May 30, 2020 in Research

Sympathy Generation in Barn Burning and a Rose for Emily

“Barn Burning” and “A Rose for Emily” are acclaimed short stories by William Faulkner, an American writer. One may argue that the differences between these two works are enormous, but it is possible to recognize some similarities. The primary goal of this paper is to compare and contrast descriptions of Abner Snopes and Miss Emily in these two short stories, assess the ways in which the author attempts to generate sympathy for these characters and identify the one that is more sympathetic. 

It is important to focus on characterizations provided by Faulkner to recognize differences between Abner and Emily and determine if they have something in common. The first similarity between these characters is that they communities that surround them perceive them as outsiders. The author states that nobody wanted to establish relationships with Abner because he was an unpleasant person. “His father, stiff in his black Sunday coat donned not for the trial but for the moving, did not even look at him” is a rather grim description, and highlights this character’s perspective on life. The situation is also quite similar in the other case, but people are reluctant to communicate with Emily because she prefers to avoid the society, and not because of her bad temperament. Another similarity worth noting is that both characters are hiding their atrocious crimes, and it affects their behavior. Abner always seeks an opportunity to cause harm to others, and he sees nothing wrong in his actions. Similarly, Emily understood that she committed a murder, but was too selfish to admit it, and justified her actions. “Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head” is a crucial line because it reveals lady’s secret. She has lost ability to think rationally and was not afraid to lay in the same bed with a corpse. 


The difference between their backgrounds is astonishing. Miss Emily had wealthy parents and did not have to go through significant difficulties through her childhood. On the other hand, Abner Snopes represents individuals that are not that privileged. He has to work hard to support his family and struggles to improve their living conditions. Dissimilarity is that Emily has lost her family, and was traumatized by the death of her father. As for Abner, he has a loving wife and a son, but he disregards their feelings, and selfishly focuses on his needs. He has committed numerous crimes, and she carried out only one, but it is possible to argue that her actions are much worse. “That was the last time we saw of Homer Barron” is a deciding moment in this story. Emily believed that she could get married, but realized that this man did not want to be with her and made a terrible decision to murder him. She simply could not handle rejection and was unstable at that point. It shows that she disregarded the value of a human life and wanted to force a person to be with her.

The author generates sympathy towards Abner by describing him as a man that cares about the honor of his family, but he is helpless because of his position within the society. He has freedom of actions, but wealthy people treat him like a slave. The moment when he tells his son that he is going to see the man that would have control over his soul is truly emotional and helps to get a better understanding of Abner’s motives. He suggests that people who take advantage of others to gain profits do not deserve respect. A patriarch wants to regain the control of the situation, but his anger has blurred his thoughts and he could not come up with appropriate solutions. He is fighting against unfairness in the society, but his methods are unreasonable, and he cannot accomplish anything using this form of protest. “The boy watched him pivot on the good leg and saw the stiff foot drag round the arc of the turning, leaving a final long and fading smear” is a powerful line because it shows this character’s central weakness. However, his injury does not justify causing chaos and destroying property of others. Faulkner also generates sympathy by explaining that Abner is a veteran, but he does not behave like a person with honor. 

On the other hand, the author focuses on loneliness and desperation of Emily to make readers empathize with her. She is not an evil person and tries to treat others with respect, but her situation is also unfavorable. Faulkner describes her as an incredibly wealthy young lady that does not care about people with lower social status and does not want to interact with them. Nevertheless, they understand this behavior because it was common at that time. However, she loses a close person, and every individual that has to go through such terrible experience deserves empathy. The author utilizes a third person narration style to explain how the community views Miss Emily. “We did not say she was crazy then” is a line that shows that people in the town realized that something was wrong, but did not want to interfere. They describe her as a person that was devastated by the loss, but also understand that there are people that are less fortunate than Emily. It is evident that Faulkner focuses on dramatic events in their lives to make these characters more likable in both short stories. The difference is that Faulkner did not reveal Emily’s secret until the very end, and readers do not feel such a strong antipathy towards her as they do for Abner throughout the whole story.

It is challenging to determine the character that is more sympathetic because both of them are terrible criminals, but it is necessary to determine the one that has more redeeming qualities. Abner Snopes is clearly a negative character, but the author makes him likable by explaining his motives. He has an opportunity to change, but he is too focused on barn burning. On the other hand, Emily is not able to control herself. She appears as a much more sympathetic person because of her behavior. The author provides only brief descriptions of her actions, but it is clear that she had no intent of harming others and was not evil. One of the issues worth mentioning is that the author does not explain everything, and the reader has to guess in some situations. For instance, it would be reasonable to discuss mental health of the character. “I have no taxes in Jefferson” is an interesting line because she repeats it over and over again, and it signifies that she started to have problems with memory. She talks about a person that died a long time ago, and even authorities start to feel sorry for her. Her personal problems are enormous, and dramatic events have damaged her perception of the reality.

In conclusion, the analysis of these two short stories suggests that Emily is much more sympathetic than Abner Snopes. These characters are very different because of their backgrounds and lifestyle, but both of them are outsiders and struggle to find their place within the society. The author uses similar approaches to generate sympathy. He provides the reasoning behind their actions, and it shows that they were misguided and made terrible mistakes. Overall, Faulkner has made these characters likable through detailed narrative and exploration of events that provoke emotional reaction from readers.

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