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There comes a time in everyone’s life that requires him or her to “grow up.” This process is sometimes called “coming of age” because it is characterized as a young person transitioning into the adult stage of life. This development sometimes occurs naturally as one gets older; however, it could also happen because of an occurrence that forces the child to grow up too fast. Having to mature too fast happened a great deal during and after the victory of the North in the Civil War. Young men, both Caucasian and African-American, faced many troubles after the Civil War because their way of life changed drastically from what they were accustomed to. The victory of the North freed the slaves causing uproar in the lives of many. After the war young men who either freely or forcefully joined the war had to decide what role to play in society. The war taught them to kill and fend for themselves, but they were still at an age where they could be carefree teenagers. They were forced into adulthood without fully being an adult.
William Faulkner and Richard Wright are two writers that chose to include the theme of “coming of age” in their stories. Faulkner wrote “Barn Burning,” a story of a Caucasian boy growing up and realizing right from wrong. Wright wrote “Almos’ a Man,” and it is about an African-American boy who tries to grow up too fast. Both stories represent coming of age, but both show it in a different way. By describing “Barn Burning” and “Almos’ a Man,” and relating how they are the same, but at the same time different, one will see how Faulkner and Wright applied “coming of age” to these stories.
“Barn Burning” by William Faulkner begins with Sarty Snopes, an adolescent boy, in court, hoping he will not have to testify in the arson case against his father. Sarty knows his father is guilty; however, Sarty does not testify against his father. Throughout the story, one sees many times that Sarty has not yet separated himself from his father. This is shown by Sarty doing everything his father asks of him. Sarty’s family moves around a lot because of the father’s habit to burn something down if something does not go his way. The last time Sarty moves with his family marks the major turning point in the story because Sarty tells his father to give the de Spains, a family that the Snopes’ are working for, a warning before he burns something of theirs. This is the first time Sarty speaks against his father and acts on his feelings. In the story, Sarty knows the whole time that his father’s actions are wrong, but it is not until this point that Sarty finally chooses to act for himself and not go with his family, and therefore not being a part of his father’s evil actions. Sarty comes of age because he finally thinks for himself. He knows that if he stays, he will only be subjected into more things he wants no part of. Sarty begins his adulthood when he starts to realize that his father’s actions are wrong and he wants to do the right thing. Sarty’s attitude changes when he changes from being loyal to his family, to knowing the difference between right and wrong and doing something about it (Faulkner 1955).
In the story “Almos’ A Man” by Richard Wright Dave, the main character, believes owning a gun will allow him to be viewed as a man, but instead it does the complete opposite. Even though everyone thinks of and treats Dave as a boy, he continues to believe he should be treated as a man. He thinks that having a gun will solve this problem. Dave feels he must prove himself because he knows everyone thinks of him as a boy, and this causes him to want a gun. After Dave persuades his mother and gets a gun, his immaturity stands out. As a result of Dave’s false sense of power, he shoots the gun with his eyes closed and no knowledge of how to use it. The bullet kills the mule and Dave’s feeling of maturity temporarily ends when he does not want to face the consequences and take responsibility for killing the mule. Rather than admitting to what happened, he creates a story as a child does. Even after admitting he accidentally killed the mule Dave strongly believes that he should be treated as a man and decides that having a gun will earn him the respect. When Dave is asked to retrieve the gun from where he hid it and sell it back, Dave instead gets the gun and angrily shoots it pretending he is shooting it in front of the ones who think he is still just a boy. Dave continues to shoot the gun, until he hears a train. Dave decides he will prove to everyone he is a man; therefore, he goes to the train and jumps on it to run away. This shows Dave’s immaturity, but it also shows he has taken the gumption to become a man by having to fend for himself. This story relates to many young adults’ craving to become an adult and behave older than their age (Wright 2067).
There are not many similarities between the situations of Sarty of “Barn Burning” and Dave of “Almos’ a Man.” However, the main similarity they have is they are both dependent upon their family. Sarty works with his father and does whatever he asks, and Dave works because his family requires him to work. Both of the families believe that Sarty and Dave should do what is told of them because they are still viewed as children. However, as the stories progress it becomes increasingly apparent that they are starting to think for themselves and not have their families think for them. Both Sarty and Dave view running away from everything they are used to as the only way become dependent upon themselves and do what they think is right. However, even though they both run away from their families, the reasons for doing so are totally different.
The circumstances of Sarty and Dave are more unlike than they are alike. The chief difference between them is their race. Sarty is Caucasian and Dave is African-American. Their racial differences are important because of the time period of which they are in. Since Sarty is white he and his family are free to do and go as they please, but Dave being black limits what he and his family can do because they are still viewed as workers on a plantation and their actions are restricted. If Dave’s father was to burn barns as Sarty’s father does, the people of that time would not give Dave’s father a fighting chance, he would most likely be killed. Yet, Sarty’s father is able to defend himself. Sarty is even asked to testify in his father’s case; Dave, however, almost certainly would not have been asked because of his race. Another difference between these two boys is the reasons why they run away from their family. Sarty chooses to separate himself from his family because of the evils of his father. If Sarty would have stayed with them he would have to continue doing the things his father asks regardless of what he wanted to do. Sarty knew that the only way to better himself was to not go with his family, and that is what he did. Dave running away was for an entirely different reason. Dave’s reason might be viewed as being selfish because he does not want to take responsibilities for his actions. He feels that abandoning his family will result in him finally becoming the man he longs to be. The situations of Sarty and Dave are definitely more different than they are similar.
After the stories of “Barn Burning” and “Almos’ a Man” are over, it is very easy for one to ponder what will happen to the Sarty and Dave. One could think that Sarty will go on to find a job of some sort. Sarty will probably not see his family again because they will most certainly keep moving from place to place because of their father. Sarty will hopefully find a wife and with her have children that he can give a better childhood than he had. One may perhaps think that Sarty will be able to live very well on his own. Dave will presumably find some type of job to get by. Since Dave is going to have to rely on himself to live, one might think that Dave will lose his immaturity and finally become a man. One possibility for Dave’s life is that he goes back to his family after years of him making an identity for himself. There are multiple possibilities for what will become of Sarty and Dave after the stories end.
Everyone has to enter the stage of adulthood eventually; however it depends on the person to decide when that will take place. Two boys, Sarty from “Barn Burning” written by William Faulkner and Dave from “Almos’ a Man” written by Richard Wright, progress their life into this adult stage by coming of age. By exploring what it means to “come of age” one will better understand these two stories. If one knows nothing of what “coming of age” means he or she will not fully comprehend what the authors are trying to relate to the reader. This is because both Sarty and Dave run away because they are growing up and becoming adults; they do not abandon everything they know for nothing. However, if one knows nothing about “coming of age” he or she might think this is so. The stories of “Barn Burning” and “Almos’ a Man” both represent the life altering step of “coming of age,” though different in the way they show it, both are willing to give up the life they are used to for the sake of becoming men.
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