William Faulkner’s writing in three short stories (‘A Rose for Emily’, ‘Barn burning’, and ‘As l lay dying’) is highly emotional, complex, gothic and has an unconventional choice of narrators. These attributes denote two literary elements and they are: language and style. One can analyze those two elements in order to understand William Faulkner’s voice.
How Faulkner uses language and style in ‘A Rose for Emily’, ‘Barn burning’ and ‘As I lay dying’
Emotional and poetic language
Faulkner has the ability to be intensely emotional in most of his pieces without really sacrificing the story line or the strengths of his characters. In ‘Barn burning’, the author evokes emotions by compressing deep meaning in just a few lines. In one scenario, Sarty says ‘Father! Father!’ (Faulkner, As I lay dying 14)These might seem like simple words, but they are packed with meaning. The reader is able to feel a sense of loss, sadness, and a hint of relief as the speaker makes this statement. The author allows his phrases to possess some level of ambiguity in order to give his readers room to interpret or create their own meaning. In ‘As I lay dying’, the author uses one of his characters to convey literary or poetic language. Darl is extremely articulate and his language is quite innovative.
Faulkner has the ability to bring out elements of death, decay, destruction, isolation and darkness in a unique way. This component in his writings caused him to stand out from his contemporaries. In ‘A rose for Emily’, Faulkner creates an image of a woman who clearly does not belong to her world. She refuses to leave her house for years on end; she stops talking to everyone, has an affair with a disapproved male, and finally murders her lover.
Here was a woman who was trapped in the past, and had alienated herself from life. Emily had a lush and beautiful environment outside her house; she never bothered to look at it. She chose to live in darkness, both literally and metaphorically as she never drew her curtains. This depiction of deep darkness was something that Faulkner always focused on; it added a gothic element to his writings and made it distinctive.
In ‘As I lay dying’, the author selects a relatively poor family- the Bundrens. Although the group is ignorant and has a series of other weaknesses, the author still conveys their experiences with empathy and grace. The setting of the community in which the Bundrens live has an element of grotesqueness because it focuses on members of the lower class.
The death of Addie is also one of the dark and disturbing components of the narration. Additionally, Faulkner describes the destruction of Darl in such a tragic and dignified manner. One cannot help but feel the same devastation that surrounded that development. The gothic style in this narrative is therefore reflective of the author’s preference for dark tales.
In ‘Barn burning’, the author’s preference for the bizarre is seen through his choice of characters. This is a dysfunctional family whose head has a need to burn houses. He causes his children to participate in his wrongdoings by instructing them to help him out with a few things.
It only gets worse for Sarty when the Major chooses to kill his father before he can destroy his barn. Eventually, the young boy keeps running until midnight, when he stops to sit at the crest of a hill. This must be a dark moment in Sarty’s life because he did not have a father anymore, yet he also ran away from people who love him. These are all depressing issues that cause the reader to empathize deeply with Sarty.
Faulkner had a complex style of writing owing to his treated of time, his use of long sentences and unconventional sentence structure, his preference for ambiguity, and his use of stream of unconsciousness.
One of the most interesting component’s of Faulkner’s style of writing was his complicated treatment of time. He achieves this by changing from narrator to narrator and from character to character. The lack of chronology in his pieces is the reason why some unseasoned readers find his work difficult to follow. In ‘A rose for Emily’, the story commences with the main character’s death. This is followed by many events that occurred in the modern age to the period just before the Civil war in the South.
The present is sometimes interrupted by events in the past and the past sometimes appears to be the present. One is able to deduce this interweaving of events through phrases such as: ‘thirty years before’ or ‘eight years later’ (Faulkner, A rose for Emily 17). It is almost as if Faulkner is giving his audience little pieces of a puzzle that must be put together in order to understand the whole narration.
The time movements have been achieved through the use of flashbacks and foreshadows. The end of the story illustrates that the entire piece has been a flashback since it talks about the discovery of the corpse of Homer in Emily’s house. Faulkner did not just choose this non linear approach in order to make his work interesting or to confuse readers; he did it in order to make his readers engage more with the text.
As one goes through the story, one is likely to be inspired to compare chronologies with other people so as to detect any possible misreading. In these discussions, one can then analyze the thematic repercussions of those chronologies. This unconventional style has a way of making readers more engrained in the narration, and hence more likely to admire his work.
