Southern Gothic Elements, Grotesque Morality And Hypocrisies In Works By William Faulkner And Flannery O’connor
Would you ever think that Southern Americans would write stories based on morality in the early 1900s? Probably not based on the fact that slavery was abolished only a few years earlier. Authors, William Faulkner and Flannery O’ Connor were far from exceptions to this. In the short story “Barn Burning” written in 1939, author William Faulkner shows that discerning between right and wrong is difficult when it comes to saving your family. After the father, Snopes, burns down a servant’s barn, Colonel Sartoris is expected to lie on his father’s behalf to save him from the charges. In real life, William Faulkner grew up in Oxford Mississippi where he joined the Canadian Air Force; later on, he worked in a bookstore where he published several poems. Faulkner’s great grandfather led a violent life which translated into one of his characters, Colonel John Sartoris. In the short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” written in 1955, author Flannery O’ Connor shows that finding a good man is hard in the American South. After a family plans a trip to Florida, they crash becoming stranded, later on, the Misfit and two boys show up where eventually they end up shooting everybody. In real life, Flannery O’ Connor grew up in Savannah, Georgia where she began drawing and writing in school. Later in life, O ‘Connor is known for her bizarre characters and contradictory elements. When compared, O’ Connor and Faulkner use similar Southern Gothic Elements of grotesque, morality, and hypocrisies to present their individual stories of the American South.
In the short story, “Barn Burning” William Faulkner uses the grotesque to present the American South. The definition of grotesque is the focal point on the strange and ugly referring to a physical body, however, it can also relate to death and violence. An example of this is “Again he could not see, whirling; there was a face in a red haze, moonlike, bigger than the full moon, the owner of it half again his size, he leaping in the red haze toward the face, feeling no blow, feeling no shock when his head struck the earth, scrabbling up and leaping again, feeling no blow this time either and tasting no blood, scrabbling up to see the other boy in full flight and himself already leaping into pursuit as his father’s hand jerked him back, the harsh, cold voice speaking above him: “Go get in the wagon.” This shows that Snopes is not a very good father because of his grotesque towards his son. The pain felt throughout the body with this much force reveals that the father is willing to do whatever it takes to save himself from being charged with arson. The violence conveyed through the use of words such as blow, shock, struck, blood all relate to the grotesque characterization of the father. Secondly, the American South in the early 1900s was known for its violence and protests because of human rights activism. The south was notorious for Jim Crow which were laws passed to discriminate between people of color and whites.
Comparatively, Flannery O’ Connor uses the grotesque to present the American South in her short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”. Surprisingly, both authors use very similar techniques to convey the grotesque and American South. An example of this is, “There was a piercing scream from the woods, followed closely by a pistol report. “Does it seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain’t punished at all?”. This shows the grotesque in the Misfit with the fact that he can kill a family with a baby with no remorse. The “piercing scream” came from the mother and little girl being shot. While the grandmother was having a normal conversation with him, he was having his boys kill innocent people. The strange and ugly referred to earlier is prominent in this example. However, the misfit then goes into talking about equality while people are being shot. Once again, the American South was experiencing human rights protests and racism during this time period which is what the Misfit is referring to. Comparing these two short stories with how they use grotesque shows the similarities between authors even though they lived in separate states revealing that human rights were a colossal problem in the early 1900s.
Morality is the second element that William Faulkner introduces in his short story “Barn Burning”. The definition of morality is “the branch of knowledge concerned with right and wrong conduct, duty, responsibility, etc.” An example of this is “His father, stiff in his black Sunday coat donned not for the trial but for the moving, did not even look at him. He aims for me to lie, he thought, again with that frantic grief and despair. And I will have to do hit.” This shows the morality that the son has to make to save his father from being charged. Is lying for his father right or wrong? Most people would lie for their family to a certain extent, however, when does that line get crossed. The father expects the son to do nothing less than lie even though he knows he committed the crime. However, the son knows it’s not right and ends up running away to get away from the toxic relationship. Secondly, Snopes and his family are slaves, therefore, they are probably treated unfairly. Snopes burned the barn down to get revenge on one of his servants and was planning on doing it again. Is burning a servant’s barn down justified when they treat you unfairly? This is a question that comes up based on morality because they are slaves in the American South.
Similarly, Flannery O’Connor applies morality in her short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” to justify the killing of an innocent family. An example of this is “… “and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can-by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness,” he said”. This shows that in the Misfits’ eyes it is right to kill somebody for fun. It is never right to kill somebody especially for fun, however, this is exactly what the Misfit does. Shortly after this, he kills an entire family he found on the side of the road justifying that he doesn’t believe in morality. In the Misfit’s words “No pleasure but meanness,” and living a life just to be mean to people must be miserable as confirmed by the Misfit. The authors use morality in similar ways to describe right vs. wrong in the American South.
Lastly, William Faulkner uses hypocrisies in his short story “Barn Burning” to reveal a hidden meaning in the American South. An example of this is “You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you.” The hypocrisy in this is that Snopes is not a man himself. A father who beats their child to save themselves is not a man what so ever. If the father stuck to his own blood, then he shouldn’t have to beat his children anyways. A man is someone who is honest and mature and cares for his family, the total opposite of Snopes. Furthermore, the hypocrisy of this statement reveals the hidden meaning of “Burning Barn” which is obedience to the law. In the American South, the majority of people were protesting and breaking laws because they were unfair, however, change didn’t come from protesting. Change came from peaceful meetings and gatherings. If Snopes followed the law, he wouldn’t have to hide the truth.
In like manner, Flannery O’Connor uses hypocrisies to reveal a hidden meaning in her short story “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”. An example of this is ““I’m sorry I don’t have on a shirt before you ladies,” he said, hunching his shoulders slightly. “We buried our clothes that we had on when we escaped, and we’re just making do until we can get better.” The hypocrisy in this is that the Misfit is worried about not having on a shirt in front of the innocent women he is about to murder. Based on the Misfit’s actions, he kills for enjoyment and experiences no remorse. The hidden meaning behind this is that the American South focused on the irrelevant issues in the 1900s instead of what mattered. Simply put, the American South focused on racial segregation instead of recognizing that we’re all humans inside no matter what race. Both authors use hypocrisies to reveal the hidden truth behind their short stories.
To finalize, William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor use the Southern gothic elements grotesque, morality, and hypocrisies to present the American South in the early 1900s. It is obvious that Faulkner and O’Connor wanted the Southern culture to change through the symbolism of the Southern Gothic elements.
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