StoryHawthorne 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 the laws of her tradition, her background” (1417)
The townspeople in the story learn that all that they assumed to be true about Emily was not true, thus instilling the moral that judging people without truly knowing them can only lead to misunderstandings.
Both “Young Goodman Brown” and “A Rose for Emily” use morals to teach readers how to improve the way that they perceive the people in their lives. It is this style of teaching a lesson that is a direct descendant from the grandfather of all short stories: namely the fable. The fable used highly simplified characters, even animals in some instances, to illustrate certain lessons to be learned about life. Animals were used frequently as they could easily depict certain basic emotions or characteristics which people could relate to, such as a fox for cunning, a dog for loyalty, or a pig for gluttony. The lessons taught could be as ordinary as “Whomever laughs last, laughs best” or as timeless as “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
In a similar manner, religious parables, most notably those of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible, taught these basic life lessons as a means for people to learn the teachings of religious leaders in an easy and straightforward manner. The characters in these parables were people to which common folk could relate. Parables such as “The Good Samaritan,” for example, told of a man who is beaten and left for dead by robbers. He is passed by two other men, one of them being a religious leader, and is not helped by either of them. The third person to pass is a Samaritan, a person who does not follow the Jewish religion, and he is the one who helps the injured man. The simple moral of this parable is to help those in need whoever they may be; a good life lesson for anyone, be they religious or not. Hawthorne particularly, and to a lesser extent Faulkner, use the device of the moral in their stories so that they may teach a valuable ideal to their readers.
The evolution of the short story can be seen not only in the use of morals in the works of Hawthorne and Faulkner, but in their use of elements of Romantic literature such as preoccupation with ages past, use of the supernatural, and their psychological studies of their characters. Hawthorne wrote during the Romantic era and as such his work “is closer to the prose romance than to the novel” (1602). Faulkner follows in the Romantic footsteps of Hawthorne in his “A Rose for Emily.” Faulkner, although he is a modernist writer, incorporated many Romantic literary techniques in his “A Rose for Emily.” The style in which he is writing would be classified as a sort of neo-romantic style due to his use of elements of the supernatural, a preoccupation with the past, and his complex psychological studies of his primary characters. Faulkner himself commented that he wanted to write a “ghost story,” a definite throwback to the preoccupation with the supernatural that was prevalent in Romantic era literature.
Additional evidence of an evolution between the two literary periods and the two authors can be found in the differences between Hawthorne’s language and Faulkner’s language. The language of Hawthorne’s day 150 years ago may be quite different from our modern language, however, Hawthorne had the additional burden of writing his story in the language of the 1690s, the time setting for “Young Goodman Brown.” Hawthorne did so by using vernacular such as “durst” and “pray tarry.” Faulkner, on the other hand, keeps with the fairly modern language of his day, although he adds a bit of Southern slang to his writing in keeping with the setting of the story.
“The construction company came with niggers and mules and machinery, and a foreman named Homer Barron, a Yankee” (460)
Faulkner differs from Hawthorne in that he addresses controversial issues that in Hawthorne’s time would hardly have been considered appropriate material to discuss, much less include in a short story. In “A Rose for Emily,” Faulkner makes subtle references to Homer Barron’s possible homosexuality.
“Homer himself had remarkedhe liked men, and it was known that he drank with younger men in the Elks’ Clubthat he was not a marrying man” (461).
Later in the story, Faulkner makes reference to Emily’s possible necrophilia, although no direct statement is ever made. Homosexuality and necrophilia would in no way be topics to be discussed in Hawthorne’s time. As a modern writer, Faulkner had a considerable amount of freedom in what he wrote, and this freedom is reflected in his work.
The short story began as fables and parables that evolved into more complex psychological studies of virtues, ideals, and values. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” emphasizes these morals as he examines the inner workings of his main character’s thoughts as he encounters the devil and the townspeople. Faulkner also uses these techniques in his modern style of writing, however he tailors them to fit the more controversial issue of his generation while still maintaining a hold on the past generation he is examining. Over time, values and ideals stay the same, but the manner in which the technique is used evolves with current affairs and modern vocabulary.
Charters, Ann. The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1995.