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 & Company, Inc., New York, ?.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1993.
Abrams, M.H. A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th Ed. Harcourt Brace College Publishers, Fort Worth, 1993.
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