Comparative Analysis Of “The Man Who Was Almost A Man”, “A Rose For Emily”, And “Good Country People”
When analyzing literature it’s rather easy to start one place and end up another. The complexities of each individual writer’s style covered in this course provokes new levels of thought. To understand a writer’s style you need to first have a knowledge of the time period they were alive and what part of the world they are from. Through the readings in this course the reader stumbles upon many shared techniques but the focus here is going to be on two techniques relevant to the works chosen. The first technique is the use of Non-linear time and the second is Narration through fragmented, internalized, or multiple viewpoints. The works being analyzed are “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” by Richard Wright, and “Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor. With these short stories come three different writers who all have at least one thing tying them all together. What they all have tying them together is that they were all born in the American South. This plays a huge role in the stories because all three of these take place in southern towns that could not possibly be replicated by someone who has not lived through that culture. Faulkner and O’Connor paint the most picturesque southern towns in their short stories it’s almost movie like how much life is felt within those towns. Within the selected readings, it was found that “A Rose for Emily” contains a non-linear timeline. A story linear goes beginning, middle, and end all in the same order that the events happen. Faulkner, although the story isn’t chronological it does have a beginning, middle, and end. At the start of Act 1 the reader finds themselves at Miss Emily’s funeral but quickly the focus shifts to when she was alive. Faulkner continues to jump around through the rest of the acts but his execution is nearly perfect. The reader can easily understand what is happening in the story despite that it is non-linear. The fact that this story jumps around does not take away from the quality of the content in fact it makes it better. When reading a story that follows a chronological storyline it could become rather monotonous at some point. While reading a story that is non-linear the writer is able to mix in scenes from the past that can provide crucial details as to why what is happening is happening. There is one scene in particular that Faulkner takes advantage of this. This scene takes place in the beginning of the story in the third paragraph. Faulkner uses this part of the story to explain what Miss Emily was to the town of Jefferson, “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor–he who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron-remitted her taxes, the dispensation dating from the death of her father on into perpetuity. Not that Miss Emily would have accepted charity. Colonel Sartoris invented an involved tale to the effect that Miss Emily’s father had loaned money to the town, which the town, as a matter of business, preferred this way of repaying” (Faulkner). Without that background information there is a lot of questions that would have surfaced regarding her significance to the town. Terry Heller, a professor at Coe College provides A Critical Study of William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’. Terry speaks about how as the story goes on the reader finds out more and more about the town while they don’t really know much about Miss Emily besides what they learned in the beginning of the story. “As we witness these confrontations, we seem to learn much about the town, but relatively little about Emily. Through what the town feels, says, thinks, and does we gradually obtain a fairly clear idea of its character as a group” (Heller).
The reader sees more character development from the town than the main character. Yes, this could be considered a critique but this could also be a great thing. This way of developing the characters builds the mystery of Miss Emily so that the reader can feel the same ambiguity that the townspeople feel. Of the techniques narration through fragmented, internalized, or multiple viewpoints is the most confusing. With this technique, the reader is left to wonder whose perspective they are viewing the story from. For example, in “Good Country People” O’Connor refers to Hulga (Joy) as “Girl”. This causes some confusion because the reader is not sure at first if O’Connor is referring to Hulga or Mrs. Freeman’s daughters, “She did not call her that in front of Mrs. Hopewell who would have been incensed but when she and the girl happened to be out of the house together” (O’Connor). Another example is when Mrs. Hopewell is talking about Hulga’s education, “The girl had taken the Ph.D. in philosophy and this left Mrs. Hopewell at a complete loss” (O’Connor). There are examples of her being referred to as “Girl” by the writer throughout the story. With all this being said it’s easy for the reader to get confused in stories like these. “Good Country People” is a story that shouldn’t be taken at face