A Land Called Doom: Fatalism in Faulkner
“Noah’s children had inherited the flood although they had not been there to see the deluge” (Go Down, Moses 276). This sense of doom follows through five of the major novels written by William Faulkner set in his mythic Yoknapatawpha County. Doom settles upon the land through the fatalistic attitude of the people living there, fatalistic because there is a realization that the things going to happen are unavoidable. In his article “Fate”, Richard Taylor, a renowned fatalist, says “No power in heaven or earth can render false a statement that is true” (107). Furthermore, no matter what the offspring of the doomed South could do, there was no altering their fates, no matter how hard they struggled against it. Through the fallen and decadent society of the old South with their fall in the Civil War, a doom that generations of descendants would suffer eventually settled over the land.
In looking at the doom in the post-War South, it should be noted that God’s laws cannot be altered without consequences, according to fatalists. Anyone that attempted to alter the predestined outcome of their lives became cursed, whereas those who accepted it, though doomed, found the freedom to live their lives to the fullest extent and with the least amount of suffering. Fatalists who do not accept the allotted end will become consumed by their own fear.
An example of one who accepted fate was Candace in The Sound and the Fury. She was “doomed and knew it, accepted the doom without either seeking or fleeing it” (412). Out of all the Compsons, perhaps she was the only one whose life ended with comfort. Though the curse of the South doomed the family, “one of them is crazy [Jason] and another one drowned himself [Quentin, after the family sold the last bit of land of their inheritance to send him to Harvard] and the other one was turned out into the street by her husband [Candace], what’s the reason the rest of them are not crazy too […] not letting her daughter’s name be spoken on the place until after a while Father wouldn’t even come down town anymore but just sat there all day with the decanter” (290). The doom continued on from the first Compson, Quentin Maclachan Compson, to Jason Compson, the last of the legacy who remained a childless bachelor because he was doomed to watch his family wither and die away, thus turning him bitter toward the world in which he lived. The Compson Dynasty came to an end with him because he failed to uphold the qualities of his ancestors “who had something in them of decency and pride even after they had begun to fail at the integrity and the pride had become mostly vanity and self-pity” (415). His ancestors’ luckless heritage continued on through the family tree. The doom was ultimately brought on by a Compson governor, Quentin MacLachan, and a Compson general, Jason Lycurgus Compson II, both of whom not only fought and lost the Civil War but also gave their lives. Next in line was an alcoholic man married to a hypochondriac woman, who bore the children that put an end to the Compson name: the mentally handicapped Benji, who was not only put away in an insane asylum but also castrated; Quentin, who killed himself; Candace, who ran away, never to return after dumping another doomed child on her parents; and Jason, who was the last because he had accepted his families doom with a hard heart and gave up on them and himself long ago, wishing to end the curse with him once and for all.
The end of Jason, fighting against the doom and seeking to put an end to it, is contrasted with Candace’s, who accepted her doom and moved on. Jason lives his life in a “gloomy cavern […] a railed enclosure cluttered with shelves and pigeonholes […] and rank with blended smell of cheese and kerosene and harness oil and the tremendous iron stove against which chewed tobacco had been spat for almost a hundred years” (414-15). Whereas, Candace, though still doomed, ends her life in the lap of extravagance. She is found by a local librarian in a “picture filled with luxury and money and sunlight – a Cannebiere backdrop of mountains and palms and cypresses and sea […] the woman’s face hatless between a rich scarf and a seal coat, ageless and beautiful, cold serene and damned” (415).
Quentin too struggles against his father’s cynicism as seen through much of his inner dialogue with his father. What he ultimately wants is to prove his father wrong. Mr. Compson gives him a watch telling him, “Not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not all your breath trying to conquer it” (93). Quentin must forget his concern of Caddy’s growing sexuality. His father’s advice that by forgetting time the problem will also be forgotten would only make his frustration with Caddy meaningless; his antebellum view of honor that women, especially virgin’s virtues, must be protected. There must be meaning to his feelings, so he chooses to stop time for good since he cannot put an end to it through defacing his watch, to make sure Caddy’s virginity is never marred. Thus, he commits suicide. The doom of the fathers does not end with him. Caddy not only gets married, she also has a child before she does. God’s will cannot be ignored.
From the ashes of these ruined lives comes the second point of fatalism that the name determines the destiny. Why does one character become a fatalist? “Because there existed a set of true statements about the details of his life, both past and future, and he came to know what some of these statements were and to believe them, including any concerning the future” (Taylor 106). Like the Compson name that acquired the doom to “fail at everything he touched save longevity or suicide” (The Sound and The Fury 408), the characters in Light in August also found that a name was an “augur of what he will do” (33). With Christmas, it was the very meaning of his name, containing the word Christ, that he would be lynched and killed out of self-righteous fury. Christmas, also like Christ, accepted his fate and knew he could not escape it. And though he knew he was being corrupted by Miss Burden, and it scared him, “something held him, as the fatalist can always be held: by curiosity, pessimism, by sheer inertia” (260). However, what was it that kept him to this woman who seemed to be two people? The past had doomed him to his lot in life and chained him to his future destiny.
The bigotry of Christmas’s grandfather would forever alter the life he would lead. His grandfather had tried to get rid of him only to curse him to roam the earth as Cane, to inherit the curse of the black man as well as the curse of the white man. “The curse of the black race is God’s curse. But the curse of the white man is the black man who will be forever God’s chosen own because He once cursed him” (253). Thus, Christmas became his own curse, being of white and black blood. For it was the mixed blood fighting within him that led to his death at the hands of the white supremacist Grimm, the mixed blood pushing him from violence to inactivity. In the end, Christmas defied his black blood only to be caught by the curse of the white blood to be castrated like an animal and to die a gruesome death. He also accepted this fate as well as Christ accepted his own.
