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Essay on Southern Masculinities in Faulkner’s The Unvanquished and Barn Burning

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Southern Masculinities in Faulkner’s The Unvanquished and Barn Burning

The youthful protagonists of The Unvanquished and "Barn Burning," Bayard Sartoris and Sarty Snopes respectively, offer through their experiences and, most importantly, the way their stories are told, telling insights about the constructions of southern masculinities with respect to class. The relative innocence that each of the boys has in common, though ultimately loses, provides a record of sorts to the formation of the impressions that shape their young lives and their early conceptions of what it means to be a man. Through narrative artifice, Faulkner is able to make observations, apt but at times scathing, about these constructions of southern masculinity as envisioned by both aristocratic and lower whites.

Bayard obviously recounts the proceedings of The Unvanquished from an indefinite future. Faulkner's choice to intersperse the first person narration and the boyish dialogue of the participants with mature, pensive commentary betrays the identity of the narrator, but what one may misconstrue as a simplistic strategy instead belies the keen edge that Faulkner inserts with such reflections. By comparison, the narrative tactics of "Barn Burning" offer a more complex relationship between the past events of the story and futurity. A third person, limited omniscient narrator constricts the reader's attention to Sarty's own thoughts, however not only in the present of the story but also in a future in which the protagonist has reached maturity. Faulkner's voice and opinions are not withheld but instead subtly manipulate the reader through a choice of words that provides a sharp dichotomy between Sarty's level of awareness and that of the narrator. These...


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...iolence has limited McCaslin's faculties to reason just as Abner in "Barn Burning" fails to see the value in Sarty's suggestion to subvert de Spain's penalty on his crops in his determination for overt revenge.

The dichotomy between the aristocratic and poor white constructions of southern masculinity defined by assertion and accomplishment create a vicious cycle. The poor, blinded by the limitations of an ideological dependence of violence as an indication of manhood, remains stagnant while the aristocrats, masculinity virtually won already by birthright, take advantage of the enormous resources already at their fingertips to accomplish deeds and forge reputations that encompass more than just violence. What results is a sense of inertia that might only be shattered by the destruction of aristocratic southern power through the Civil War and Reconstruction.




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