The Norton Anthology

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Assignment 3: Comparison and Contrast Essay

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Rules of The Game” by Amy Tan showcases a relationship where an encouraging lesson is given by a parent to their child. In contrast, in William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” the protagonist is concerned his father “aims for me to lie, he thought, again with that frantic grief and despair. And I will have to do it” (Faulker 208). This essay focuses on the parent/child relationship between the six-year-old chess champion Waverly and her mother, and ten-year-old Sarty and his father Abner. Their relationships are examined through the lesson the parents attempt to provide to their children, the children’s perception of their parents, and the consequence of the parent’s treatment of their children.

Waverly views her mother as a teacher, who “impart[s] her daily truths” (Tan 1490) while ensuring that her “Chinese children who played in the back alleys of restaurants and curio shops” (Tan 1940) have full bowls and no memories of a life of poverty. Similarly, Abner wishes to provide a lesson to his son, but his motivations are less than altruistic. To protect himself, Abner expects Sarty to learn to “stick to [his] own blood or [he] ain’t going to have any blood to stick to” (Faulkner 510). This lesson is selfish, as Abner’s transgressions result in indirect consequences to Sarty and his family. Waverly accuses her mother of having selfish motivations because she enjoys telling “to whoever looked her way” (Tan 1496) that Waverly is her daughter. However, Waverly admits that “it was a mistake to say anything more,” (Tan 1497) and the generous “concessions to allow [her] to practice” (Tan 1494) provided by her mother suggests that parental motivation is simply the desire for her child to excel.

The children’s perception of their respective parent differs greatly. Waverly routinely describes her mother as proud, while she sits “on the bench, telling my admirers with proper Chinese humility, ‘Is luck’” (Tan 1494). Waverly also hints how her mother is strict, with her “eyes turned into dangerous black slits” (Tan 1497) when an incident occurs with a dropped bag of groceries. It is evident through the frequent use of the adjectives “cold” and “harsh” to describe Abner, that Sarty has a more negative perception of his father. Party mentions Abner’s “harsh, cold voice” (Faulkner 509) several times throughout the story, and describes Abner’s “harsh level stare beneath shaggy, greying, irascible brows” (Faulkner 510), and “depthless, harsh silhouette” (Faulkner 513) without supportive evidence that he thinks positively of his father.

While Waverly’s mother is strict to a fault at times, the story outlines a mother who deeply cares for her child and results in Waverly becoming a recognized champion at nine-years-old. In contrast, Abner shows little regard for his family’s wellbeing. After Sarty is attacked with his “head [striking] the earth” (Faulkner 509). Abner reacts with little concern in a “harsh, cold voice” telling Sarty to “get in the wagon” (Faulkner 509), ignoring the mother’s request to “get some water and wash and wash his [injuries]” (Faulkner 509). Abner strikes Sarty later in the story “with the flat of his hand on the side of the head, hard but without heat” (Faulkner 510) while demanding loyalty from his son. Later, Abner’s selfish act of ruining an expensive rug owned by the “man that. . . own[s] [his] body and soul for the next eight months” (Faulkner 510) results in his children having to clean up the mess. Ultimately, this incident leads to Sarty “running feet, reaching the gate. . . up the drive towards the lighted house” (Faulkner 518) to inform the household that Abner was about to set their barn alight, resulting in the suggested shooting of Abner.

In conclusion, while Waverly’s mother and Abner both aim to provide a lesson to their child, Waverly’s mother has the intention to improve her child while Abner selfishly commands loyalty and ultimately harms Sarty and his family. Waverly perceives her mother as caring, proud, and strict while Sarty feels that his father is cold and harsh. The story illustrates that Waverly’s treats her family and the community well. Abner neglects Sarty, acts violent towards him, and acts selfishly towards his family. This ultimately leads to Sarty overhearing what he believes is his father being shot. In contrast, Waverly’s mother’s actions lead to Waverly becoming a young chess champion. Overall, both stories showcase how the intricacies of the parent/child relationship can result in differing conclusions for the families.

Works Cited

Faulkner, W. “Barn Burning.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction (8th ed.), edited by Bausch,

R., & Cassill. R. V, Norton, 2015, pp. 507-519.

Tan, A. “Rules of the Game.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction (8th ed.), edited by Bausch,

R., & Cassill. R. V, Norton, 2015, pp. 1490-1497. For more information on The Norton Anthology check on this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norton_Anthology

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