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Faulkner's Emily Rose

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According to, the term gothic is somewhat interchangeable with southern gothic. "Gothic is a type of fiction that arose in the 18th century. It was characterized by horror, violence, supernatural effects, and medieval elements, usually set against a background of gothic architecture, especially a gloomy and isolated castle. Other common gothic trappings include insanity, ghost and spirits, and dramatic thunder and lightning storms." When discussing William Faulkner's, A Rose for Emily, it is best to use the southern gothic meaning. Southern gothic refers to "a lurid or macabre writing style native to the American South. Since the middle of the 20th century, Southern writers have interpreted and illuminated the history and culture of the region through the conventions of the gothic narrative, which at its best provides insight into the horror institutionalized in societies and social conventions. Foremost among these authors are William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Tennessee Williams, and Carson McCullers." (For all intents and purposes, the latter definition will be used.)

Faulkner's A Rose for Emily, hailed as the greatest love story ever written, immediately begins to unfold in a dark and gloomy atmosphere. The opening line gives a clear indication of Faulkner's intent, "When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral..." (Faulkner, 29). The blunt mention of death within the opening line of this short story, gives the reader an obvious notion that the rest of it will be somewhat on the non-traditional side; meaning it will not conclude as most fairy tales do, with a happy ending. Perhaps Faulkner wanted the reader to know right away that the main character dies, therefore evoking a spark of curiosity to keep their interest. Within Section I of A Rose for Emily, an unnamed narrator describes Miss Emily's house. "It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white"..."but garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; an eyesore among eyesores" (Faulkner, 29). The description of the house is of a decaying mansion and is gothic in itself. According to the definition above, one can only imagine the unkempt, dark, and terror filled house that Miss Emily resided in. In addition, the narrator goes on to describe Miss Emily herself. Not only is she dressed in black, but her skeleton is small, and she leans on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. "Her eyes, lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small piece of coal pressed into a lump of dough..." (Faulkner, 30). Again, the reference to black; an ebony cane and her eyes compared to lumps of coal is another vision alluding to a gothic story. Although the narrator does not come right out and say that Miss Emily looks like a dead person, the reader can depict in his or her own mind that she must have looked like a walking, living corpse. At the closing of this section, Miss Emily is summoned to pay her taxes yet she claims that she has no taxes in Jefferson. She seems extremely aggravated and lashes out at those who are accusing her of not paying them. She then says for them to "See Colonel Sartoris," (Faulkner, 30) who has been dead for nearly ten years. She is living in the past and obviously has not yet gotten over her father's death or she is unwilling to accept the fact that he is dead.

Section II begins two years after Miss Emily's father had passed away. Townspeople began to complain about an awful stench coming from her house. Because this story takes place in the South, it was rude and improper for anyone to tell a Southern lady that she smelled. Courteously, gentlemen came and spread lime on her lawn and inside the cellar door of her house and the smell eventually went away. "That was when people had begun to feel really sorry for her...people in our town believed that the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were" (Faulkner, 32). This setting is gothic in the sense that the townspeople frowned upon Miss Emily's family because they held themselves in such a high regard. The narrator describes Miss Emily in white against her father's silhouette, again giving the image of black. Emily clings to her father's death and is unable to face the unbearable reality that he is no longer alive and present in her life. For three days she kept saying that her father was not dead. She experiences a harsh reality check when she becomes a pauper and only has the gloomy house left to her. At the end of this section, the narrator says:

"We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We

remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with

nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will"

(Faulkner, 32.

As third person, the reader can now see the dark side of William Faulkner and his gothic style of writing. In a sense, this scene is foreshadowing for what is to come. One grasps that Miss Emily obviously has a difficult time dealing with death and perhaps she is somewhat unstable.

Section III also begins with a dark situation as the narrator describes how Miss Emily was sick for a long time. She was sick until she meets Homer Barron, a Yankee, a northerner, a day laborer - someone who the townspeople thought would not be up to Miss Emily's standards because after all, she was a Grierson. At the age of thirty or so, Miss Emily says to the druggist, "I want some poison" (Faulkner, 33). Again there is the repeated description of "cold, haughty black eyes in a face the flesh of which was strained across the temples and about the eye sockets as you imagine a lighthouse-keeper's face ought to look" (Faulkner, 33). The look in her eyes is a trait of gothic writing. Generally, things that are described as dark or black were written in gothic narrative. Initially, one might get the sense that her own death is approaching, but then there is a sudden twist of events.

Section IV describes how Homer Barron "like men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks' Club - that he was not the marrying man" (Faulkner, 34). The narrator continues and says that it, meaning Miss Emily and Homer Barron's relationship, was a "disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people" (Faulkner, 34). Of course it



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