Hawthorne to Faulkner: the Evolution of the Short Story

Topics: Short story, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Young Goodman Brown Pages: 5 (1613 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Hawthorne to Faulkner: The Evolution of the Short Story

Nathaniel Hawthorne and William Faulkner's short stories "Young Goodman Brown" and "A Rose for Emily" use a moral to endorse particular ideals or values. Through their characters examination and evaluation of one another, the author's lesson is brought forth. The authors' style of preaching morals is reminiscent of the fables of Aesop and the religious parables of the Old and New Testament. The reader is faced with a life lesson after reading Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown:" you cannot judge other people. A similar moral is presented in Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily." The use of morals combined with elements of Romantic era writing show the stories of Hawthorne and Faulkner to be descendants both of fables and of Romance literature.

Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" tells the story of a young man who decides to league himself with the devil. Goodman Brown is a citizen of a typical town with its share of good people and not-so good people. Goodman Brown believed that he knew the inhabitants of the town fairly well. He knew Goody Cloyse, for example, to be "a very pious and exemplary dame, who had taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral and spiritual advisor, jointly with the minister and Deacon Gookin" (598). He knew Deacon Gookin was a strict man of the Church and was always "bound to some ordination or ecclesiastical council" (599). However, in his travels through the woods with the old man, Goodman Brown notices Goody Cloyse progressing down the path.

"‘A marvel, truly that Goody Cloyse should be so far in the wilderness at nightfall,' he [Goodman Brown] said" (598).

Just as he begins to have doubts about the woman's pureness of heart, he comes across Deacon Gookin in the woods as well. As they are supposedly fine, upstanding citizens of the village, Goodman Brown has to wonder why they are traveling through the woods on the same path that he is taking with the devil. Afterwards, he is astonished to see not only these two upstanding citizens at Satan's ceremony, but almost everyone else in the town as well. It is through his assumption that his fellow townspeople were good that Goodman Brown learns the story's most important lesson: namely that you should not judge people at face value; anyone can put on airs, and his encountering of the devil's ceremony emphasizes this fact.

Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" has a similar moral, only in this story, it is the townspeople who learn the lesson. Emily is a woman who goes against all norms of her society: she takes a lover, a Northerner no less, she does not marry him, and she even commits murder. As she goes through these events in her life, the townspeople make certain assumptions about what she is doing. They assume that she has married Homer Barron, they assume that the arsenic she purchased is so that she can kill herself, and they constantly assume that she is "Poor Emily," a woman who is ruled by her father and unable to make decisions for herself.

"So the next day we all said, ‘She will kill herself;' and we said it would be the best thing. When she had first begun to be seen with Homer Barron, we had said, ‘She will persuade him yet…'" (461).

The townspeople continually judge Emily and make assumptions about her life without a basis in fact. Faulkner himself acknowledged the connection between his title character and her environment, that is, her town and the townspeople around her, in an interview in 1959.

"…and that was simply another manifestation of man's injustice to man, of the poor tragic human being struggling with its own heart, with others, with its environment, for the simple things which all human beings want…" (1416)

He continues with a description of Emily and how she does not meet the expectations of her society.

"She had been trained that you do not take a lover. You marry, you don't take a lover. She had broken all...

Cited: Charters, Ann. The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin 's Press, 1995.
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