Not until the novella of “The Bear” in Go Down, Moses is it totally explained why the South is doomed. “The whole South is cursed, and all of us who derive from it, whom it ever sucked, white and black both, lie under the curse? Granted that my people [white man] brought the curse onto the land: maybe for that reason their descendants alone can – not resist it, not combat it – maybe just endure and outlast it until the curse is lifted” (266). But cursed from what? The white men despised those who cultivated and were the closest to the earth, the black men, and controlled them through slavery. This would be the “ravaged patrimony” inherited by the sons and grandsons of the antebellum South (284). Yet with this mistreatment, intermarriage flourished to the point where all lost their heritage and identity. All moved to the cities as well and became lost, losing contact with the land and destroying it. Only the doomed and lowly of heart would ever be able to survive (249).
Absalom, Absalom! further explains the land being cursed by the Civil War, which was the result of the South’s abuse of slavery. The land would betray and destroy the lineage of not only those who inherited that “Doomed and fatal war […] when the South would realize that it was now paying the price for having erected its economic edifice not on the rock of stern morality but on the shifting sands of opportunism and moral brigandage” (209), but all who lived upon the doomed land. All the gentlemen had made the women into ladies during the antebellum days of the South, “then the War came and made the ladies into ghosts” (7). The women as well inherited the doom although they had not been there to see the fall. This can be seen through how Faulkner portrays the once proper ladies of the South in his novels as mere shadows of their former glory.
The mother, Caroline, in The Sound and the Fury becomes a hypochondriac and a constant torment to those around her. However, it is the curse of her children and husband who drive her to brood in the dark confines of their once great estate. Though she adds to the doom by forbidding Candace’s name being spoken in her house, and ceremoniously burning the child support checks, allowing Jason to swindle almost seven thousand dollars that would be later stolen by the rightful heir, she seems to suffer the most.
Miss Burden, in Light in August, became a recluse in her mansion after Colonel Sartoris shot her grandfather and brother because they fought to establish the rights of the black man in the South. Thus, the doom of her grandfather carries on to her to be treated as a foreigner.
In “The Bear,” Ike drives his wife to be barren when he chooses to reject his inheritance of the doomed land and gives the money to the black blood in his family. Thus, to rectify the curse of his fathers through mixing with black blood and then repudiating them, he dooms his wife and bloodline forever.
Rosa in Absalom, Absalom! is driven to spinsterhood by the doom of the men around her and the bad luck of her family. With the death of her sister, married to the demon Sutpen, she takes care of her older niece, Judith, in hopes of saving her from the Sutpen doom. Nevertheless, she only gets sucked into the raging torrent of her family’s destiny by moving in with Judith in the doomed house and accepting marriage with the fallen Sutpen, who only wishes to marry her if she bears a son. As an eternal spinster she tries to push the doom onto Quentin, whose grandfather was Sutpen’s only friend. In the end, going out to the old house to take her nephew, Henry, to the hospital, her presence causes the house’s caretaker, Clytie, to burn the house and Henry, leaving yet another horror heaped at Rosa’s feet.
In addition, Addie in As I Lay Dying would rather spend her life making herself and all around her miserable instead of making life better for her and her family all because of her husband’s lack of love. She finally dies amidst poverty surrounded by a family she hated and drug through flood and fire only to abase the selfish desires of her family.
Thus, all the men of the South must suffer for these atrocities and many others. On a smaller scale, in Absalom, Absalom! all of Sutpen’s lineage must suffer for his madness. He, like many of the men of the South, is brave, but that the South’s “very life and future hopes and past pride, should have been thrown into the balance with men like that to buttress it – men with valor and strength but without pity or honor. Is it any wonder that Heaven saw us fit to let us lose?” (13). The great gentlemen of the South also became phantoms of the antebellum gentlemen. The novel records Sutpen’s life without pity or honor as he repudiates his first wife and son on account of black blood, and yet commits the same act again with his slave, giving birth to a daughter of mixed blood before he marries a woman of white stalk to fulfill his dreams of building a great plantation. However, Sutpen becomes caught in the trap of mixing his white blood with that of black. It is not the mixing of blood that brought on his doom, but that he acted without honor in producing this line of “tainted” blood. The doom follows Sutpen through to his death and carries on to all those with whom he or his lineage associates with. This includes Quentin Compson, who is of no relation to the Sutpens, but is brought into their curse because his grandfather befriended Sutpen, thus accepting the doom of death. Quentin kills himself that same year over his family’s own doom as previously illustrated, but perhaps Sutpen’s doom included him in trying to end it in death, for the rest of Quentin’s family survived.
Because of Sutpen’s pride, his sole heir and salvation became caught in the same doom. Rosa saw this and knew that “those two doomed children growing up whom she was helpless to save”(12). Because there was no saving them, they needed protection from themselves. Rosa could only sit and watch as her sister Ellen marries into the doom and then pushes the curse onto her children. Ellen was “projecting upon Judith [the daughter] all the abortive dreams and delusions of her own doomed and frustrated youth” (55,56). This was inevitable, of course. All inherit the flood without even seeing the deluge, a flood of destiny that is so overwhelmingly powerful that it sweeps all caught within it down its treacherous path, yet by the time any realize they are stuck in its currents, it is too late to save anyone, let alone themselves.
Case in point is Sutpen’s son Henry. Though Henry realizes his doom early, there is nothing he can do about it. He cannot flout God’s will, not even by running away. Seeing that he is caught in the current of the family curse, he first tries to repudiate his lineage and name. Even though he is a good friend with Bon, being his freshly discovered half-brother, he has unwittingly introduced him to his sister to further push the doom onto her. At the time his father told him Bon’s origins, he knew “that he was doomed and destined to kill” (72). Henry had hoped to avoid this curse, by running away, repudiating his name, even by going to war, yet there is not altering destiny, blood is blood though the name changes.
