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Crossing the Line in Faulkner’s Barn Burning

Crossing the Line in Faulkner’s Barn Burning

The American author Joyce Carol Oats, in her Master Race, wrote that “our enemy is by tradition our savior” (Oats 28). Oats recognized that we often learn more from our enemy than from ourselves. Whether the enemy is another warring nation, a more prolific writer, or even the person next door, we often can ascertain a tremendous amount of knowledge by studying that opposite party. In the same way, literature has always striven to provide an insight into human nature through a study of opposing forces. Often, simply by looking at the binary operations found in any given text, the texts meanings, both hidden and apparent, can become surprising clear. In William Faulkner’s famous short story “Barn Burning,” innate binary operations, especially those of the poor versus the rich and the society versus the outsider, allow the reader to gather a new and more acute understanding of the text.

The most important binary operation in Faulkner’s masterpiece is the projected idea of the rich versus the stark reality of the poor. Throughout the entire work, the scenes of the Snopes family are constantly described in detail and compared to the richness that appears abundant around them. For example, at the very beginning of the story, the young Colonel Sartoris Snopes is described as “small and wiry like his father” wearing “patched and faded jeans” which are later described as too small (Faulkner 1555). This poor child, with his tattered clothing, bare feet, and scared-to-the-bone look is juxtaposed against the wealth of the Justice of the Peace’s borrowed courtroom–its “close-packed” shelves filled with cans of food, aromatic cheese, and “the silver curve of fish”–th…

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…lty, or even the normal versus the audacious. But, the entire story seems to be focused on two: those of the poor versus the rich and society versus the outsider. Those two operations allow for, and even demand, a different reading of the text giving us a young Colonel striving to break out of his limitations and become the opposite of what he was. In the end, Faulkner allows him to succeed. After his father’s death, the young man runs through the woods, forever leaving his family. The text ends with the powerful line, “he did not look back” (Faulkner 1566).

Works Cited

Oats, Joyce Carol. “Master Race.” The History of Dramatic Theory and Criticism. Ed. John Dukore. New York: Harper Collins, 1992.

Faulkner, William. “Barn Burning.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Paul Lauter. 3th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. 1554-66.

Essay on the Dark Side of the Mind Exposed in Cask of Amontillado

The Dark Side of the Mind Exposed in Cask of Amontillado

“A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.” With that statement, Montresor begins his tale of revenge deciding that the act must be slow and sweet and that in order to fully enjoy it, his adversary must be aware of his intentions. Hidden within those same few lines, lies not only this horrid plan, but also the true interest of its’ true author. In his Cask of Amontillado, Edgar Allen Poe reveals his supreme interest in the dark side of the human mind and heart.

Much of what a story means, much of its effect on the reader depends on the eyes through which it is seen and on the voice that tells it to us. In Cask of Amontillado, those eyes and voice belong to Montresor. The story is written in second-person perspective. In relaying the events of the day, Montresor refers to the reader as ‘you’ several times. This does not only act to pull the reader into the story, but it also provides a valuable insight into the mind of the author. By referring to the reader as ‘you’ a connection is established between Montresor and the reader. This connection suggests that the reader can sympathize with the actions of Montresor by relating them to some event in the readers’ past or imagination. Poe suggests that we, as a body of readers, all want to commit acts such as that committed by Montresor and therefore can understand him and his dark actions.

To fully understand the dark side of the human mind and heart, the mind of Montresor has to be examined. The question as to what fiendishly evil act Fortunato committed that was so seve…

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…each step, Montresor pulls Fortunato in a little further by provoking him with threats of getting his archenemy Luchresi to test the wine. Without breaking from his calm shell, Montresor is able to lead Fortunato to his doom never once faltering or stumbling.

In his Cask of Amontillado, Poe dives into a study of the darkness of the human mind and heart. He looks at the worst crime possibly committed by one human to another and ponders over the mind of the criminal. Montresor, calm, cool, and collected, is able to fulfill a plan that he had made long before. Fifty years later, he conveys the story to the world so that the dark side of all people may be matched against that of him. A man that truly lives by the motto of his family, “nemo me impune lacessit” [no one provokes me with impunity], Montresor becomes a study for Poe and a mirror to all mankind.

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