value. O’Connor’s characters represent characters from old Greek mythology. Dr. John Thorburn is the one who pointed this out. He holds a Ph.D. in Classical Literature from the University of Colorado, a Master’s in Classical Humanities from Texas Tech, and a Bachelor’s in Secondary Education from Baylor. Thorborn argues that because O’Connor stayed with Robert Fitzgerald who was known for his translations of old Greek mythology that she was influenced to have elements of it in her story. Thorborn also argues that the character Hulga (Joy) is based upon O’Connor herself. This is argued because when she was a child her father died from lupus and just 10 years later she was diagnosed with the disease. The disease eventually led to her needing a cane to walk and then came “Good Country People” about a week later. “O’Connor’s difficulty in walking is paralleled in this story, where the central figure, a thirty-two-year-old woman named Joy Hopewell is described as “large hulking Joy” (Thorburn). Greek mythology comes into play when Thorborn relates Hulga to Hephaestus, the lame craftsman of the gods. According to the mythology his legs were deformed by Zeus which ties the characters together because of their leg injuries at such a young age. The Narrator speaks in third person to tell the story through the eyes of Hulga and Mrs. Hopewell. The Narrator only shows us Mrs. Freeman and her daughters through the eyes of Hulga and Mrs. Hopewell. The story is only from their perspective which creates some interesting scenes where we are seeing characters from different perspectives. There is one scene is particular where we get the perspective on Mrs. Freeman from the perspective of her last employer. He says, “She’s got to be into everything”, “If she don’t get there before the dust settles, you can bet she’s dead, that’s all. She’ll want to know all your business”, “but me nor my wife neither could have stood that woman one more minute on this place” (O’Connor). The reader doesn’t know much of anything about the man who is saying this besides the fact that Mrs. Freeman used the work for him.
Another writer that uses this technique is Richard Wright. In Wright’s “The Man Who Was Almost a Man”, He uses the same technique but just in a different fashion. Wright doesn’t disclose at the end of lines of dialogue who is saying what. It’s not so much confusing rather than the reader just needing to be attentive. This style is not necessarily a bad thing because it closer resembles how real life conversations are. But there is one way the reader can tell the difference between Dave and the Narrator. Whenever Dave speaks it’s written in his southern dialect it is him and whenever the text is written in Standard English then it is the Narrator. Another way the reader could tell who is speaking is by if the person speaking is in third person than it is the narrator and if it is first person then it is Dave. For example, ‘Aw, lemme have the catlog, Mistah Joe. Ah’Il bring it back”, “Joe walked through the rear door. Dave was elated. He looked around at barrels of sugar and flour. He heard Joe coming back. He craned his neck to see if he were bringing the book” (Wright). It’s fairly obvious who is who once the reader picks up on the shifts in language and perspective. Comparing “Good Country People” to “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” is no simple task, but since they use the same technique it is very possible. Both stories utilize narration through fragmented, internalized, or multiple viewpoints. As mentioned before the two take different approaches when actually implementing them. O’Connor uses a slightly more complex style of this technique by the way she uses the same language for everyone. She also makes it so that both Hulga and her mother have similar viewpoints so it could be difficult to differentiate between the two. Wright on the other hand, uses a more watered down version of this. Wright makes it so the narrator and the people of the story use different forms of the same language. He also makes it so Dave’s family uses the same language so it could get dicey there. All the confusion could be avoided if the reader just says attentive from the very beginning of the stories. In conclusion, the works “A Rose for Emily”, “Good Country People”, and “The Man Who Was Almost a Man” are complex in nature and deserve to be picked apart and analyzed. The same applies for the many other works studied in this class. That is the beauty of literature, a person who doesn’t know anything about it can derive their own meaning. There comes a stigma with the younger generations that old literature is boring and redundant. But that is just ignorance to deny the importance of it through history. Looking back at history the amount of times that something so simple changes the whole course of the world is too many count. With that being said, who knows the reality we could be facing without literature. So many people have been inspired by great works of literature that it’s silly to think it doesn’t play a part in our lives.
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