Bon realized this as well. If not even war could kill him to stop the doom, he would have to let it run its course. He, unlike Henry, accepted his destiny and even prepared for it well in advance: that he must die to stop the curse. When he noticed that Henry wouldn’t accept their fate, he goaded him on. “I’m the nigger that’s going to sleep with your sister. Unless you stop me, Henry” (286). Bon even goes so far as to put pictures of his octoroon and bastard son in the locket given to him by Judith. Thus, he could stop the doom with his death, not having anyone to weep for him, or feel sorry enough to care for anything of his, including his bastard son. But the doom carries on with his son being taken in by Clytemnestra and Judith. Bon’s death and sacrifice couldn’t stop the raging force of his doom any more than Henry running away from it helped him. In the end, God’s will claims all in the doomed house of Sutpen’s pride when Clytemnestra sets fire to it thinking the sheriff had finally come to get Henry for the murder of Bon, killing herself and Henry. Only Bon’s idiot grandson survived to carry on Sutpen’s legacy in a mental institution, just as Benji survived in an earlier novel.
All of this could have been avoided if Sutpen had acted with honor and had the courage to own up to his own mistakes, yet when he had the chance to warn his offspring of their mistakes by intending to marry Bon, he continued to “watch them for two weeks and did nothing […] and had doomed all his blood too, black and white both” (215-16). He could not act because he was afraid, afraid to alter the destiny laid out for him from when he was a little child turned away from the door by a black servant. If he ever interfered to alter destiny, he knew it would become a mockery, and the revenge he had set out to do spoiled. The fact that he had “entered in good faith, concealing nothing, while the other party or parties to it concealed from [him] the one very factor which would destroy the entire plan and design which [he] had been working toward” (220). He told all his plans to Rosa at the twilight of their lives that he only wanted a son from her to further his design, yet his first wife, Eulalia Bon, kept the fact that she had black blood from him until it was too late. He was cursed.
Black blood is the doom of the South. No matter how hard they tried to subdue the black race, it always cropped up amongst them in mixed blood and corrupted patrimony. It finally became Sutpen’s, and the whole South’s downfall, so Bon thought about reconciling with his father Sutpen, that “I would have done that, gone to him first, who have the blood after it was tainted and corrupt by whatever it was in Mother” (263). If Sutpen just acknowledged himself as his father, the curse could have been lifted, but Sutpen waited, out of pride. Thus, Bon plotted revenge, for getting back at Sutpen outweighed the doom that followed. Bon knew Judith was his half-sister and the repercussions it would bring to marry her, but he did it just to spite his father. Having lost his son, Bon, to black blood and Henry to Bon, Sutpen sets out to get one final son after Rosa refuses him—from Milly Jones, the daughter of Wash Jones, a poor white man living on Sutpen’s Hundred. She was to carry on the name through her son, but when she had a daughter, Sutpen repudiated her and the baby after which Wash killed him in a fury. This line also came to a tragic end when Wash killed Milly and the baby and was then shot by officers. If only Sutpen had accepted the black blood as equal to his own, as the entire South should have, the doom and tragedy that hung over him and the land would have been lifted. His plantation and indeed the entire South would have succeeded in all their hopes and dreams of glory.
In As I Lay Dying, the final scourge of fatalism is illustrated; that to kill the cause of the doom is a mistaken concept, for it is not usually the cause that is the ultimate source. The head of the Bundren family, Anse, seems to everybody to be the cause of all the family’s sorrows. “Then you all could have stuck his head into the saw and cured the whole family” (230). However, this is the doom of the whole family. Early in the novel, Darl makes sure that Jewel is nowhere near the dying mother because all know that Jewel is her favorite son, and constantly rubs in the fact that she is dying, or dead. Cash wishes to travel through flood and fire just to buy a “graphophone,” and his mother’s death means no more to him than a beveled coffin. Dewey Dell wants her mother to hurry and die so she can get to town to have an abortion for her secret pregnancy. Vardaman, the youngest son, who is so disassociated with his mother, often confuses her with a fish, wants to go to town simply to buy a toy train, yet Anse has them all beat. He manages to con the ten dollars from Dewey Dell, given by her baby’s father for the abortion, to buy teeth he wanted from the very beginning, and he sells Jewel’s horse for the half starved mules he needs to take the family the rest of the way to Jefferson.
Not until midway in the novel does the secret revenge pulled by Addie be discovered. She had an affair with the Reverend Whitfield because she felt tricked by Anse’s empty meaning of love. “I realized that I had been tricked by words older than Anse or love, and that the same word had tricked Anse too, and that my revenge would be that he would never know I was taking revenge” (164). It is not until after Darl, the second child, is born that she makes Anse promise to take her to Jefferson to be buried among her own instead of his. Her secret revenge is Jewel. She does not love any of her children, except Jewel, whom she spoiled, for after they went to school she “would go down the hill to the spring where [she] could be quiet and hate them” (161). To make Anse’s children suffer, especially Anse by having a lazy man who thought that sweating would kill him to haul her all the way to Jefferson, is to be her next revenge, yet the doom she places on Anse does not work.
The entire family suffers through the journey to Jefferson, except Anse. He seems to find a righteous cleansing in his tribulations. “I’m the chosen of the Lord, for who He loveth, so doeth He chastiseth” (105). He alone does not suffer. Cash suffers a broken leg and the pain of having it cast in cement. Dewey Dell suffers through her plans for having an abortion thwarted and being tricked into sexual favors by a Jefferson pharmacist. Darl suffers to the point where he attempts to burn his mother’s rotting corpse in a barn, which later causes him to be committed to an insane asylum by his own family, and Vardaman’s train is sold by the time he reaches Jefferson. All bear the flood and fire and the burden to fulfill their desire, and all are flouted by Addie’s doom, except Anse, who finally buries her in Jefferson, fulfilling his old promise, buys his teeth, and even finds a new wife. The tables are turned as Anse’s own secret revenge is fulfilled in the end thwarting even Addie’s. Perhaps he knew or suspected his wife’s infidelity. He “just never wanted to be beholden to none except her flesh and blood” (218). Note his usage of “her” instead of “my.” He drags her through nine days of foul weather and bad luck perhaps just to destroy her only desire for living, which “was to stay dead a long time” (161). He made sure she does not rest in peace, even in death.
