Stunning Comparison in Faulkner's A Rose for Emily and Barn Burning In the words of Oscar Wilde, 'The well-bred contradict other people. The wise contradict themselves.' Conflict between the 'well-bred' people and their 'wise' counterparts satiates William Faulkner's short stories 'A Rose for Emily' and 'Barn Burning.' The inability of Emily Grierson in 'A Rose for Emily' and Abner Snopes' father in 'Barn Burning' to accept and cope with their changing environments leads to an even greater quarrel with their neighbors; in each of Faulkner's stories, this inability escalates into a horrific murder. 'A Rose for Emily' and 'Barn Burning' are filled with gross contradictions that make conflict unavoidable. In 'A Rose for Emily,' different characters hold two opposing views of time itself. The first interpretation of time is that of a 'world as present, a mechanical progression' (West 75).
The narrator, the new Board of Aldermen, Homer Barron, and the newest generation represent this interpretation. These individuals, holding a new, less restricted point of view, prefer to keep everything set down in books, a practice strongly disapproved of by those who interpret their time as a 'world of tradition, divided from us by the most recent decade of years' (West 75). Emily Grierson and her Negro servant, Colonel Sartoris, and the old Board of Aldermen represent this old view. This old view of time prefers the social decorum associated with the Old South. All of the supporters of the old view are survivors of the Civil War, and it is no coincidence that these are the same people who continue to deny the changing customs of the post-war society. Furthermore, the jumbled order of events in 'A Rose for Emily's ymbolizes the South's struggle to maintain pace with the accelerating industrialization in the North (West 72).
The South's struggle causes it to be a 'culture unable to cope with its own death and decay' (West 72). The overall conflict between the old and new thought can also be viewed as a rivalry between the pragmatic present and the set traditions of the past (West 75). Emily Grierson, the main character in 'A Rose for Emily,' is the old view's main advocate. She fails to see that she is in a new age, one not bound by past promises (West 75).
Emily is obsessed with halting the unwavering passage of time, and it is her obsession that causes her to be unable to accept death. Emily's problem is first accounted for when she cannot accept her father's death; later, it causes tension in the community after the death of Colonel Sartoris, who had previously exempted her of her taxes. Emily fails to recognize the death of Colonel Sartoris, so she adamantly refuses to pay her taxes even with the new Board of Aldermen in control. Emily's stubbornness contributes to her desolation, and while she is 'shut away from the world, she grows into something monstrous' (Stone 75). Her monstrousness reaches a pinnacle when she poisons Homer Barron.
Because she is unable to cope with the deterioration of her life, she attempts to blur the past and the present together. By murdering Homer Barron and the new view he represents, Emily can bring her only love into her state of mind. She locks him in a room in her dilapidated home, and 'what was left of him had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay' (West 75). The room truly becomes timeless, as all the objects held within its walls remain untouched. West is correct when he states, 'When the circumvention of time produces acts of violence, the atmosphere becomes one of horror' (73). Emily Grierson's strict adherence to the old view causes her desolation and Homer Barron's murder.
On the contrary side, Homer Barron, although ironically Emily's only love, stands for the exact opposite of Emily. Homer is a workingman accustomed to machinery, while Emily is considered a testament of Southern gentility (West 74). Homer refuses to be overtaken by time and tradition as Emily would have wished, but when Emily kills Homer he clearly falls victim to Emily's way of life. West contends that, unlike Emily, Homer is unheroic because he relies too heavily on his selfish philosophy - a philosophy based on a selfish exploitation without any regard to his relationship to the past and impact on the future (West 74). Similar to 'A Rose for Emily,' in 'Barn Burning' the two main characters, Abner Snopes and his son Sarty, hold differing opinions that cause conflict.
Abner has a 'habit of burning down something every time he gets angry' (Bernardo). Sarty recognizes his father's psychological problem and begins to question what is more important: sticking up for his family or doing what is right. According to Karen Bernardo: At the story's beginning, when Sarty was ready to testify that his father did not burn down that barn, he would have done it because a son's job is to stick to his father. At the story's end, he warns Major de Spain that his father is about to burn down his beautiful plantation, even though he knows that this will bring his family down once and for all, even though he knows that this means he will never be able to go home again. Abner Snopes' bitterness toward Major de Spain largely stems from jealousy. The de Spain's are wealthy, powerful aristocratic Southerners; the Snopes are among the South's lower class: sharecroppers with little money and pride.
The disagreement over time in 'A Rose for Emily' and the class struggle in 'Barn Burning' causes the characters in the short stories to live in conflict. It is the characters' narrow point of view and unwillingness to compromise that makes a resolution of their conflicts impossible. William Faulkner uses these circumstances to make his short stories unforgettable.