English 2013: Introduction to American Literature
William Faulkner (1931)
The fifth and sixth assignments of this course concern the difficult transition from child to adult.
This fifth assignment examines the fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Faulkner, and Zitkala-Sâ, four stories in which young characters' struggles to "grow up" mirror difficult social transitions.
In "The May-Pole of Merry Mount" Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote about the distant past in which Anglican and Puritan settlers competed in New England. The story focuses on the transformation of Edith and Edgar, the young Adam and Eve of the Anglican Merry Mount revelers, into a somber married couple who live within the Puritan community. The story maintains that their mature, sober love contains "all the purest and best of their early joys" (p. 622), but the story also refers to the years of responsible marriage ahead of Edgar and Edith as a "difficult path." Hawthorne's story seems to display a sense of loss over the "wild mirth" of youth and the inevitable way in which "moral gloom overpowers all systematic gaiety" Vol. I (p. 685). Hawthorne's story is based on the historical conflict between the Puritan settlers in Plymouth led by William Bradford and the Anglican settlers at Merry Mount led by Thomas Morton. Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux" recounts the growing pains of a young man who leaves his humble country home and travels to the big city of Boston in the years just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. Robin's misadventures during the single night that is described in the story disillusion him of the dream that his future will be guaranteed by his kinsman. The story, which opens with a brief history lesson, draws a parallel between Robin's effort to grow up and the young nation's struggle to break free from its "parent."
Zitkala-Sâ's story "The Soft-Hearted Sioux" explores how cultural assimilation to the Christian faith of the whites who run the boarding school for native Americans separates the young protagonist from his father, who believes his son's abandonment of traditional Native-American culture has left him "unfitted for everything, leaving him unsure of his true identity.
William Faulkner's "Barn Burning," which won the O Henry short story award as the best story of 1939, is set 30 years after the Civil War, the story focuses on two members of the Snopes family: Ab Snopes, a poor sharecropper who takes out his frustrations against the post-Civil War aristocracy by burning barns, and his adolescent son, "Sarty," who dislikes his father's destructive tendencies and ultimately must choose between family and morality. This powerful coming-of-age story is notable for Faulkner's attempt to show Sarty's inward turmoil. The story describes three locations that represent Faulkner's vision of the divisions of the white south: the planter's mansion represneting the old landed power, the sharecropper cabin that represents the disenfranchised poor whites, and the town store that represents the new merchantile class that will eventually replace the plantation aristocracy.
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