Thus, the children of the South inherit the doom although they have not been there to see the War. The South is seen by many to be just a dark a time as after the Flood, a “dark corrupt and bloody time while three separate peoples had tried to adjust not only to one another but to the new land which they had created and inherited too and must live in for the reason that those who had lost it were no less free to quit it than those who had gained it were” (Go Down, Moses 276-77). The doom will be lifted when the South can accept the black blood as that of their own, and fighting against this inevitability is as easy as the sins of mankind holding back a flood.
Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom! New York: Vintage International, 1990.
—. As I Lay Dying. New York: Vintage Books, 1964.
—. Go Down, Moses. New York: Vintage International, 1990.
—. Light in August. New York: Vintage International, 1990.
—. The Sound and the Fury. New York: The Modern Library.
Taylor, Richard. “Fate.” Philosophy and Contemporary Issues. Ed. John R. Burr, Milton Goldinger. New Jersey: Simon, 1996. 34-35.
An Analysis of William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”
In William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, first person narration is used in order to focus on Emily Grierson, a recluse who has captured the attention of the townspeople, and dictates the conversation, gossip, and action of the city. Faulkner uses a plethora of literary traits in order to help progress, convey, and develop this story. The opening sentence of the story immediately lets the reader know that “Miss Emily Grierson died.” Most of the events that follow depict her earlier life, and are directed by the reader’s knowledge of her death. This has a rather potent effect on the reader’s able to glean the pieces of her life together through the non-chronological arrangement of the story. Through this, Faulkner does not take a straight approach in presenting the story, but rather manipulates time in order to spread the story out through several decades, thus making this a story of development. The story is split into five sections, which are all a series of flashbacks. It is only after the beginning of the fifth section that the reader learns that even the first is a flashback. The effect of this is rather potent, because the reader is unable to comprehend what time period the story is being told from.
The inability to comprehend the specific time periods of each section is largely due in part to the narrator. The seemingly biased narrator is a member of the same town as Emily, deeming them as one of the gossiping community members. Faulkner is able to convey this through the repetition of words such as “we” and “our.” Because of this, Faulkner is able to create a character who is close to Emily Grierson, without dialogue. By using these keywords, the narrator is able to express their thoughts and opinions, as well as those of the townspeople. A stray from this can be seen towards the end of section five, when the narrator begins to refer to the townspeople as “they,” in reference to “the violent breaking down of the door.” This attempt at disassociation demonstrates that the narrator may not condone the actions of the townspeople, therefore giving insight to the opinions and mentality of the narrator. This subtle variation is quickly changed back to “we,” but serves as an example to make evident that the narrator showed some sort of care for Emily Grierson. The gossip that the narrator openly and actively participates in plays a large role in the progression of this story; the story itself is arguably told through gossip. Evidenced through quotes such as evidenced through the quote “we thought it would be the best thing.” In reference to the potential suicide of Emily Grierson.
Characterization also plays a major role in the development of the story. Three main people are characterized in this story. Emily Grierson is seen through the eyes of the narrator. All descriptions and facts about Miss. Grierson are one sided, and might not fully represent the actual character of Emily Grierson. The character of the narrator is revealed from subtle hints laced in the story. Such as the switch between the words “we” and “they.” Although it is easy to overlook, the townspeople are developed through the references of the narrator. Largely impacted by words such as “we” and “they.”
Although this story is rich in symbolism, the example that is most prevalent is the symbolism of the rose. In fact, it is even in the title. In this, Emily Grierson is compared to a rose, full of thorns, and trapped inside all day to wither away. Not only physically, but emotionally as well. It can be seen through the text that Miss. Grierson slowly begins to lose a grip on her sanity. Going as far as to murder her husband and sleep next to his body. This is evidenced when Faulkner writes that “we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head.” Through this, Faulkner is able to powerfully compare Emily Grierson to a rose.
The background and setting of this story play a crucial role in the progression of the story. Utilization of words such as “negro” suggest that the story takes place in the south. Faulkner’s use of this specific setting and time period successfully give the reader background to the mentality of the characters of the story. This gives insight to the motivation, actions and mindset of the people living in the town. It is quite obvious that the townspeople are fascinated with Miss Grierson, and hold her on some sort of pedestal. Although the servant is the only person in direct contact with Miss Grierson, others remain curious about her life and death. So much so that they are willing to raid her house after hearing the news of her death. The townspeople are so inclined to be apart of her life that they take special actions such as calling her cousins when Emily was considering marriage with Homer Barron. In this manner, Faulkner is able to not only progress the characterization of the townsfolk, but also assist demonstrating the impact that the setting and time period have on the story.
In order to further progress the story, and build a connection with the reader, Faulkner utilizes foreshadowing to allude to the fact that Emily Grierson had been living with a dead man. The first example of foreshadowing is presented in part two of the story, when the house begins to take a grotesque smell “a short time after her sweetheart – the one we believed would marry her – had deserted her.” Foreshadowing of Homer Barron’s death is again seen in part three, when Miss. Grierson purchases arsenic without giving a proper reason. This provides the reader with key insight to the progression of the story, and helps to develop the morbid mood of the story.
The morbid and cynical mood of this story is due largely to the fact that this story deals with death, and the development of the story revolves around the death of Emily Grierson. However, the true mood of the story is not revealed until part five of the story, when the reader learns the truth behind the disappearance of Homer Barron. The mood is mostly dark and morbid up to this point, but after “the breaking down [of] the door” and reader learns that “the man himself lay in bed.” After this revelation, the mood begins to transgress into that of a more cynical and tragic.
