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But the word haunted is the key word here, for his stories are never happy ones. They have authenticity, however, despite the sometimes bizarre happenings and sinister events. His characters think and talk like real people and experience the impact of poverty, racism, class divisions, and family as both a life force and a curse. Faulkner wrote in the oral tradition. His "writing shows a keen awareness of the regional sounds of language and speech" (McDonald 46).
An example is "Barn Burning," a short story about a boy whose angry and abusive father is mentally ill and burns down the barns of people he envies and hates. The family is dirt poor and constantly has to move. The farmers his father works for own property so there is constant tension between rich and poor. Unlike Hightower, the male character in Light in August, an impotent man who seeks to restore his masculine potency (Morgan 368), Abner, the father in "Barn Burning" lusts for the power that only a big fire can give him. He deliberately incites the anger of affluent men so that he can get even and, thus, gain some temporary sense of power for himself. For example, he purposely tracks horse manure onto the rich farmer's expensive rug and then, when ordered to clean it, deliberately ruins the rug with lye. When the judge fines him $5 worth of corn from his crop to pay for the damage, he has an excuse to burn down his employer's barn. Sarty, the son, hates his father on one hand but feels connected to him on the other and is afraid to oppose him. His mother and aunt, decent but down-trodden women, are too dependant and helpless to have any influence on the father. Sarty's two sisters are too fat, stupid, and "indolent" to care. The older brother seems to be a "chip off the old block," particularly when he suggests that his father better "tie up" Sarty to keep him from ruining their plan to burn down the barn. In the end Sarty tells on his father and runs away from home. Obviously, he can't go back. Afterwards alone in the woods, he grieves for the lost relationship of father and son: "Father. My father" (p. 24).
It has been suggested that this story is really a "coming of age" story, in which a son has to take a stand against his father and establish his own identity in order to become a man (Benson 642). If so, it is a coming of age story with a sinister twist.
Despite the pessimistic tone that pervades Faulkner's work he, himself, claimed to be hopeful about the future of humankind. In his speech at Stockholm in 1950 when he was awarded the Nobel Peach Prize for Literature, he implied that pessimism was a misinterpretation of his work. He said "...the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat" (William Faulkner: Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech web site). If he writes only about the good things, he will "labor under a curse" of superficiality. Towards the end of the speech he asserts, "I decline to accept the end of man.... I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail."
Benson, Melanie R. "Disturbing the Calculation: The Narcissistic Arithmetic of Three
Southern Writers," The Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 56, no. 4, 633-45, Fall, 2003.
Faulkner, William. "Barn Burning," Collected Stories of William Faulkner, New York:
Fennell, Lee Anne. "Unquiet Ghosts: Memory and Determinism in Faulkner," The Southern
Literary Journal, vol. 31, no. 2, 35-49, Spring, 1999.
McDonald, Hal. "Faulkner's Barn Burning," The Explicator, vol. 61, no. 1, 46-48, Fall,
Morgan, Charles B. "That Was What the Word Meant: The Seed of a Reading of Light in August," The Mississippi Quarterly, vol. 55, no. 3, 361-79, Summer 2002.
MWP: William Faulkner web site. "William Faulkner": http://www.olemiss.edu/mwp/dir/faulkner_william/index.html
William Faulkner web site. "William (Cuthbert) Faulkner (1887-1962)":
Wulfman, Clifford E. "Sighting/Siting/Citing the Scar: Trauma and Homecoming…[continue]
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