William Faulkner wrote many short stories that are well recognized for their themes. Faulkner used the theme of depression in some of his short stories. These stories include “A Rose for Emily”, “That Evening Sun”, and “Barn Burning”. The theme of depression in these three stories is expressed by the characters in the stories. “A Rose for Emily” is a story about a woman called Emily who experiences depression when her father and lover die. “That Evening Sun” is a story of a black woman called Nancy who is pregnant with a white man’s child and is afraid that her husband wants to kill her. She experiences depression and even tries to commit suicide. “Barn Burning” is a story about a small boy named Sarty who experiences depression when he is forced to deal with the vengeance missions of his father. Sarty’s father is in the habit of burning down other people’s barns as an act of vengeance for their actions against him.
In “A Rose for Emily” Emily Grierson and her father lived together in a house that was once a sight to behold. Before the civil war, their family was among those families that were of high status. The civil war changed things, but they continued living the life they had led in the past refusing to adapt to the present (Faulkner, 1990). Emily’s father did not want her to date any man they considered below their perceived status. She reached the age of thirty still a spinster. The neighbors talked about them behind their backs, and felt angry for being considered beneath their class. Emily’s father died, and she was stricken with grief refusing to accept that her father had died. After three days the people chanced on her breaking down, and quickly buried Emily’s father (Faulkner, 1990). The death of Emily’s father meant that Emily was all alone. She was depressed, and found it hard to let go.
After many days, Emily started going out and was frequently seen with a foreman called Homer Barron on Sunday afternoons. The people were at first happy that Emily had interest in someone else. They were, however, of the opinion that Emily’s social standing would not allow her to settle for a common laborer. Other people said that depression and grief were not enough to make Emily forget her social status. They felt that she was socializing with Barron so as to deal with her depression (Faulkner, 1990).
Emily was depressed and even went to a drugstore to buy poison. She told the seller that she wanted the most effective poison he had. Emily suggested arsenic, but the drug store keeper wanted to know the intended purpose for the poison. Emily refused to say the intended purpose for the poison. She gave the drugstore keeper a hard stare that made the seller get her the poison. The people thought that Emily wanted to kill herself, and they even said that it was ok (Faulkner, 1990). They sympathized with Emily because they knew Barron was not the marrying kind. They thought that Emily needed pity because nothing was working in her favor. She had lost her father, and now she had her eyes on a man that could not be hers. Emily bought a man’s wedding attire from the local stores, and people thought that Barron and Emily were getting married. Barron was last seen entering Emily’s house before he disappeared for good.
Emily was not seen outside in the streets for a period of six months. Later in the book we see that Barron had died in the house, and was laid in one of the bedrooms. There was a time when there was a foul smell coming from the house of Emily. Emily’s father had died, and Barron had disappeared. People thought that Barron had deserted Emily. However, they did not know that the foul smell coming from the house was that of a dead body. Barron had died, and Emily kept his body in a room in the house (Faulkner, 1990). The depression that Emily suffered shows in her actions. Barron had died, but she decided to deal with the pain alone. Therefore, she confined herself in the house and did not bury his body. In this case, however, Emily was the one who killed Barron by giving him poison. The body rotted in the house for over forty years because Emily could not bear to let go of her lover. The body was discovered by her neighbors after Emily’s death.
In the story of “That Evening Sun”, Nancy was a black woman who worked for a white man. Her work involved washing clothes and delivering them. Nancy got pregnant with a white man’s child, and her husband left her (Faulkner, 2013). Nancy despaired and was afraid that her husband would kill her. She got depressed and became delusional thinking that her husband was hiding in the ditch that was outside her house waiting to kill her. Nancy said that her husband went to Memphis, but she was scared that he would come back and kill her. She was depressed and said that if her husband had met another woman, she would kill them both.
Nancy dealt with her depression by getting drunk. There was a day she was arrested, and on her way to jail she saw a white man called Stovall and she started demanding to receive payment from him. Stovall beat her up, and kicked her mouth. She started bleeding and even lost some teeth. She, however, laughed and continued demanding to be paid her dues. In jail she made a lot of noise and sung many songs the whole night. Nancy tried to commit suicide while in jail, but it failed because she did not have enough pieces of clothes to tie herself up (Faulkner, 2013). She used the dress she had worn to hang herself. Her state of depression made her see life as useless.
In the story “Barn Burning”, Sarty was a young boy who had to live through the vengeance missions of his father Abner. Abner had the habit of burning up the barns of those people who made him angry. Abner expected Sarty to lie when questioned about the facts surrounding the event of barn burning (Faulkner, 2007). Abner was taken to court by his landlord because of burning down his barn. Sarty was called by the court to testify because there was no proof, and he felt sad because he knew his father wanted him to lie. Sarty experienced depression because he did not like what his father was doing, but he could not go against his father. He wanted a peaceful life where they lived in harmony with other people. Abner and his family were ordered by the court to leave that county. Abner got angry because he thought an injustice had been committed against him.
Abner moved to a new place with his family, and worked as a sharecropper (Faulkner, 2007). Abner committed acts that were against the authority. He justified himself by saying that he was trying to preserve his honor. He visited Major de Spain who was the owner of the land in which he worked as a sharecropper. He made the rug of Major de Spain dirty with horse droppings. He was ordered to clean the rug, and he got angry. Abner told his daughters to clean the rug, and they cleaned it with lye soap that totally destroyed the rug. Abner then threw the rug on the porch of Major de Spain with disrespect. Major de Spain got angry and fined Abner 20 bushels of corn. They went to court, and the court reduced the fine to 10 bushels of corn (Faulkner, 2007). Abner got angry and planned to set the barn of Major de Spain on fire.
Sarty was not happy with this because he wanted to live a good life. He, therefore, warned Major de Spain that his father was planning to burn down the barn. Sarty then ran to the direction of his father. Major de Spain overtook him, and he heard two gunshots. He jumped into a ditch to evade the horse, and then ran along the driveway. He decided to go live on his own because he did not want the bad habits of his father to catch on to him. Sarty had suffered depression because of having to live through his father’s vengeance missions. He believed his father was a brave man because he had been in the war. The truth was that his father had not gone to war to fight, but rather to fetch booty (Faulkner, 2007). Sarty did not know this, and so he respected his father for bravery. He was, however, done with living with grief and depression. Therefore, he chose to leave his family and started a new life on his own.
Depression is a major theme in the three stories by William Faulkner. In “A Rose for Emily”, Emily experienced depression with the death of her father and lover. For three days she did not accept that her father was dead. She killed Barron with poison, and kept his body in a bedroom for more than forty years. In the story of “That Evening Sun” Nancy was pregnant with a white man’s child, and her husband left her. She became depressed, and tried to commit suicide. She even started thinking that her husband was hiding in a ditch waiting to kill her. In the story of “Barn Burning” Sarty was depressed because his father had the habit of burning the barns of other people. They were ever on the move because they were chased away from counties. Sarty needed a steady life, and he eventually left his family and went to live alone.
William Faulkner. A Rose for Emily. Iowa: Perfection Learning Corporation. 1990. Print.
William Faulkner. That Evening Sun. New York: HarperPerennial Classics. 2013. Print.
William Faulkner. Barn Burning. Iowa: Perfection Learning. 2007. Print.