One of the major themes of this story is the inability of Emily Grierson to adapt and accept change. It is evidenced through her unwillingness to pay taxes that Miss Grierson is stuck in the time period that Colonel Sartoris is in charge. This is also evidenced through her refusal to have a mailbox when postal delivery is first instituted. The narrator expands on this by making the claim “thus she passed from generation to generation.” Through this, Faulkner is able to potently convey the deterioration of Miss Grierson.
With the concoction of all of these elements, William Faulkner is able to progress the story in a manner that may not be chronological, but still manages to make logical sense. The impact that this has on the reader is quite powerfully, and without these devices, Faulkner would not have been able to smoothly capture the overall impact of this story.
Abandoning the Actions of the Society in Light in August
Although most men and women recognize how traditional gender roles dictate their actions in hopes of being accepted into society, very few can claim that they have been completely exiled from their community because they appear too “masculine” or vice-versa. In Light in August, the people of Jefferson are presented as a single antagonist in which they solely exist to oppose any unwanted change within the community. Joanna Burden is first introduced with feminine traits typical of a traditional female character; one that exists to serve the needs and wants of their male counterpart. As Joanna begins to develop a relationship with Joe Christmas, it is revealed that she also has an uncanny ability to embody masculine traits. However, the fact that Burden can neither be classified as a man nor woman challenges the town’s dislike towards gender fluidity. Joanna Burden’s blurred separation of masculinity and femininity is the most decisive factor in the Jefferson community’s collective decision to reject her from society.
Because of the townspeople’s need to uphold its traditional Southern values, the community of Jefferson becomes its own character that outcasts anyone who is deemed undesirable or incapable of conforming to their ideals. During this time, the mere idea of homosexuality is not accepted, forcing some characters into isolation from society since their sexual orientations are continuously questioned. Although Joanna Burden has resided in Jefferson throughout her entire life, she is “still a stranger…about whom in the town there is still talk of queer relation with negroes in the town and out of it” (Faulkner 46). This exemplifies the community’s abnormal tendency to form a single, unified opinion as opposed to the variance of opinions expected from a large population. The citizens of Jefferson exile and ignore Joanna because of her transgression from societal norms, which subconsciously influences her personality. The community’s dislike towards actions that contrast their conservative ideologies, such as pregnancy out of wedlock, is a factor proving the townsfolk within Jefferson as incapable of forming individual moral beliefs. Lena’s brother is representative of this underlying issue when he “remarked her changing shape…[and] called her a whore” (Faulkner 6). His opinion on Lena’s pregnancy both aligns with and conforms to Southern society’s expectations of the imperative to be married. The Jefferson community develops into one entity that exists to serve as the town’s metaphorical moral compass. Any character that veers from their collective opinion or attempts to change Jefferson’s conservative agenda is shunned until the individual fades into oblivion.
Before Faulkner further develops Joanna Burden and Joe Christmas’s relationship during its first phase, Miss Burden is originally represented as a stereotypical figure of white Southern femininity. In Jefferson, white women are expected to uphold the Southern tradition without any inclination to change or question it, all the while forcing themselves into the cookie-cutter image of the domestic housewife. Joanna constantly prepares meals for Joe, but never sits down to eat with him, instead she stands “in one of her apparently endless succession of clean calico house dresses and sometimes a cloth sunbonnet like a countrywoman” (Faulkner 233). Strict gender roles place Joanna Burden in a seemingly immovable idea of how white females should be physically portrayed in a society that emphasizes importance of social hierarchies. In this case, she is a symbol of the Southern community’s attempt at exploiting her existence to benefit the opposite gender. Miss Burden temporarily comes to terms with her femininity when she considers bearing a child; another traditional role of women where they are expected to live in servitude as a caretaker. For Joanna, the idea of pregnancy gives her a sense of power: “She talked about it impersonally at first, discussing children. It was some time before [Joe] discovered…she was discussing it as a possibility, a practical thought” (Faulkner 264-265). Pregnancy gives her a feminine sexuality that is not obtained through sexual acts, but instead motherhood – one of the most important contributions a woman is expected to make in Southern society, or more specifically, the Jefferson community. Any deviation from these beliefs gives the townsfolk a reason to punish the unorthodox individual and exile them from the community.
Although Joanna Burden does embody some feminine traits, her unconventional masculinity is what causes her to become an outcast after she is deemed a threat to the Southern social order. Instead of a typical heterosexual relationship that is both common and expected in Jefferson, Joanna takes on a position of masculine authority, challenging the traditional female archetype. When Joe Christmas first meets Joanna, he describes her having masculine traits: “There was no feminine vacillation…It was as if he struggled physically with another man for an object of no actual value to either, and for which they struggled on principle alone” (Faulkner 235). A female character with the ability to alter their persona in order to resemble that of the opposite gender, such as Miss Burden, quickly becomes a danger to the male population of Jefferson; Joe and Joanna’s relationship comes into question when their sexual relations can be interpreted as homosexual sex, a taboo act within the Jefferson community. Another implication of Joanna’s gender fluidity is exemplified when she morphs into the more dominant “male” figure in the relationship, while Joe becomes her submissive counterpart. Christmas suddenly realizes that he is being forced into the position of what Joanna Burden should be – a woman: “’My God,’ he thought, ‘it was like I was the woman and she was the man” (Faulkner 235). This threatens the very moral principles that the Jefferson community prides itself on, where the man and woman should adhere to their God-given roles in society. Joanna challenges the traditionally black-and-white binary of man vs. woman in a culture that is highly intolerant of mixtures of any variation whether it may be gender, race, or sexual behavior.