The same thing occurs in ‘As I lay dying.’ Although the story spans through a couple of days, the author utilizes the perspectives of several voices in order to bring in a different dimension to the story. Faulkner manages to create a sense of wholeness despite the fragmentary nature of the story. The various sub plots that are added from time to time seem to add more strength to the story. The ambiguity of the narrators requires meticulous analysis of their descriptions because not all of them are credible.
Complexity is also created in ‘Barn burning through the use of long sentences. This method has also been employed in ‘As I lay dying’. The long sentences can make it difficult to follow the narrative, if one does not pay close attention 9Faulkner, as I lay dying 65). He is fond of this style of writing because he wants to capture the action and emotions that his characters are going through.
When Sarty starts chasing after de Spain, the author describes this experience using very lengthy sentences. As one reads them, one gets lost in the events of the moment. One can feel the confusion and sense of loss that Sarty is going through using this technique. Faulkner therefore achieves his objective by causing readers to get carried away. Since there is no slowing down in the sentences, there is also no slowing down with the actions being described.
Unconventional choice of narrators as an element of style
In ‘A rose for Emily’, the writer uses the town as the main voice in the short story. As the story continues, one learns about the habits and values of the people in Emily’s hometown. This narrator does not pre-empt anything in the short story. He seems to discover new things along with the audience.
For instance, in one scenario, the narrator states that there was an awful smell from Emily’s house, and adds that it occurred as soon as her sweetheart died. He does not provide any correlation between these two components of the tale. It is only until the end of the story that the reader is able to know where the smell came from. The narrator, provides additional information, but still strives to maintain suspense in the story.
In ‘Barn burning’, the author picks an omniscient narrator who seems very close to Sarty. The purpose of selecting such a voice was to make the main character get closer to readers. At one point, one feels as though one has entered Sarty’s mind. Since he is someone who understands things through symbols, the writer presented or explained things through such a perspective.
For example, when Sarty went to court, he describes the crowd as having ‘a lane of grim faces’. Numerous metaphors have been used, that relate to a child’s perspective. In another instance, he describes his father’s voice as being harsh as tin and lacking heat as tin. However, the author manages to illustrate that Sarty was not in fact the real narrator when Sarty and his family are out camping and his father makes a small fire.
It is noted that Abner does not hesitate to create large fires when burning other people’s barns. The narrator muses that had Sarty been older, he would have asked himself why this was the case. The author therefore plays with reader’s minds by providing more than one possibility for the narration. This kind of style was fundamental in providing essential details to the story while providing a mechanism for understanding the main character’s actions.
Perhaps the most complicated choice of narrators occurred when the author wrote ‘As I lay dying’; there are fifteen narrators in the story and each of the descriptions is highly subjective. Each narrator has his own kind of language and tone. Some of the narrators re confessional and seemingly neutral, but they end up loosing credibility later on.
For instance, one of the first ones –Darl – is an immensely articulate individual who seems to know what he is talking about. However, he is treated negatively by his family members who eventually take him to an asylum when he goes mad. To Faulkner, truth is debatable and depends upon the individual under consideration. The purpose for choosing such a complex interplay of narrators was to create a platform for adding more information to the story.
Instead of depending upon one individual to describe everything, the author decides to use both real and interior monologues that the characters have with themselves and others in order to concretize the story. Objectivity is evasive in ‘As I lay dying’, and this causes readers to think a little bit more intensively about the developments in the story (Blotner 44).
Stream of consciousness is also an important part of Faulkner’s complex writing. In ‘As I lay dying’, a number of narrators think about the death of the main character and they do this through continuous internal reflections. The same thing occurs in ‘Barn burning’. Sarty often describes his experiences as if they are flowing right out of his mind. For example, when his father walks in, he first describes what his father is wearing before he realizes that his father is in the house.
Faulkner was unsparing in his pieces; his words, plot and descriptions were intense and bold. His choice of characters and the lives they lived has grotesque or gothic inclinations. This author’s work was complex because of his sentence structures, his preference for ambiguity and his treatment of time. Lastly, the author’s choice of narrators was unconventional, but meaningful. Together, these components make Faulkner’s language and style exceptional in the literary world.
Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A biography. NY: Random House, 1984
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The corrected text. NY: Vintage publishers, 1991. Print
Faulkner, William. A rose for Emily. NY: Dramatic publishing, 1983. Print.
Faulkner, William. Barn burning. NY: Harper and brothers, 1939. Print.