Faulkner also uses several similes and metaphors to compare Abner’s desire for burning as “the living fruit of nights…the deep mainspring of his father’s being…as the element of steel and powder…as the one weapon for the preservation of integrity.” Such similes and metaphors make specific and understandable the abstract qualities of Abner.
The images of living fruit, mainspring, steel, powder and weapon get deep into his father’s psyche: His strength, pride, resilience, and power.
(239) Here is how I draw students’ attention to the passage’s stylistic features: This passage has both the boy’s observations and reflections.
While the observations are from the boy’s perspective, the reflections are from the point of view of a much older Sartoris who is sophisticated enough years later to interpret his father’s proclivity for fire.
Look at an episode from William Faulkner’s short story “Barn Burning”: The nights were still cool and they had a fire against it, a rail lifted from a nearly fence and cut into lengths—a small fire, neat, niggard almost, a shrewd fire; such fires were his father’s habit and custom always, even in freezing weather.
Older, the boy might have remarked this and wondered why not a big one; why should not a man who had not only seen the waste and extravagance of war, but who had in his blood an inherent voracious prodigality with material not his own, have burned everything in sight?It seems that students are always invested more in discovering and debating what happens in the story, how the characters engage in conflicts, and what the story tells them, than in discussing how the author puts words and sentences into best use for thematic and stylistic effects.Second, as native speakers, students often take language for granted.Often style comes last on the list, and when it finally gets its turn for discussion, the class is almost approaching its end, leaving little or almost no time to analyze the author’s use of language, thus leading to students’ neglect or ignorance in this very important aspect of the story. Without a good understanding of it, students’ understanding of the story’s other elements is hampered.In this short essay, I’d like to share some of my experiences in teaching style in short stories.The definition does not sound complex; however, it is not easy to do an analysis of style in a story.Other than the lack of time as mentioned above, there are three other reasons why style is often under-discussed. To discuss style is not as interesting as discussing the story’s conflicts, characters or themes.Commenting on the mixed consciousness of the two narrators, James Ferguson writes, “The tensions between the awareness of the boy and the information supplied by the authorial voice undergird and emphasize the conflicts between youth and age, innocence and sophistication, intuition and abstraction, decency and corruption, all of which lie at the core of the work” (96).Thus the two perceptions and styles complement and enrich each other, helping readers to gain a deep insight into his father’s psyche.The passage as a whole stands out as a testimony of not only Abner’s multidimensional and complex personality but also Faulkner’s masterful command of style to bring Abner vividly to readers.The detailed analyses I outlined above should be practiced in the beginning weeks of the semester so that students know how to conduct a stylistic analysis.