Understanding literary elements such as patterns, reader/writer relationships, and character choice are critical in appreciating William Faulkner’s Barn Burning. Some literary elements are small and almost inconsequential while others are large and all-encompassing: the mother’s broken clock, a small and seemingly insignificant object, is used so carefully, extracting the maximum effect; the subtle, but more frequent use of dialectal words which contain darker, secondary meanings; the way blood is used throughout the story in many different ways, including several direct references in the familial sense; how Faulkner chooses to write about poor, common people (in fact to the extreme) and how this relates to the opinions of Wordsworth and Aristotle; and finally, the relationship between the reader and writer, Faulkner’s choice of narrator and point of view, and how this is works successfully.
One of the formal choices Faulkner uses is the clock, the dowry of Sarty’s mother, which does not work. On a simple level, the clock represents the Snopes’ poverty, being all her parents could offer the newlyweds, and the only fancy object ever mentioned in the Snopes’ possession. More important, however, is that it does not work-symbolizing the brokenness of their relationship and her happiness. To obtain the maximum effect, Faulkner mentions the mother’s unhappiness directly after the clock:
…the clock inlaid with mother-of-pearl, which would not run, stopped at some fourteen minutes past two o’clock of a dead and forgotten time, which had been his mother’s dowry. She was crying….(Faulkner 4)
Her unhappiness is justified in the story by Abner’s treatme…
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…reates a more complex frame of ideals and virtues than would otherwise be believable in an uneducated ten year old boy.
By reading closely and paying attention to details, I was able to get so much more out of this story than I did from the first reading. In short, this assignment has greatly deepened my understanding and appreciation of the more complex and subtle techniques Faulkner used to communicated his ideas in the story.
Faulkner, William. Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner, The Modern Library, New York, 1993.
Smith, James Harry; Parks, Edd Winfield. The Great Critics, W.W. Norton
Comparing the Humility of Kings in Shakespeare’s Richard II through Henry V
The Humility of Kings in Richard II through Henry V
Though Shakespeare was a conservative, he believed in the humility of Kings. The plays Richard II through Henry V assert Shakespeare’s idea that a King must understand the common man to be a good ruler. These four plays chronicle the history of three Kings’ ability to recognize, relate to, and be part of the humanity he rules. Shakespeare advocates his belief with the falling of Richard II, who could not or would not understand his subjects; the constancy of Henry IV, whose combined humility and strength won him the thrown; and Hal, whose raucous behavior led his father to worry and his country to victory.
King Richard II is Shakespeare’s example of a king who removes himself from the reality of the common people. Richard views his position as a source of amusement. His “cares” as King, other than an opportunity for an agreeable audience, are merely a burden. Instead of investigating the accusations of treachery from Henry and Mawbrick, he exiles both men as an easy way out. Richard was born a King, and knows no life other than that of royalty. Unfortunately the lesson that must know men to rule them costs him the thrown. Richard’s lesson influences his usurper and his usurper’s heir to the thrown, demonstrating to them both the value of humility.
After exiling Henry, Richard takes the opportunity to criticize his “courtship to the common people.” His speech at first seems to merit Henry for his sociability, but it quickly becomes clear that, to Richard, commoners are not fit for royal consumption:
How he did seem to dive into their hearts
With humble and familiar courtesy,
What reverence he did throw away on slaves,
Wooing poor craftsmen with the craft of smiles (I.iv.25-8)
Shakespeare is of course establishing Henry’s ability to gather support from the masses, the very key to his victory over Richard later in the play. The speech also clarifies Richard’s position on the subject to underline this contrast between the two men. To fine tune Richard’s character, Gaunt gives a revealing and unbridled description of Richard to his face just before dying. After Richard exiles the soul heir to his estate, Gaunt is bitter and fed up with his weak and pompous qualities:
A thousand flatterers sit within thy crown,
Whose compass is no bigger than thy head,