Because Miss Burden has feminine and masculine aspects, she is neither a man nor woman, but instead, a combination of both. Her embodiment of femininity and masculinity is not originally outwardly shown through her actions and personality, but is eventually inscribed permanently on her body. During the third phase of Joanna’s relationship with Joe, she is depicted as having a “face of a spinster: prominently boned, long, a little thin, almost manlike: in contrast to it her plump body was more richly and softly animal than ever” (Faulkner 266). The juxtaposition of the two descriptions exemplifies the physical duality that she now represents; although her weight gain can be paralleled to pregnancy or femininity, her body still rejects the gender implication. Faulkner also blurs the divide between the two genders by referencing pregnancy in a skewed, unorthodox manner because of both Joanna’s familial history and her dramatized menopause. Burden reveals the moment when she realized that her future would be forever doomed: “…the white babies were struggling, even before they drew breath, to escape from the shadow…flung out like their arms were flung out, as if they were nailed to the cross” (Faulkner 253). The depictions of crucifying white babies and the violence against infants is not representative of her inability to have a child with Joe, which is an effect of the end of her child-bearing age, but foreshadows Joanna’s violent death that occurs in order to remedy the unwanted change within the Jefferson community.
In Light in August, Joanna Burden’s inability to fit into the man vs. woman binary constitutes a threat to the conservative Southern order, which ultimately leads to the Jefferson townspeople’s decision to shun her from the community. Normally, one would expect communities to be a place of progress and change, but the lack of varying opinions in the novel shows how a place where no one is willing to form their own views can be detrimental to societal growth. In the modern world, communities that are not open to change are still very prevalent, many of these stemming from more religious and highly conservative regions. Anyone who is not a cisgender individual or unwilling to comply with traditional gender roles, risk experiencing violent backlash from their communities. Without supporting those who are different or educating the ignorant, equality can never be a possibility, and for some, Joanna Burden’s fictional death may become a reality.
Ambivalence and Anguish: The Inescapability of the Old South and its Destruction of Quentin Compson in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom
William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom identifies the fundamental problem of Southern history as a wretched combination of two predominant qualities: the shameful and abhorrent nature of the past, and the haunting and mythical presence of such a past in the hearts and minds of the descendents of the old South. In the essay “Faulkner and the Civil War: Myth and Reality,” Douglas T. Miller argues that Faulkner often implies the retrospective “moral failings” of the old South but at the same time grants its history an immense mythic and heroic quality. “Much of Faulkner’s writing is concerned with the inability of the descendents of the old order leaders to deal effectively with the modern South,” writes Miller. “To some of these individuals it is the legend of the Civil War that incapacitates them from acting meaningfully in the new South” (204). Quentin Compson’s mental anguish in the final pages of the novel and his subsequent suicide reflect a profound inner estrangement—the myth of the antebellum South and the cold reality of the post-bellum world colliding in the mind of one man who cannot quite come to terms with either.
Quentin’s long-winded and convoluted description of the South functions in the novel as a poignant commentary on the painful aura of history that exists below the Mason-Dixon line. It is something even he, a descendent of the South, simply “cannot pass” (Faulkner 139). The South is unintelligible for Quentin, yet its history has been internalized nonetheless. The stories that haunt Quentin into convulsions make the past no more lucid, but they do indicate the innate presence of the South in his soul. Miller contends there is a strong “myth-making quality of Southern memory. ” Quentin can internalize and access such mythical memories of a foregone era because he has been so shaped by that era. In Faulkner: The House Divided, Eric J. Sundquist calls Quentin “one of the remaining fragments of Sutpen’s nightmarish design, and as such [he] continues to express the long trauma that outlived the design” (130).The narrator conveys this profound connection by dissolving the boundaries between past and present. “It was a day of listening too—the listening, the hearing in 1909 even yet mostly that which [Quentin] already knew since he had been born in and still breathed the same air in which the church bells had rung on that Sunday morning of 1833” (Faulkner 23). The juxtaposition between Quentin’s innate association with the old South and Shreve’s fundamental detachment from it explains why the outsider can never embody the varied nuances of such a past. Shreve is removed both geographically and temporally from the legend of the South that he yearns to comprehend. Charles S. Sydnor’s essay entitled “The Southern Experiment in Writing Social History” argues that historians from the South face similar difficulty when explaining their past to people removed from the Southern tradition—“people who have in some measure a different standard of values” (460).
[M]uch skill and art are needed if a civilization that is gone is to be made comprehensible to men of the civilization that displanted it. Perhaps the historian can never hope to accomplish the task as well as the novelist can do it. At best, the historian may make a profound and penetrating analysis of a culture, but he is rarely able to make it breathe and move before the eyes of another generation of men (Sydnor 460).
Faulkner’s own work both mirrors and emphasizes this inability to translate certain aspects of history across regional lines. In the novel, Quentin—a man separated by time but not origin—tells Shreve: “You can’t understand it. You would have to be born there” (Faulkner 289). In agreement, Shreve says that Southerners have “something [his] people haven’t got”—the internal phantom of a past so repugnant that it can never quite be forgotten. “[I]f we have got it, it happened long ago across the water and so now there ain’t anything to look at every day and remind us of it” (Faulkner 289).
The “something” Shreve describes is that certain and stubborn essence that makes the South, the haunting past that has lived decades beyond the Civil War. Sundquist contends that Faulkner’s entire work “is permeated by an aura of decay and failed magnificence—of a grand design gone wrong through the sins of the fathers” (97). More than a lasting problem, Shreve describes the Southern curse as eternal: “[A]s long as your children’s children produce children you won’t be anything but a descendent of a long line of colonels killed in Pickett’s charge at Manassas” (Faulkner 289). No matter how many generations arise, the origins and roots will always trace back to that ill-fated era. The curse is a blood curse—and there is no blotting out the history of the South. In an essay entitled “The Ever-Vanishing South,” Charles P. Roland notes that Southern fiction often “swarms” with long family lineages that go on ad infinitum: “The strengths and weaknesses of the present generation are seen as a legacy from its forebears” (12). In the individual case of Thomas Sutpen and his legatees, the sins and threats of miscegenation and incest pervade the generations and persevere with the life of Jim Bond, leading Quentin to ponder the infinity of memory.
