Jan 12, 2018 in Literature

The Logical Aspects of Southern Literature

Any piece of literature is usually based on a particular tradition. In a special way, the Gothic style is known for its influence over other later sub-styles and traditions. Having existed in Europe for many centuries, the gothic style of literature is renowned for having influenced the southern gothic style. As it will be demonstrated, this style of writing entails, among other, representation and exploration of human motivation, consequent suffering, problems afflicting heroines and \aspects such as antisocial behavior, etc. This essay is an analysis of a short story written in the Southern Gothic style. William Faulkner is the author of A Rose for Emily. First published in 1930, the story is set in a Mississippi town, Jefferson. Although most analyses focus on racism, this view takes the protagonist’s afflictions into the context of her own motivations. The somewhat fictional short story, aided by the philosophy contained in the literary style of the south, brings out several themes. In his short story A Rose for Emily, Faulkner boldly discusses the theme of social seclusion, its origin and consequences.

In order to effectively analyze the theme or outline how it is depicted, the essay is presented in such a way that the major aspects are tackled. It begins by a brief summary of the plot of the story. This will be followed by scrutinizing the sociological aspects of the south that may have influenced the author to come up with the story. Thereafter, the essay analyses the main theme that is presented in several motifs. Since the short story has been criticized, the essay looks into the relevant criticisms with regard to the foundation of Faulkner’s idea. In the analysis, it will be demonstrated that the writer was addressing some of the social issues facing his society at the moment. As a result, this is presented in a rather frightening interchange that confers the reader with a breathless reading and perpetual suspense.

Plot Summary

A Rose for Emily presents the protagonist as a socially secluded woman. Faulkner succeeded to bring out this theme in several ways. Firstly, he uses a non-linear style of writing. As the story begins, we see the funeral of a lady who was a city celebrity in the past. However, although she belonged to a powerful family, her death was not honorable. Faulkner goes back in time to explain the origin of this not-so-pleasant death. He begins by explaining that her father was a wealthy man. He did not want any man to get married to her daughter. As a result, Emily Grierson could not get a suitor. However, when Emily was 30, her father passed on. This made it difficult for her in terms of emotional and psychological disturbance. Specifically, Emily could not accept her father’s death. Actually, it took her about three days to do so. However, although she mildly accepted the death, she spent the rest of her life in denial.

Emily denied the fact that her father was no more secluding her from the society. Consequently, she decided to live alone. Moreover, due to the fact that time changes, a man came into her life. His name was Homer Barron. Their relationship surprised many townspeople because of the standards that Emily had set for her ideal suitor were not met. In addition, Homer himself was not a serious or responsible man. He personally claimed that he was not the ‘marrying type’. Perhaps this is why their relationship later turned sour: Emily killed Homer, hid his corpse in her house and decided never to go out of the house. The house help did everything for her including shopping and household chores. After about a decade, Emily also died. Since she had arousen a lot of curiosity and suspicion amongst townspeople, her burial was attended by many people. After the burial, people get into her house and broke one of the tightly closed doors. They found the long-dead body of Homer.

Analysis of the Sociological Aspects

Seclusion is a social phenomenon. This essay discusses the sociological aspects surrounding the life and motivation of the protagonist. In the short story, at least two major components of seclusion are evident: societal seclusion and individual seclusion. Southern gothic style of literature was mainly based on the latter. This is because it delved into the motivations of individuals and their mysterious lives that make the short stories written in the style breathtaking.

There are sociological explanations to any kind of seclusion. It is only through a thorough scrutiny of the protagonist’s psychological processes that a clearer picture and context of seclusion in the South can be understood. Although racism had long been accused for alienating people, we see a case of a White who alienates herself from the rest of the society on the basis of her psychological needs. Following how her father used to treat her, Emily could not get a man who matched her father’s standards in terms of social class and personal charisma. As a result, Emily personally excludes herself from public life in the hope that one day her ideal man would come for her. Perhaps the most contributing factor for her seclusion was her belief that her father was still with her even if not physically present.

From the sociological perspective, Emily was also secluded by the society itself. To demonstrate this, Faulkner draws evidence from the state of the relationship Emily’s father had with the society around him. On this basis, the townspeople started hating him and her daughter. It will also be demonstrated that the new regime of the town council did not recognize the earlier arrangements that the Emily had with the preceding regime. Therefore, she was secluded from the privilege or the peace of not being disturbed for not paying her rent or tax. The other townspeople also secluded Emily on the basis of the attitude she had towards them were people belonging to lower classes in the society. Through this perspective, perhaps Faulkner was exhibiting what was happening in the South at the time of his writing of the short story. Through the story, the author debunks the perceptions of the Old South that only the Blacks were secluded by the White society. In other words, he tries to bring out the point that seclusion had to be seen in the context of what a person offered the society around him or her but not entirely on the basis of the race of the person.

