Short fictions have various elements such as plot, theme, imagery, dialogues, setting and characters, each used in a specific way to express the views of the author, about the society in which he/she or the characters of their story is a part of. Using these elements an author drives home his/her point of view on worldly affairs. This essay is an attempt to explore the theme of loneliness and love, as portrayed in William Faulkner’s most anthologized short story ‘A Rose for Emily’.
‘A Rose for Emily’ is the most famous, at the same time, most shocking of the stories written by William Faulkner. His stories are known for their grotesque characters, and through their experiences he delineates his visions not by gentle explanations, but by shocking the readers into reality. It is widely believed that literature functions as a representative, of the period in which it was conceived. More specifically, it is sort of a reminder of the moral values and principles upheld by the society of its era. This story, first published in 1930, reflects many aspects of the then society such as Southern culture, Gender oppression, Racism, Social stratification and Existentialism. However the main theme of the story is the love and loneliness of the protagonist, Emily Grierson.
The story is set in the early years of the twentieth century and is about a lady belonging to a noble family of the rural South. In a sequence of flashbacks, the narrator conveys how the very uptight and proud Emily Grierson, lived a secluded life after her father’s death, and how in the end when she dies, the townspeople find out that she, in fact, had killed her boyfriend, and was living with his corpse for forty odd years. The reason this work has fascinated so many scholars across the past century is, not only because of its suspenseful story line, but also due to its various other components such as, the anonymity of the narrator and deliberate distortion of chronology.
We see that, until his death, Emily’s aristocratic father controlled her life. He decided who was fit enough for courtship of his daughter, thus restricting her chances of finding love in life. He took immense pride in his family lineage, and he perceived almost all men of their immediate society to be inferior to his social stature. This not only controlled Emily’s social life, but in the end ruined all her chances for a normal family life.
“So when she got to be thirty and was still single, we were not pleased exactly, but vindicated” (Faulkner)
She as a dutiful daughter abided by the wishes of her father, and died a spinster. This signifies how women saw their place in the society during that era, and how they got used to the notion of being controlled by their husbands and fathers.
Her non-acceptance of her father’s death is a testimony to both, the love she had for her father, and the fear of loneliness that engulfed her, now that the only man in her life is dead. The insecurity and the bottled frustrations of Emily, is explicitly depicted in the story, when the narrator says
“After her father's death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all.” (Faulkner)
She is alienated from the world after her father’s death, particularly from the younger generation. Few students, who come to learn china painting, stop coming after a few years, and she is left alone in a big house with just a servant for company.
Homer, who comes into her life after her father’s death, promises her love and stability, which lacked in her life so far. He is a Yankee, who is witty, and is at first considered by the townspeople as an unfit match for Emily. Later, people predict they might tie the knot, and when Emily buys the arsenic they think she is going to commit suicide. However, Emily decides to make her lover stay with her forever, by killing him and preserving his corpse.
The narrator uses the pronoun ‘we’ throughout the story and not ‘I’. (Madden) This indicates that he/she represents the society in which Emily lived, which judged and criticized her every move, for the mere reason that she was the last living member of a noble family. All the selfish, insane, brutal or violent behaviors exhibited by Emily, are outcropping of the inappropriate expectations forced on her shoulders, by her family and society.
She throughout her life strived to confirm to the perceived notions of her class and gender role, and the horrifying act of murdering her boyfriend was triggered by the victimization suffered by her. The act also reveals her unquenched need, for a stable love and care from a fellow human being. Like her house, her life too is devoid of any grandeur. Without a family or friends, she is lonely and dauntingly so. Her relationship with the Yankee is her belated to response to her father’s oppression and the society’s undue expectations. (Madden)
Homer provides her hope, of eradicating her loneliness and entering into a long lasting love life. Her father’s death had prepared her for the uncertainties of life, whereby she realizes people her love will not stay with her forever, but she fails to acknowledge the inevitability of change. Her initial reaction towards her father’s death foreshadows her murdering of Homer and living with his corpse. She absolutely refuses to accept change in any form, be it her father’s death or remitting her taxes. By preserving her dead lover in her house, she tries to freeze time. She convinces herself that she is not alone anymore, as her lover is with her all the time.
Emily’s story is certainly bizarre, intriguing, and mystifying enough, to capture the reader’s undivided attention. She is a grotesque character, who is unconventional, rooted on obsolete traditions, and she very definitely exhibits psychotic behavior in her relationships with Homer, the townspeople, her father, and her servant. Yet, her craving for love and companionship surely deserves empathy. Homer’s murder encapsulates Emily’s need for finding everlasting love, and her need to cling on to people whom she loved deeply.
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. New York: Random House LLC, 1930. Print.
Madden, David. "A Rose for Emily." Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition (2004): 1-3. Print.