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A Southern Belle for Faulkner: Social Criticism in Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" William Faulkner's Rose for Emily is not just a story of tragic love, which turned into a sick perversion. Even though it has all the properties of Edgar Poe's stories, nevertheless, the social aspects appear to be of foremost importance to the author. Faulkner tells us a story of Emily Grierson, who we can associate with a classical southern belle of the time. That is a daughter of wealthy southern landowner, whose influence on her upbringing was rather intrusive. We are told that there were many young men, who tried to court Emily, but they were not good enough for her father. Author clearly disapproves this elitist attitude, on the part of Emily's dad, since there were a very little reasons for him to act this way.
Even up to this day, many people in former Confederate states think of sitting at the same table with Yankees as something inappropriate. There are still little towns in Alabama, whose residents are on constant lookout for the offenders of public morality. The rumors about ones inappropriate sexual behavior spread out in such towns with the speed of lightning and their social applications can be quite drastic. A so called southern pride is a lethal mixture of social prejudices and sick Christian morality.
Author tells us that Emily being spared from paying taxes was nothing but the act of charity, on the part of towns authorities. Yet, accepting any kind of charity was unacceptable for Emily, as it would constitute a huge blow to her pride: Not that Miss Emily would have accepted charity. Colonel Sartoris invented an involved tale to the effect that Miss Emily's father had loaned money to the town, which the town, as a matter of business, preferred this way of repaying. Only a man of Colonel Sartoris' generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it (Faulkner, part 1). Being very active, when it comes to spreading rumors, the residents of little town down South express very little actual concern about the probable consequences of their judgmental ism. After Emily became known of buying rat poison in the store, people grew rather curious about whether she was really going to kill herself or not.
Emily's probable suicide was being discussed by townsfolk in quite positive terms: So the next day we all said, "She will kill herself"; and we said it would be the best thing (Faulkner, part IV). Even though, Emily's neighbors try to represent themselves as very compassionate, her suffering appears to be nothing but an ultimate spectacle for them. They simply lack entertainment. Although, author describes Emily as not being quite normal, he is generally sympathetic towards her. Her abnormality comes as a result of abnormal social circumstances, under which she was being brought up.
Marrying a man was not just about finding happiness or about creating family for her, like it is for most of people. Emily wanted to get married so that she would enjoy a social respect. After having found out that Homer Barron was actually a gay, Emily did not seem to be stressed out about it at all. It is remarkably that the townsfolk also was the least concerned about the fact that Homer used to openly brag about liking men more than women.
What really bothered Emily's neighbors was the fact that he was a Northerner: At first we were glad that Miss Emily would have an interest, because the ladies all said, "Of course a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer. " But there were still others, older people, who said that even grief could not cause a real lady to forget noblesse oblige (Faulkner, part III). It is very likely that Emily has decided to poison Homer after he told her that he would not marry her, after all. She simply couldnt stand other people referring to her as poor Emily, had they found out that Homer have simply taken advantage of her. Still, on her part, the whole concept of southern honor does not ridicule itself. This is because Emily clearly manifest her inner manliness in how she handled the situation. We can disrespect a so called new born Christians for their arrogance and stupidity, yet there is a Christian sect that practices Christianity in the way it was originally meant to be, commonly referred to as snake handlers.
Its members handle poisonous snakes to prove their faith in God. There is no doubt that they are a mentally deprived people, yet we cannot disrespect them, because they actually practice their beliefs. The same applies to Emily, her social prospective is being clearly affected by an unhealthy concept of southern pride. The social prejudices rule her life, yet she has the inner strength to proceed with doing what she believes is right, even though it contradicts a conventional morality. It is important to understand that the biggest sacrifice, on Emily's part, is not her trespassing thy shall not kill commandment, but the fact that she decided to spend the rest of her life alone.
This began to take affect on her right after she killed Homer: When we next saw Miss Emily, she had grown fat and her hair was turning gray. During the next few years it grew grayer and grayer until it attained an even pepper-and-salt iron-gray, when it ceased turning. Up to the day of her death at seventy-four it was still that vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man (Faulkner, part IV). Being a skillful writer, Faulkner tries not to express his views about South openly. Nevertheless, we can get a very good idea about what they were, if we read between the lines. While describing Emily's house author says: But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; only Miss Emily's house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores (Faulkner, part I).
This is nothing but the allegorical description of the South at the time. Stubborn and coquettish decay is what defines those who refused to be gone with the wind. It is very symbolic that the author implies the notion of decay at very beginning and at the end of his story, as if he was trying to give the reader a hint about grotesque ending of his story: What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay (Faulkner, part IV). In my opinion, in Rose for Emily Faulkner expresses his subconscious fascination with death and decay. That is why, even though author clearly opposes himself to the Southern morality, his story has an enigmatic quality, which serves as compulsive attraction. Great many writers used to be fascinated with South over its landscapes, traditions or military glory.
Unlike them, Faulkner is aware that most of Southern social traditions are actually repugnant. The Confederates had lost war on metaphysical level, before the first actual shots were being fired. Faulkner adopts the attitude of a remote observer, who watches terminally people die, knowing that they are his distant relatives. This what keeps him at distance, author simply doesnt want to get emotionally involved. He simply wants to observe all the details of process of dying, so he make a good story out of it: She died in one of the downstairs rooms, in a heavy walnut bed with a curtain, her gray head propped on a pillow yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight (Faulkner, part IV). Emily's tragedy lies in fact that the positive qualities of her character served the wrong cause.
The tragedy of South is not that it promoted the hierarchical social concept among its citizens, but that it based such concept on Christian morality, which is essentially immoral. This is why Bible thumping has peacefully coexisted there with the slavery. This is why American politicians who come from South usually have messianic complexes, which allow them to consider dropping bombs on people as spreading democracy around the world. Bibliography: Brinkmeyer, Robert William Faulkner Centennial Celebration. (1997).
Random house. com. May 5, 2005. web Faulkner, William Rose for Emily. (2001). Virginia Education Site. May 5, 2005.
web Knickerbocker, Eric William Faulkner: The Faded Rose of Emily. (March 15, 2003). Mr. Renaissance. May 5, 2005.
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