose for Emily" is a bit more experimental with POV.  Faulkner uses a first person plural narrator who could be either a group of men from the town, a group of women from the town, or both.  Regardless, these are outside narrators. They do not have access to Emily and her secret bedroom. She is a gothic mystery to them.

As such, they are unreliable narrators. They tell the story from a limited perspective: one of rumors, hearsay, and gossip.  Their story is episodic and non-linear: it begins with her death and works full circle back to it and Homer's.

"Barn Burning" is told in a third-person POV, but from Sarty's angle.  This Sarty-based narration is much more reliable because it gives us an inside perspective: we see into the Snopes family.  We have complete access to Sarty and his father's secret (he's a barn burner).  In this way, there is no mystery or dramatic irony regarding Abner.  The mystery lies with Sarty: will he stay with the family or go?

In sum, both stories rely on "perspectivism": Faulker's technique of shifting narrative structure according to time, place, and space.  But "Barn Burning" is much more controlled than the experimental "A Rose for Emily."

 

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Both "Barn Burning" and "A Rose for Emily" are developed through a point of view that enables the story to slowly progress as the reader puts together clues provided by the narrator. These clues, or foreshadowing, are another similarity.  "Barn" is told from the perspective of a ten year old boy trying to deal with his family and the community; "Rose" is told from the point of view of the community trying to figure out what to do with Miss Emily.  This difference sets up the similarity that both stories employ the theme of the individual vs. the community.

In addition, the main characters, Sarty and Miss Emily, struggle with a loyalty to their fathers which controls and destroys their lives.  In the end, both characters end up betraying this loyalty and acting against their fathers. Both main characters also harbor a family secret - Miss Emily hides a dead body; Sarty initially hides his father's arson.

Finally, the settings of both stories are very similar.  The settings focus on the decline of the South which was common in many Faulkner works. Faulkner himself lived in Mississippi, and he used his location to create a model for his short stories.  Also, Faulkner created the Snopes family and other characters who he referenced in most of his short stories.  The common setting and his development of this family contribute to many of the similarities found in his works.

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