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Traits of “Good Literature” in Short Stories: Barn Burning, Cathedral and Revelation

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Good literature is hard to come by but Tim Gillespie’s article “Why Literature Matters” gives a great insight as to what “good literature” should be. The three short stories that I have read all demonstrate traits of “good literature”. The three short stories that will be discussed are “Barn Burning” by William Faulkner, “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver, and lastly “Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor. Although each of these short stories have different messages and meaning they all exemplify in some aspect what Tim Gillespie says “good literature” is.

One of the main aspects of “good literature” according to Tim Gillespie is, “to explore human experiences in all its dimensions and possibilities” (Gillespie 20). Now “Barn Burning” explores the struggles of family, laws, and courage. Another aspect of “good literature” according to Tim Gillespie is that “literature portrays lives that have complicated problems and tough choices, and invites us to engage with them, to imagine living out life’s vexing dilemmas along with the characters we meet” (Gillespie 18). “Cathedral” explores this different aspect of “good literature”, the story makes the reader think about how people would react in that same situation and how different the actions in the story can differ from your own. Tim Gillespie’s article also says that we use literature to “try out other lives and connect with other humans through the exercise of imagination and empathy” (Gillespie 21). “Revelation” explores this aspect through racism and religion which was a major point throughout this short story.

“Barn Burning” is the more complicated short story out of the three short stories that have been read so far. As said before “Barn Burning” is a story of the struggles of dealing with family, the law, as well as self-courage. In the article “Why Literature Matters” human experiences are very important through literature as they are a way for people to live through the stories or learn from them. Put yourself in the situation that the character is in and use your imagination to see how certain decisions can possibly affect the situation for the good or the bad. Throughout “Barn Burning” Sartoris is conflicted with the weight of his family responsibilities and does not believe the life he is currently living with his family to be a peaceful one. However, he does see the possibility of a peaceful life when they visit de Spain’s house.

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In “Cathedral” Robert is a blind man who has come to visit his good friend but Roberts friends’ husband is not too excited about Robert visiting. The short story is being narrated by the husband who sees Robert a purely a blind man and nothing more than that. The story does a great job at putting into the perspective of the person across from them and see how they would react in certain situations. Would think the same things as the narrator did about Robert or would you have been more considerate and less despiteful of a man you barely knew? In the story the narrator says he has never met a blind man, but was it because he was blind that he had a dislike for him or was it the fact that this blind man was such a close friend to your wife and he did not like that. These are the kinds of questions this short story does such a good job doing making you really think and use your head. The story is not black and white, but you can see how as the story continues the narrator starts to understand Robert and his blindness. At the very end of the story when Robert and the narrator attempt to draw a cathedral to explain what a cathedral looks like to Robert, the two characters begin to understand each other. “My eyes were closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything. “It’s really something,” I said” (Carver 113). In this moment the narrator was put in Roberts shoes and he started to see things as Robert did. You can see the growth in the narrator even though the story was very short. “Cathedral” is the perfect example of what “good literature” looks like, the story made you put yourself in the narrator’s shoes and even Roberts. The use of your imagination also has major influence on how you navigated the story, did you image Robert to be a big man who was bald or was he a short man with a clean shave beard and nice hair?

In “Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor the short story has many aspects of what “good literature” should be, like putting yourself in the characters shoes or the story discussing religion in a way that could be questionable. “Revelation” is a story about society class and religion, it discusses the aspects of the society classes like middle and lower class. In the story the main character, Ruby Turpin, thinks she is what an idle woman is and that anything below her is white trash. Putting yourself in this story can bring up questions about how you would handle situations like the girl in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. You can put yourself in the situation without putting yourself in harm’s way, pressure of what others might think of what you decide or judgment from people. This all comes back to imagination and what kind of human experiences you have had or could have. “What if Jesus had said, “All right, you can be white-trash or a nigger or ugly”!” (O’Connor 416). This quote is one of those quotes that really makes you think because it is quite a question to have a straight answer to or even the kind of question just to avoid and not answer. It does make you think but it also makes you puts perspective on what society used to be. “Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog” (O’Connor 422). The quote is a prime example of how religion can affect those who believe wholeheartedly that they are righteous and moral above everyone else. This one sentence from Mary Grace makes Mrs. Turpin question herself more than she ever did before, she was a confident woman before the incident with Mary Grace but not anymore. How would you handle the situation, have you ever been put in a situation where your race or religion was used against you? Does this change the way you would handle things? From the comfort of your own mind you can play out how this affect you or maybe it can change the way you see people that you perceive are a class below you.

“Good literature” is hard to find but Tim Gillespie’s article “Why Literature Matters” is a great help to sort out the good ones. Although there are a few different ways to classify how the three short stories show “good literature” the one major aspect they all have in common is that you can participate, use imagination and human experience. Human experience is how people relate to other people experiences or how people compare one’s experience to another. Imagination is how people can learn about themselves but also how people can put themselves into the story they are reading. And participation in literature is always a good thing, if the story can get the reader to start to questions things or want to have conversations about why the character would do this or how do you think this would play out if said character did this instead. “Good literature” is when “its capacity to stimulate the imagination, to offer different perspectives and wider worlds that the young reader can wander at leisure and experience in safety, without pressure or judgement” (Gillespie 17). All three of these short stories, “Barn Burning”, “Cathedral”, and “Revelation” exemplify “good literature” in more ways than one.

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Traits of “Good Literature” in Short Stories: Barn Burning, Cathedral and Revelation. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from
“Traits of “Good Literature” in Short Stories: Barn Burning, Cathedral and Revelation.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022,
Traits of “Good Literature” in Short Stories: Barn Burning, Cathedral and Revelation. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Dec. 2023].
Traits of “Good Literature” in Short Stories: Barn Burning, Cathedral and Revelation [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 17 [cited 2023 Dec 6]. Available from:
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