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The South

By vinceboo Mar 09, 2013 1211 Words
While the South was busy with its problems, authors of that era were emerging writing about the troubles of the South and its unwillingness to move forward. Born and raised in New Albany, Mississippi, William Faulkner is in the preeminent position of southern gothic writing. This genre depicts the south as a place permeated with lack of progression. It exposes the American South's inability to move forward along with the industrialized North after the Civil War. Similar to Gothic, Southern Gothic contains death, gloom, and ingenious allegories and metaphors to portray the themes, but Southern Gothic emphasizes the maintenance of racism in the South, showing its lack of progress. The south refuses to change it is its own kryptonite. William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, written in typical Southern Gothic fashion is set in Jefferson, Alabama, more than thirty years after the end of the Civil War. A Rose for Emily contains various aspects that allude to the Old South’s self-imposed destruction. For example, Faulkner describes Miss Emily a “fat woman in black . . . leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head” (Faulkner, 1930). All aspects of her seem old and decaying: the cane is rusted, and heftiness usually comes about due to lack of exercise with increasing age. He also says “she looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue” (Faulkner, 1930). She is portrayed as the walking dead. Further proving this is his description of her eyes, “. . . lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough” (Faulkner, 1930). Indicated here is that Emily lacks a soul, since she is already metaphorically dead. She is representative of the old aspects of the South that are gone and interred, but which some people cannot let go of; she is also the territory of the South itself. Ultimately, Faulkner’s description of Emily is an allusion to the death of the South. In any type of Gothic literature, a house usually represents an institution that controls the actions of society. Emily’s house has become dirty over time, meaning it has not been taken care of; it has been forgotten, just like the old ways of the south but since she does not do anything to fix her house, the reader can conclude she is clinging to those old ways. The town condescendingly considers it “an eyesore among eyesores” (Faulkner, 1930). They do not hold back their disapproval of Emily’s lack of progression. It has been around thirty years after the end of the Civil War one generation but Emily has not changed. Since Emily is the allegory of the South, this means that it still has not moved forward.

Emily is the daughter of a rich aristocratic man who was quite influential in the community of Jefferson, so it was expected that the community respect his daughter. Many allowances were made for Emily’s bizarre behavior because of Mr. Grierson’s standing in the community. For example, the family did not pay taxes because of the favors Mr. Grierson had done for the town. After her father’s death, “she carried her head high enough— even when we believed that she was fallen” (Faulkner, 1930). She exemplifies dignity even when she faces adversity and tragedy because to hold one’s head high, to confront disaster with dignity, to rise above the common masses, were the attitudes of the traditional Southern aristocracy. When the obligations of modernity undermined the notions of aristocracy, she was quick to hold her ground in disregarding the new rules the Northerners tried to impose upon her. Emily represented “a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation to the town” (Faulkner, 1930). Even after the discovery that she had kept the bodies of her victims in the house did not diminish the townspeople’s feelings of obligation, and so they attended her funeral and buried her among the “ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate Soldiers” (Faulkner, 1930). She was buried with the reminders of the past. The fact that she holds so much dictation over the town expresses the South’s fear of letting go of the old ways. Some people are holding back the possibility of the whole society ever moving forward because they are clinging on to pre-Civil War ideas. When Emily is thirty years old, she falls in love with a man from the north named Homer. Allegorically, Homer is the North, so her love for him is for the aspects of the North she is endeared to. But he is a homosexual, which is metaphoric. Southerners wanted to be reunited with the North, but only to the aspects that appealed to the South’s sensibilities. Homer’s homosexuality is the aspect that southerners did not approve of. So she killed him, in order to keep the parts that she wanted, but bury the part of the North she hates.

After Emily’s death, the townspeople find Homer’s deceased body in her house in a room upstairs. Miss Emily’s great losses caused her to distance herself from reality and she was seen as an individual who had sunk into deep subconscious mental distress. She locked herself away from the rest of the world and refused to make friends. No one called upon her and she did not attempt to change her lifestyle. Eventually she sank deeper and deeper into a world of insanity, leading her to kill a man who was not destined to die yet and so he becomes the metaphorical rose mentioned in the title, but never in the story. The rosebush that sprouts the flowers is the North, and Homer is a rose that belongs to it. Emily selfishly picked a rose from the bush. Homer had spread his petals by coming to the South, but when he arrived he was not yet in full bloom. Having been plucked too early, Homer began to die. He was away from home, displaced, and powerless to deny the mentally ill Emily. She kept Homer’s dead body in her home, to preserve the aspects of him she loved.

William Faulkner ingeniously conveyed his message through use of literary devices. If the reader chooses to look at the story literally, he or she misses out on the underlying themes: nostalgia of the time before the Civil War, and southerners’ antipathy, or reluctance to change. Wanting social change, he analyzed and critiqued the South, exposing the ailments of society. In a nation that is supposed to be modern, the South remains dead set on keeping the old regimen. Concepts such as homosexuality are more easily accepted in the North, showing that people keep open minds there. As a symbol of the South, Emily bespeaks the region’s lack of progression with the murder of Homer. She killed him because she could not bring herself to accept his preference of men, proving that their mindset is in tune with the old values. Literally, Emily refuses to pay taxes, have an address put on her house, or sidewalk to be constructed in front of her house, but these together have a deeper meaning. Emily is allowing the determent of progression by denying modernization. If pattern follows, the South will always be behind.

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