A Comparison of Two Characters in A Rose for Emily and Barn Burning

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A Comparison of Two Characters in A Rose for Emily and Barn Burning

 
In "A Rose for Emily" and "Barn Burning," William Faulkner creates two characters worthy of comparison. Emily Grierson, a recluse from Jefferson, Mississippi, is an important figure in the town, despite spending most of her life in seclusion. On the contrary, Abner Snopes is a loud, fiery-tempered man that most people tend to avoid. If these characters are judged by reputation and outward appearance only, the conclusion would be that Emily Grierson and Abner Snopes are complete opposites. However, despite the external differences, these two characters have surprisingly similar personalities.

First of all, Emily Grierson and Abner Snopes have very different backgrounds. Emily Grierson is born to a wealthy family, referred to as the "high and mighty Griersons" (50). She lives in an elegant and large house, rebuilt after the Civil War. Her house is set in the heart of what was once the most elite area of Jefferson. She spends almost all of her life inside this house, coming outside its walls only on rare occasions. Yet the townspeople are always concerned with Miss Emily, as she is the last Grierson. They are interested in what is going on with her, constantly putting together the pieces of her life. However, no matter how much the people piece together the events, few know Miss Emily at all. Upon her death, she is said to be a "fallen monument" (47) because she was so idolized throughout her life. On the contrary, Abner Snopes is at the other end of the social scale. He is in the lowest class. As a tenant farmer, Abner lives a life almost like that of a slave. He works continuously from day to day, living with his family in small shacks that "ain't fitten for hawgs"(7). He is itinerant and never has any money. Abner constantly displays his lack of decency and rude manners. He is considered a menace wherever he goes, and no one has any interest in getting to know such a foul and arrogant man. Even though they are at the extreme ends of the social spectrum, Emily Grierson and Abner Snopes have something in common-they are both outsiders in the communities they live in.

Colonel Grierson limits the people Miss Emily is allowed to see and to the point that she has no friends or even acquaintances.

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So after her father dies, she does not know anyone and has no idea how to socialize and make friends. Just as Miss Emily is isolated from the townspeople, they feel isolated from her. She is thought of not as someone to befriend, but as a member of the aristocracy, like a princess or queen of the town. She is far removed from the rest of society. As usual, common townspeople do not socialize with the high-class citizens, so neither does the community get to know Miss Emily. The town puts together rumors they hear and forms the story of her life. At her funeral, all the people come and are "talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression" (58). However the true reason they go is not because she was a close friend. The people go for two reasons: "the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house" (47). They view her as "a tradition, a duty, and care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town" (47). She is never a true, genuine person in anyone's mind, only an unreachable object.

Miss Emily lives her life as a recluse because of the gap between her and society. Similarly, Abner Snopes is an outcast in the societies he lives in. All the people he meets along the way see him as a low class outsider. His appearance is stiff, mechanical and flat. He is a misanthrope, acting rudely and hatefully towards everyone. He is even harsh around his own family. He does not show affection for his wife or children at any time during his life. The people who witness such events want nothing to do with such a cold and heartless man. Not only do the other people avoid Abner; he avoids them. He is not interested in public affairs and makes no effort to be the least bit accepted by anyone. For example, when he is in court facing charges of burning down a neighbor's barn, he "spoke for the first time, his voice harsh, level, without emphasis. . . . He said something unprintable and vile, addressed to no one" (3). His harsh and intimidating personality creates a gap between him and society, leaving him outside the social circle just as Miss Emily is throughout her life.

Lastly, Emily Grierson and Abner Snopes are very independent. They do not let anyone else have control over their lives. Emily Grierson's hatred of control stems from when her father chose every move she could make. After her father's death, she desperately wants to have control of her life. For example, she goes to the drugstore to buy arsenic. The pharmacist tells her she must state what she intends to use it for. Miss Emily "just stared at him, her head tilted back in order for him to look her eye for eye, until he looked away and went and got the arsenic" (54). Her desire for control is also apparent when the local government officials try to enforce rules on her. If she doesn't like the rules, she won't follow them. She refuses to pay her taxes and will not let anyone put her address on her door for the postal service. However, the most significant time Emily is afraid of losing control is when she thinks Homer Barron, the man she wants to marry, is going to leave her. She kills Homer so that she always has the man she loves. Similarly, Abner Snopes's desire for control has dangerous outcomes. The most dramatic example of Abner's need for this type of independence is when he burns down barns of those he does not agree with. He burns others' property because he wants to show them that he is in control. He does this many times, moving to a new town to start over and always leaving a fiery trail behind him. He is so used to this vicious circle that it has even become a ritual. He wears his "black Sunday coat, donned not for the trial but for the moving" (2). Abner's strongest trait is described as a "wolflike independence and even courage . . . which impressed strangers, as if they got from him not so much a sense of dependability as a feeling that his ferocious conviction in the rightness of his own actions" (5). Emily and Abner display their independent and dominating personalities in all of their actions.

Even though Emily Grierson and Abner Snopes appear to be dramatically different, they have similar personality traits. However, their characteristics are not very beneficial. They live alone and isolated throughout their lives. Emily has sustained contact with a total of three people in her entire life. Also, everyone rejects Abner for his vile manner. Then, they both die unhappily. Miss Emily stays in her house and dies "in the house filled with dust and shadows, with only a doddering Negro man to wait on her" (57). Abner dies as he is attempting to set fire to Major de Spain's barn. His oldest son also dies at this time. Sarty, his youngest son, only ten years old, is left alone and runs away from the entire family. Emily and Abner are social opposites, but they have many comparable traits. No matter how people are viewed by anyone, high class or low, good reputation or bad, people can still be dramatically similar.

Works Cited and Consulted

Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th Ed. Harcourt Brace College Publishers, Fort Worth, 1993.

Faulkner, William. Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner, The Modern Library, New York, 1993.

---. Faulkner at Nagano. Ed. Robert A. Jellife. Tokyo: Kenkyusha, 1956.

---. Faulkner in the University. Ed. Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1959.

---. "A Rose for Emily." Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. 3rd ed. Orlando: Harcourt, 1997. 80-87.

Smith, James Harry; Parks, Edd Winfield. The Great Critics, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., New York,?.


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