A Rose for Emily Psychoanalysis

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Psychoanalysis teaches that ignorance "is not a passive state of absence-a simple lack of information: it is an active dynamic of negation, an active refusal of information" (Felman 29-30).
The isolation of signifying elements is traditionally the province of formalist criticism, which specifies (after the New Criticism) that we note point of view or imagery or metaphor in our analysis. The interpretation of these elements, the making of meaning out of them, then depends on the context or method of interpretation we apply to them. Thus we can easily see why a signifying elementlike the figure of the father in Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"-has so many different meanings. Do we interpret him historically as a metaphor of Southern manhood? Psychologically as the cause of Emily's neurosis? In a feminist context as a symbol of the patriarchal repression of freedom and desire? Do any of these meanings seem more comprehensive than the others in accounting for the other signifying elements of the text? What procedures would we follow in testing the significance of these interpretations, or in trying to tie them together? The political version of Lacanian interpretation appears peculiarly well-suited to Faulkner's texts, in that they so demonstrably involve the positional conflicts of masters and slaves, aristocrats and rednecks, patriarchs and daughters in anguished narratives that dramatize our historic choices of what and how to value. Whereas a conventional psychological reading might emphasize Miss Emily's "insanity" or "hysteria," a Lacanian one would focus upon her position in a community of structuring institutions. As Judith Fetterley has shown, "it is a story of a woman victimized and betrayed by the system of sexual politics" (351, or in Faulkner's own words the tale of a young girl "brow-beaten and kept down by her father, a selfish man who didn't want her to leave home because he wanted a housekeeper" (Gwynn and Blotner 185). Miss Emily's position is most graphically represented in a reminiscence of the genealogy of her spinsterhood: None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such. We had long thought of them as a tableau; Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door. (437 My choice of example, however, somewhat belies the simplicity of my model, since it is the critical framework that dictates which signifying elements we notice and interpret. Would I, in the absence of psychoanalysis or feminism, stop and ponder at such length that paternal, immovable body blocking Emily's access to society and sexuality? And how will these perspectives affect my decision over whether this Emily (like Emily Dickinson) is a madwoman in the attic or a victim of patriarchal culture? These are questions which students can, and should, learn to ask. "A Rose for Emily," in its final Gothic nightmare of repression and necrophilia, spells out a tale of the Name-of-the-Father as a prohibition and perversity of desire, and Emily's murderous union as a symbolic resolution of her feminist outrage and erotic longing.

The narrative point of view in "A Rose for Emily" puts us in a strange position. It is "our town," and our position towards Emily is initially that of the narrator and the community. They are the subject who is supposed to know, but this posthumous narrative turns on their lack of knowledge-a lack that leads to a corpse and to what Emily's life has lacked. Pedagogically. an analysis of this narrative temporality must pose certain questions: why is this tale told after the fact? what gap in the town's knowledge of Emily does the narrative set out to correct? how is the inquisitive structure of this detective narrative analogous to an act of voyeurism, and part of the town's longstanding prurient curiosity toward Emily? An effort lo interpret the lack of...
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