Maybe nothing ever happens once and is finished. Maybe happen is never once but like ripples maybe on water after the pebble sinks, the ripples moving on, spreading, the pool attached to a narrow umbilical cord to the next pool which the first pool feeds, has fed, did feed, let this second pool contain a different temperature of water, a different molecularity of having seen, felt, remembered, reflect in a different tone the infinite unchanging sky, it doesn’t matter: that pebble’s watery echo whose fall it did not even see moves across its surface too at the original ripple-space, to the old inevitable rhythm (Faulkner 210).
The soft “ripples” in Quentin’s metaphor deviate from the intense reality of his own internal conflict: “[Quentin] began to jerk all over, violently and uncontrollably until he could even heard the bed” (Faulkner 288). Even though Quentin explicitly states, “I’m not cold,” Shreve offers Quentin coats and blames the cool climate of the Northeast; he cannot fathom that Quentin’s “violent and uncontrollable” spasms might have originated from a deep-seeded conflict of self spurred by the vestiges of his history. Unlike Shreve, who has nothing “to look at everyday” to remind him of the past, Quentin must face himself and grapple with his innate, albeit temporally distant, relationship with the South.
The unintelligible nature of Quentin’s own history spurs his subsequent mental torment. When Shreve questions his understanding of the history, Quentin appears markedly ambivalent: “I don’t know … Yes, of course I understand it … I don’t know” (Faulkner 289). The South is at once ubiquitous and elusive. “What is it?” asks Shreve, “Something you live and breathe in like air? A kind of vacuum filled with wrath-like and indomitable anger and pride and glory at and in happenings that occurred and ceased fifty years ago?” (Faulkner 289). Shreve’s choice of the word “cease” emphasizes the crux of his confusion: not only did the “happenings” occur fifty years ago, but they also ostensibly ceased, concluded. Quentin’s internal struggles prove, however, that the Civil War was no panacea for the problems of the South, and the conflict yielded no catharsis. At the conclusion of Absalom, Absalom, there is little resolution for Quentin either.
Quentin’s failure to understand his own past—one that he is inextricably and inescapably tied up in—contributes to a form of self-estrangement that he cannot overcome. He is neither synonymous with his past nor fully removed enough to function as a true member of his present. Quentin’s mental “miscegenation” reflects the debacle of slavery and the war itself, which Sundquist argues “makes Clytie neither slave nor free and makes Charles Bon neither slave nor son nor brother” (114). This form of “improbable marriage … creates the extraordinary psychological and stylistic turbulence in Faulkner’s reimagining of Quentin’s dilemma” (Sundquist 111). Zygmunt Bauman, author of Modernity and Ambivalence, defines the stranger as an “undecidable” who “disturbs the resonance between physical and psychical distance: he is physically close while remaining spiritually remote” (60). Quentin’s existence hinges on the nostalgic yet horrifying past of Sutpen and the old South to the extent that he cannot fully align with the physical reality of living in the 20th century. Indeed, one of the subtlest—and most thorny—difficulties inherent in Southern history is the “cultural difference between the old South and modern America” (Sydnor 460). In many ways, Quentin is torn between two worlds. Contrary to Abraham Lincoln’s vision in his House Divided speech, Quentin’s past impedes his being “all one thing, or all the other.” He is mentally unsound because he encompasses the old South yet contemporaneously exists in 1909. Quentin’s breakdown is based on his inability to strike the “balance between nostalgia and rage” necessary to lead a complete and contented life; he instead occupies both (Sundquist 112). Says Bauman: “Oppositions enable knowledge and action; undecidables paralyze them” (56). Quentin’s ambiguous response to Shreve’s question about his own comprehension of the South signals the novel’s conclusion, where Quentin ardently yet unpersuasively maintains that he does not hate the South.
Shreve’s initial inquiry about the nature of the South functions as a precursor to Quentin’s psychological deterioration and consequent death in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Shreve’s loaded questions lead Quentin “through an agonizing rehearsal of Thomas Sutpen’s flawed design, through the might have been that had to be, and bring him to the threshold of his suicide” (Sundquist 100). “Tell about the South,” Shreve asks. “What’s it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all” (Faulkner 142). Quentin attempts to answer the questions in his detailed account of Sutpen’s Hundred and the consequences such an abomination necessarily caused, yet by the novel’s conclusion he realizes he can never fully explain the South to someone like Shreve. Even more troubling is Shreve’s final question, “Why do they live at all?” Although Quentin does not explicitly give an answer, the response lies in Charles Bon’s letter to Judith.
[W]ithin this sheet of paper you now hold the best of the old South which is dead, and the words you read were written upon it with the best … of the North which has conquered and will therefore, whether it likes it or not, will have to survive, I now believe that you and I are, strangely enough, included among those doomed to live (Faulkner 104-5).
Quentin is doomed to live in the same way, doomed to a life dominated by the duality of one mind and one soul. Quentin’s collapse reflects the “utter fragility of the South’s own vision of itself,” as he has effectively stigmatized himself as a cultural stranger in the post-bellum world (Sundquist 99).
Bauman defines stigma as “an otherwise innocuous trait”—such as Quentin’s bond with history—that “becomes a blemish, a sign of affliction, a cause of shame … eminently fit for the task of immobilizing the stranger in his identity of the excluded Other” (67-8). In asking about the South, Shreve indirectly implies and exposes Quentin’s innate cultural difference—a flaw Quentin himself does not recognize until the conclusion of the novel when he finds “that contagion [has spread] to his bedroom in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1910” (Sundquist 129). Bauman asserts that stigmatized individuals often “go out of their way to rid and suppress everything which makes them distinct from rightful members of the community … to guarantee their reclassification as insiders” (71). Quentin lacks such social flexibility because the essence of his stigma is the inescapable past embedded in his very being. To achieve full domestication, the stranger must “demonstrate the absence of old abomination,” says Bauman. “To prove the absence of a trait is an endemically inconclusive task [because] to unmake the past is downright impossible.” Faced with the inability of this task, Quentin hopelessly resolves to “unmake” his present—and future—by committing suicide in 1910.
