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The beginning of the twentieth century till the end of 1965 is considered to be the Modernist Period. This period is characterized by the sudden change in the traditional ways people interacted with and viewed the world. These changes included reactions against social, political, and religious views. To the Modernist, all things were relative and there were no absolute truths. Contrary to religious teachings, they also believed that life was unordered. Traditionally individualism and experimentation had been frowned upon, but in the Modern age it was encouraged. The horrors of World War I seemed to jolt people into a different way of thinking. Many people were unable to cope with the effects of the war. As a result, they began to view people, themselves, and the world in a different light. As a result, one of the central ideals of Modernism was the evaluation of self and the conscious. Unlike the Romantics, Modernist moved away from the examination of nature. Modernist writers promoted a new way of life by breaking traditions. The believed past ideals were hindering society from making progress. The philosophy of Existentialism, the concept that one must create his/her own meaning of the word, was one major aspect of Modernist writers. They believed that humans had free will, but these choices did not come without consequences. Consequently, personal responsibility and discipline were very important. Existentialist principles were conveyed in two of Faulkner’s writings-“Barn Burning” and “A Rose for Emily”. William Faulkner was definitely a Modernist writer. Through his writing he reacted to established social views, the experience of alienation, loss, and despair, and embraced the belief that success came through inner strength.
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Many of Faulkner’s works depict life in the South. In these works he made it difficult to determine between what was actually a reality and what was someone’s idea of reality. By using this style and theme, Faulkner is making a connection btween the people of the South who were unwilling to let go of the traditional ways and people who were embracing change. The Grierson family represented the Old South. “A Rose for Emily” conveys the effects of alienation, loss, and despair. Emily’s father does not allow her to socialize with anyone else in the community. As a result, she had no friends. When Emily’s father dies, she turns into a recluse because she didn’t even have him to talk to. She was even in denial about her father’s death. Emily was solely dependent on her father. Because she had been sheltered by her father, she was an easy prey for Homer Barron. Upon realizing how Homer was manipulating her, Emily felt she must kill Homer. Emily’s inability to let go of Homer and her father, even after their death, only reinforces Faulkner’s existentialist theme. Ironically, Emily’s triumphant spirit is released by killing Homer Barron.
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Dedication to family and morals was very important during Faulkner’s time. Sarty represents the Modernist rebellion against that tradition. In a sense, Sarty represents the modern man while Abner represents the traditional man. Although Sarty and Abner are son and father, they have little in common. Faulkner intentionally does this to show difference between Modernist and Traditional views. Abner is concerned with what is in the best interest of the family, but Sarty is struggling with what is morally right. This struggle represents the enlightened thinking of the modern man. This shows that man has a conscience, a major characteristic of the Modernist. Ironically, in “Barn Burning” Sarty, has to decide which is more important. Sarty’s father tells him that he must “stick up” for his blood. In other words, Abner believes Sarty must support him whether he is right or wrong. Sarty struggled with this because he knew that his father was morally wrong when he burned the neighbor’s barn. Reflecting upon the time his father had hit him for wanting to tell the judge about tthe burning is essentially what helps Sarty make the decision to allow his father to be shot. Just as in “A Rose for Emily”, the main character’s freedom comes through the death of someone else.
Both “A Rose for Emily” and “Barn Burning” symbolically represent the Old South. Faulkner compares two unlikely characters whose unwillingness to accept change leads to death. Emily is an important figure in her town, but she is a recluse. Sarty is the son of a hot-tempered, loud mouth. Emily was wealthy and Sarty was poor. Faulkner uses these seemingly different characters to convey that people should not be judged by social status-something that was traditionally done. He also wants to demonstrate that social status does not exempt one from the trials of the world. Although they are on opposite ends of the social spectrum, Emily’s at the very top and Sarty is at the very bottom, they were both outcasts of the community in which they lived. Emily was an aging woman and Sarty was a young child. Faulkner conveys the struggle with a new way of doing things and traditions in this work as well. Homer represents the Modern man. Homer is unconcerned with what society thinks about him. He is an individual experimenting with his sexuality, according to the social norms of the time. He has no intentions of marrying and has been seen drinking with a young man. Sadly, Emily realizes that the only way she can keep him with her is through death.
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Although Faulkner was originally from the South, he was able to see the faults in southern traditions. Faulkner strategically plots both of these works to teach moral lessons to his readers. Although Emily and Sarty are from different worlds, they are affected by the experience of alienation, loss, and despair in much the same way. Unlike Emily, Sarty has the opportunity to change if he is willing to unleash his inner strength. Faulkner wants the reader to realize that change is inevitable and ones rejection of change will only lead to destruction.
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