Theme Analysis

Although Faulkner has many themes in A Rose for Emily, social seclusion is the most dominant. Moreover, other themes include resistance to change, decay, female sexuality, relationships among others. There are many instances that show that the theme of seclusion is the most dominant. Some of these include the fact that exclusion emanating from Emily’s father’s way of treating people, his deterrence of men to talk to Emily, Emily’s self-seclusion, seclusion of Homer, Emily’s cousins, as well as the seclusion from any visits of the people living on the street on which Emily’s house stood. This essay also considers seclusion of Emily by the new regime of town council, the seclusion of Emily’s domestic worker, seclusion of the house of Emily, seclusion of Homer’s corpse from burial and the seclusion of Emily, her father and Homer from life through death.

Seclusion Emanating from Emily’s Father

Seclusion is evident in the way Emily’s father considered other people. According to him, all other men belonged to a much lower class and were of status that did not fit to become her husbands or suitors. From a sociological perspective, social status usually comes from a higher economic stratum. On this basis, the neighbors and townspeople felt stigmatized by the attitude Emily’s father had towards them. He was selfish by believing that he was the only person who would give her daughter the company she needed. However, this has had very precarious results. It could be said that he intoxicated his daughter with ideas that later led to her own destruction. Precisely, these ideas led to her shutting doors of accessibility to other men leading to severe psychological trauma that later, perhaps, killed her.

As earlier indicated, Emily deterred men from reaching her. This was in a consequence of her late dad’s upbringing. From a sociological perspective, it appears that there were severe parenting styles in the South. Perhaps the writer is indirectly bringing into the public light the existence of these problems in a rather dramatic and breathtaking manner. However, it is rather contrasting that after having secluded herself from all men, perhaps even responsible ones, Emily chose to spend her life with a man who was a self-declared non-marriage type. Viewed from a sociological lens, it appears that it reached a point where men were explicitly afraid of her. At that time, Emily may have wished to get a man in her life. However, as a consequence of earlier state of affairs, this would not be achieved. This gave Homer a higher chance of winning her heart.

Emily’s Personal Seclusion

Emily secluded herself from the society for two reasons. The first one was because she believed that her father was still with her, even through he had physically died. The influence and intoxication from her father made her ‘stink’ or ‘smell’ so much such that other people feared to visit her. This smell was both literal and symbolic. With regard to the latter, she was untouchable: nobody wanted to be associated with her. In other words, Emily was a social misfit. She had almost attained the status of an outcast; from a high social class to a status in which her own dignity was compromised. By an ironic twist, Faulkner presents Emily as a character who, through her own motivations and misguided idealism, secluded herself from the rest of the townspeople as well as from her own humanity and dignity. With regard to the literal smell, Emily’s body was actually decaying at the time of her burial.

Homer’s Seclusion

The seclusion of Homer was twofold. The first one was conceptual. This arises from the fact that if Emily was opposed to any manly relationship and Homer was a man, then Homer was ideally secluded by Emily from her inner spheres. It could be argued that Emily chose Homer for convenience. The fact that she later killed him is evidence that she was never non-secluded from him. The second level of Homer’s seclusion was the actual separation with Emily for about three days so that Emily’s cousins could leave the house. This could also be extrapolated to a symbolic level in the sense that this seclusion led to his death. It is like he left forever. This is because after he came back  at night, Homer was never seen again. Emily poisoned him to death. It was also like a turning point or peak of Emily’s personal seclusion because that day, she came out of her house, went to a nearby chemist and bought some poison to kill her lover.

Seclusion by Death

There is no doubt that death secluded three main characters or shapers of the course of the short story. These include Emily, her father and her lover, Homer. Through death, they were secluded from terrestrial existence. Faulkner did not attempt to explore the nature of their celestial life, though it was part of a gothic literature style of the south. It sought to explore the supernatural, the mysterious and the abstract. Moreover, through the exit of the major characters, Faulkner has dramatically demonstrated how seclusion or attempts to initiate it could lead to disastrous results on the part of the subjects as well as the society. Although the three characters were secluded by death from the town, their contexts of seclusion were different. Firstly, Emily’s father’s death was not as a result of seclusion. Although it is not expressly explained, it is not very likely that he died because the relationship went bitter. However, his upbringing of Emily had quite precarious impact on Homer. The later may be termed as a victim of circumstances. In the context of the New South, as opposed to the Old South, persons who had retrogressive ideas had to be phased out by the forces of change. It appears that the author was cognizant of the fact that the south was rapidly changing and that if one did not change accordingly, change was to consume him or her. In other words, the New South was becoming a society of inclusion; thus, people or characters with divergent ideas had to be symbolically excluded from the society. Such a character was the protagonist Emily Grierson. This initially emanated from her social exclusion.

