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The Eyes of Faulkner - Essay Example

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The Eyes of Faulkner

This paper will focus upon the eyes of the two characters; the symbolism used by Faulkner to reveal particular character aspects of the individuals themselves and how his use of language supports those traits and communicates the plot of the stories in a succinct, encapsulated way.
They eyes of Emily Grierson are truly windows into her soul. We are introduced to her at her death, but in the subsequent tale Faulkner reveals much about her character; and we can see much of it through his description of her eyes. Emily Grierson is a woman born to a southern family once prominent, but now poor. The daughter of a controlling father, Emily dies many years after killing her suitor in her own home. There are two descriptions of her eyes in the story, one from when she is middle aged and purchasing the poison that she will use to kill an unspecified victim, be it a rat or human, and the other from an older age when she is confronted for not paying her taxes. Faulkner portrays the younger woman, who is slender at the time, as possessing "cold, haughty black eyes in a face the flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the eye sockets as you imagine a lighthouse-keeper's face ought to look" (Faulkner 125). In the description of her appearance years later, this same woman has gained weight, and her eyes are described as "lost in the fatty ridges of her face, look[ing] like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough..." (Faulkner 121). When she is buying the poison, Emily has cold and haughty eyes. These are the eyes of a woman contemplating murder, as we ultimately learn that her erstwhile suitor and probable husband's skeletal remains are found in a room of her house that hasn't been seen for forty years. Her soul, that of a murderess, is thereby revealed; haughty and cold. She is calculating, angular, unfeeling, and capable of buying poison without revealing her intent to the druggist. Contrast these descriptive elements with the pieces-of-coal-in-a-swollen-face description used for her latter years. Her eyes, black in both instances, are now described using a substance, coal, that provides considerable heat. In the scene where this description occurs, she has long-since committed the crime. Faulkner is showing us that Emily has gone from thin and cold to fat and burning; the primary intervening event being the killing of an innocent man. The descriptive changes in Emily are those of a woman who as lived with what she has done. She has become a bloated, intensely-eyed woman as her soul has dwelt upon her deeds. From icy calculation, she moved on to commit a fervent act. The act of passion, murder, has transitioned Emily's eyes from cold to hot just as Emily's own soul has evolved from frigidity to burning guilt. Faulkner embodies the essence of the entire story line within the eyes of his protagonist.
This same literary convention applies to Colonel Sartoris Snopes (Sarty) in Barn Burning. We meet Sarty at the trial of his father, who has been accused of burning a neighbor's barn after a dispute over a hog. Throughout the story, as Faulkner reveals the boy's relationship with his angry and arsonist father, we come to the understanding that there are ...Show more

Summary

William Faulkner was one of America's most important and celebrated writers, capable of profound symbolism and memorable description. Focusing his stories within the South during the post-Civil War era, he combines that deep symbolism with the artful use of language and offers his readers characters of significant depth and interest…
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