The Significance of Family Meals in Faulkner’s Barn Burning, Shall Not Perish, and Two Soldiers
Length: 441 words (1.3 double-spaced pages)
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The meal, and more specifically the concept of the family meal, has traditional connotations of comfort and togetherness. As shown in three of Faulkner’s short stories in “The Country”, disruptions in the life of the family are often reinforced in the plot of the story by disruptions in the meal.
In “Barn Burning”, Abner enters the house at dusk and “could smell the coffee from the room where they would presently eat the cold food remaining from the afternoon meal.” (14) A warm meal would indicate fulfillment and cohesiveness within the family. The inclusion of the detail that the food was cold represents an inversion of these associations. The cold meal symbolizes the family’s distaste with Abner’s actions. The memory of the dinner lingers with the family as they get ready for bed and appears linked with negative images of “Where they had been were no long, water-cloudy scoriations resembling the sporadic course of a lilliputian moving machine.” (15) In addition, the emphasis that this dinner was in fact a left-over meal symbolizes that the pattern of Abner’s destructive behavior and its effects on his family will not change.
In “Shall Not Perish”, Mother, Father, and the narrator receive news that Pete has died at war. Upon hearing the bad news, the family “fed and milked an came back and ate the cold supper.” (103) In this short story, the eating of cold food represents the cold, harsh realities of death and mourning. The family has been left with a permanent void and the disruption in the family meal serves to further illustrate this point.
The mother in "Two Soldiers" is preparing to send her son Pete off to war. As Pete’s younger brother recalls, “Maw was getting Pete ready to go. She washed and mended his clothes and cooked him a shoe box of vittles.” (85) The mother’s desire to make sure Pete leaves with one last meal, shows her desire to still be able to nurture her son. This desire is inherent in the same way that faith is.
As the narrator observes, “She put in the shoe box of fried chicken and biscuits and she put the Bible in too, and then it was time to go.” (86) “Two Soldiers” shows food as an important bond between mother and son (something that has been bonded between the two since nursing).
In “Barn Burning”, “Shall Not Perish”, and “Two Soldiers” a change in the typical family meal is a technique used to illustrate thematic issues in the story and a change within the family.