In “Barn Burning” and “A Rose for Emily” William Faulkner makes his characters sympathetic in that he makes them victims of circumstances and of their own place in society. Abner Snopes is as much a victim of his place in the world as Miss Emily is. For Abner, a man who was free and had a trade before the war, being reduced to the role of sharecropper was humiliating and more. His new lot in life diminished the fact that he was a veteran who had fought valiantly for what he believed in. As a Southerner, regardless of the outcome of the war, he took offense at the concept that he should take orders from the new master’s butler, a black man, and he was angry that the New South enslaved him and his family as surely as it had enslaved blacks before the war. For Miss Emily, the issue was also about expectations and society. Emily had been raised as a wealthy Southern lady and taught her entire life that no one was good enough for her. Perhaps had her father let her date when she was young, she might have married well and been able to save the lifestyle that she had grown up in. Because he did not, upon his death, she found herself nearly penniless and having to maintain the same social standards as she had before the war, but in a different manner.
Ultimately, Snopes was a man driven to fits of anger by the loss of hope. As time progressed, he saw his dreams and the lifestyle of his past fall away and be replaced by a lifestyle that he had been raised to accept only in those of another skin color. Faulkner is careful to breed sympathy for Snopes in a sly fashion, never overtly praising the man, but instead, explaining his actions and the manner in which he took them. For example, rather than claiming that Snopes was a good father, Faulkner demonstrates that the man disciplines his son in a manner devoid of malice. Instead, he repeatedly tells the reader that Snopes operated in the manner expected of him when he whips the mule and cuffs his son. Faulkner further shows the soul of the man when Snopes himself attempts to clean the carpet. By refusing the aid of his wife and daughters, it appears that Snopes is taking some personal responsibility for destroying the rug. When he explains to his son why he is punished, for coming close to ratting out his family, Snopes makes it clear that family comes first, even above honesty. Though his values are perhaps different than other societal values, he does what he believes to be correct for his family.
Even in his choice to burn the de Spain’s barn, Snopes is shown to be a man who needs to vent his anger at society and those whom he believes mistreat him, but he does not turn his anger into violence against another person. Miss Emily’s only violence and rebellion against societal standards is to take the life of her suitor, a much more heinous act than Snopes’. Indeed, Snopes’ actions also seem more acceptable as they appear at least to be much more impetuous and driven by reactionary anger than Miss Emily’s murder. She, instead, comes off as cold and calculating, if not entirely mad. Both Snopes and Emily suffer from the prejudices of the New South: Snopes is prejudice against the freed slaves and Emily is prejudice against the Carpetbaggers.
In “A Rose for Emily”, Faulkner attempts to make it clear that Emily was a victim of her circumstance, but does not accomplish this as well as he does with Abner Snopes. One of the primary reasons for this may be that Snopes has a family to support. Though the story does not tell the reader exactly why, it shows that Snopes not only has his wife and his four children to support, but also either a sister or sister-in-law, the character often referred to as “the aunt”, who is also part of his household. The fact that he is attempting to instill his values in his children and is caring for a relative who is not in his immediate family make him more sympathetic than Miss Emily. Faulkner attempts to make Emily more sympathetic, talking in terms of the sympathy that the town feels for her from eliminating her property taxes to the city council sprinkling lye on her lawn so that no one has to tell the lady that she smells. In the end, this makes Emily somewhat less likeable than Abner. He never seems to have any sympathy from the world around him. Even when he takes the de Spains to court over the rug, the judge’s decision to decrease his debt is not based on sympathy or understanding of Snopes’ circumstances, but rather the economic realization that the landlord was simply asking too much.
In the end, Snopes is a much more likeable character than Miss Emily because he has character. He is depicted as a man who can always turn a profit when given a chance because he is too determined to quit. And, his anger, at least at times, seems justified. He is shown to be hard-working and caring. Miss Emily is cold and distant. Perhaps this is because she has been raised to be a lady, but in the end, it makes her much less likeable than the Abner. She is pitiable and her state in life is sad, but there is little evidence in the story that she has taken any action to improve her place or to make herself more available to people after her father’s death. Perhaps because of her perverse upbringing, even after her father’s death, she seems to believe his idea that she is too good for the town and does not make any attempts to be happy once she no longer is hidden in his shadow. All in all, Snopes is the more likeable character because he seems human with flaws. Emily seems like the cold-blooded killer that she is.