Seclusion of Emily’s House and Street

Following her attitude, Emily’s physical space was also secluded from the rest of the ‘live’ places. By this is meant that people feared or rather avoided physically ‘trespassing’ the place where he lived. Actually, what was described as a once lively street had now turned into a dirty and neglected street. Since it led to her house, no one wanted to walk on the street. Consequently, her house was also secluded. No character wanted to visit the house. At some point in time, the house was felt smelling.. The town council had to look for ways of secretly minimizing the smell through a spraying intervention. By extension, the entire estate was secluded from the rest of the town. The house of Emily is described as an old one; an indication of the phasing out of ideas that are not progressive. In this view, a situation of exclusion from a physical space or place from a those places that one should visit is strong indicator of the unworthiness of that place. Faulkner vividly paints the street, the house and the estate as secluded places that townspeople did not visit.

Emily’s Seclusion by the Council and Seclusion of the House help

Faulkner also discusses two other forms of seclusion such as Emily’s seclusion by the new regime of the town council as well as the seclusion of Emily’s worker. Due to the influence of her father, Emily was not making payments to the council. However, it should be noted that this was only possible because the head of the council did not want to be in constant conflict with her (Heller 304). However, the new regime of the council does not recognize her influence. As a result, they kept on pestering her to pay. From this angle, it could be argued that Emily was secluded from enjoying the privileges emanating from her relationship with the leaders of the previous regime of the town council. In addition, the house help was socially secluded from the rest of the world owing to the fact that she was always attending to her boss, who was always indoors. However, this view does not contend to racial seclusion as much as social seclusion. Although there were elements of discrimination towards the house help, her social seclusion from the rest was more dominant. Through other motifs, Faulkner indirectly waters down the concept of racial discrimination through vivid images and symbols of social exclusion and seclusion. Further, since the room that hid Homer’s corpse was also locked, the house help was secluded from knowing the truth. Actually, she was explicitly barred from accessing that room.

Criticism of the Short Story

Although Faulkner has successfully and vividly brought out the theme of seclusion, several authorities and factions of scholars have offered critical reviews of his work. These reviews and analyses tackle all components of the story ranging from characterization, stylistic devices, themes, plot and others. However, since this essay focused on discussion of the thematic aspect, only those criticisms that are related to the theme are considered. In addition, the review and critical analyses are also juxtaposed upon the literary tradition on which the author was writing.

With regard to the southern gothic literary tradition, it appears that Faulkner was not exhaustive in his presentation. This is because one of the underlying concepts of the tradition was the investigation, the scrutiny and the exploration of the supernatural and the things which transcended human imagination. Therefore, Faulkner has not succeeded in covering all the major components of southern gothic literary tradition. Moreover, he did excellent in presenting the subject matter and the themes.

Further, although the story is one of Faulkner’s best, it is not a leader in the world of short fiction. In spite of the fact that it does not lead in that sub-genre, it has a vivid delivery mode. This has led to Faulkner being accused of writing horror stories. According to most literary authorities that came after the authorship and publication of the story, the writer made an omission by not including the name of the narrator (Volpe 291). Perhaps this was a way of further advancing his theme of seclusion where even the narrator himself or herself was secluded from the readers.

Conclusion

William Faulkner has succeeded in advancing the theme of seclusion by presenting the secluded characters in the society as victims. The story was set in a rapidly changing society that was in the process of adopting new ideas amid racism. The essay succeeded in dissecting the theme of seclusion as represented by several characters especially the protagonist. It was found out that seclusion was evident in the way Emily’s father deterred men from talking to her, the way she isolated herself from other people, how she secluded her house help, Homer, how the council secluded her from privileges she used to enjoy from the previous leadership of the town council. By closely looking at the setting of the story, there is no doubt that this is a great piece of work. Although it has been criticized for being full of horror and for not being the best fictional short story, A Rose for Emily is a successful southern gothic literary piece that is worth reading.

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