Last Updated on May 13, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 660
Faulkner's characters become grotesque when they seize upon some way of ordering their experience and impose it on their worlds without regard for the consequences. For example, Abner Snopes in "Barn Burning" (Harper's Magazine, 1939), builds the meaning of his life out of an absolute sense of personal honor. Unable to brook any challenge to that honor, he fires his successive landlords' barns in revenge for slights he often provokes himself. As a result, he keeps his large family perpetually on the move and finally drives away his son, Sarty, who will not live by his father's code.
Grotesque characters sometimes lead to a Gothic story. Faulkner's first major published story was "A Rose for Emily" (The Forum, 1930). Emily Grierson becomes entrapped in conventional aristocratic expectations for women. She struggles against these restrictions, imposed upon her by her family and by her whole community, by clinging to those she loves, even after they die. She eventually murders a man and secretly keeps his body in her house for thirty years, until it is discovered after her death.
Most grotesque are those characters who seem to choose a heartless meaning. Abner believes he is caring for his family in a good way. Abner's other son, Flem, shows himself in several stories to be one of those who is corrupted by the values of an emerging mass culture. He dedicates himself to making money in any legal way, regardless of the consequences, as illustrated in "Lizards in Jamshyd's Courtyard" (The Saturday Evening Post, 1932; rewritten for The Hamlet, 1940). Flem is shown as a sharp trader, willing to reduce people to base passions, such as greed, in order to exploit them. Although he wants money, he seems to be without passion himself.
Faulknerian heroes are those men and women who can order their lives around the basic human virtues without subordinating all of them to just one. Sarty Snopes loves his father, but he leaves rather than let that love force him into serving his father's warped sense of honor. One such hero who appears in several stories is V. K. Suratt, the sewing machine salesman in the Jefferson area. In later stories and novels, his name is changed to V. K. Ratliff. Ratliff has two of the main characteristics of a Faulkner hero: humor and the ability to see events from multiple points of view.
In "Lizards in Jamshyd's Courtyard," Suratt is one of Flem's main antagonists. He is clearly superior to Flem because of his sense of humor. Suratt can stand outside himself and laugh at himself, even when he is most foolish. He is reduced by Flem to a greed so blinding that he pays all he has for a piece of land where he has been fooled into believing there is buried gold. He realizes that the money he and his partners found before they bought the land probably is not old enough to have been buried during the Civil War. As he and his partner open their sacks to examine the money, he makes a good humored bet that he will find an older coin in his sack than his partner will find. This return to sanity saves him from the fate of the third partner who continues to dig even after he knows he has been swindled.
Several characters appear in many stories as well as in the novels. In addition to Suratt/Ratliff and Flem Snopes, one of the more important is Gavin Stevens. Stevens is a major character in at least four novels, and appears in a number of others. In the short stories, he is most prominent in those collected in Knight's Gambit, where as Yoknapatawpha County Attorney, he acts as a sort of detective. Stevens is a Southern, bachelor intellectual, educated at Harvard and Heidelberg, who has settled in Jefferson to practice law. In "An Error in Chemistry" (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, 1946), Stevens and the Sheriff recognize an impostor when he mixes a drink incorrectly.
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