Bauman, Zygmunt. Modernity and Ambivalence. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, 1991.
Faulkner, William. Absalom, Absalom. Vintage International: New York, 1990.
Miller, Douglas T. “Faulkner and the Civil War: Myth and Reality. ”American Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 2, Part 1. (Summer, 1963) pp. 200-209
Roland, Charles P. “The Ever-Vanishing South.” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Feb. 1982), pp.3-20
Sundquist, Eric J. Faulkner: The House Divided. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 1983.
Sydnor, Charles S. “The Southern Experiment in Writing Social History.” The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 11, No. 4 (Nov. 1945), pp. 455-468.
The Role of Setting in “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner
According to Thomas C. Foster, setting plays a significant role in the structure of a narrative. Its utility is evident through the ways authors use it to lay the foundation that establishes the environment that their characters occupy. In “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, the author takes a different perspective as his character and setting is the same thing. The exploration of this setting gives the reader a window into the character’s personality. Emily is her house as her memories and emotions are connected to the experience she has had in this house.
In A Rose for Emily Faulkner’s main protagonist is portrayed as a woman who defined herself through her earthly possessions. Faulkner narrows the view of this character as the reader encounters this character after her death. Therefore, the only way one can understand this character is through the items she lives behind after her demise. Her death opens her house to this community that is curious as they try to peel back the veil that she lived in. The exploration of this house gives these people a chance to understand this eccentric neighbor. The investigation of this house would answer the questions that these people had about Emily. Faulkner makes Emily and her house the same thing and this facilitate the deduction that she is an individual who is stuck in the past. This dedication is facilitated architecture of her house that is representative of the reality she occupied.
Faulkner narrows the view of his reader as Emily death restricts the reader from understanding Emily through her actions. The reader is forced to know Emily through her house. It’s up to the reader to use Emily’s possessions to interpret her character and personality. Emily is closed off from the community, and only after her death does they get a chance to know how she was by exploring her house. She had cut off ties from everyone after the death of her father. She became a hermit who increased her distance from this community. Miss Emily was stuck in the past when her family used to have a significant role over the functions of this town. She sees no reason to pay taxes as her father basically founded this town. Emily’s reality is affected by inability to cope with the death of her father. Therefore, her house represents this era when she had control over her life.
In A Rose for Emily William Faulkner creates a narrative that requires the reader to go on a quest in this house to understand the main protagonists. This Victorian-era house exhibits Emily’s character as Emily Grison is described as a stereotypical Southern. This house identifies the wealth and privilege that Emily enjoyed before the civil war that changed her reality. Emily becomes an outsider by refusing to accept her reality, and the location of her house exemplified her isolation from this community. Emily uses her house as a barrier from reality and the state of this house represents the state of her mind as she is stuck in the past. This house is described as dusty, dark, and shuttered, recognizing how much this isolation affected her. She is described as socially awkward and is dependent on her servant. Emily’s identity is connected to her house, the Victorian era house represents the Southern era when her father was alive, and she had an active life.
Emily’s setting is representative of what she holds, dear. She is determined to preserve the house the way it was when life made sense to her. Her house was a connection to her father, who was a man who held his family at high regards above everyone else. She lives under the standards that her father set when he was alive. Her father set standards that did not help her socialize with this community. Her abandonment issues were magnified when her boyfriend, who ran away, severing her connection to the world. Emily is seen as a shell of her former self, and this is evident through the dilapidated state of this Victorian-era house. The death of her father led to her depression and denial that made her cut all ties with this community. Therefore, an exploration of the house is an exploration of Emily.
According to Daniel Miller, our possessions are extensions of ourselves. These possessions signify our character and personality. Our possessions identify what we hold dear in our existence. Society determines our worth through our possessions that represent our social and economic status. The aspect of Consumerism is based in this process of socialization that puts meaning to our possessions. We learn to associate our possessions with the positions we occupy in our society. Consumerism gives logic to the need for personalization of one’s possessions. These possessions are uses to bring sense to ones existence as our belongings bring a sense identity and meaning. Advertisers have seen the potential that consumerism gives their trade. It has given their adverts senses as our shoes, watches, phones; clothes have become an extension of our personality.
Our belongings are associated with a sense of where we come from and who we are. Hence, our houses represent the different individuals who occupy them. It is clear that our rooms differ from the parents and children as these rooms represent our interests and motivations in life. It is evident through the manner we personalize our apartments to represent our personalities and characters. Our apartments represent our state of mind as we tend to be tidy and untidy concerning our mood and motivation. Our choices are affected by our different demographics; therefore, a lectures room will differ from doctors. Our belongings are an extension of who we are as they represent what we value in our lives.
In conclusion, as seen from the analysis in this essay, Faulkner’s narrative in A Rose for Emily represents a scenario where the exploration of the setting is an exploration of the protagonist. Emily and her house have become one as her setting is representative of her physical and psychological nature. She is determined to preserve the memory of her father though her existence. It leads to her been defined as a vestige of the Southern aristocracy that was erased by the industrial age.
- Charters, A (2015) The story and its writer: An introduction to short fiction (9th ed.) Bedford
- Faulkner W (2013) A Rose For Emily: Short Story, Harper Perennial Classics
- Foster, T. C., (2014). How to read literature like a professor. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers
- Miller D (2001) Consumption: Theory and issues in the study of consumption
- Volume 1 of Consumption: Critical Concepts in the Social Sciences, Daniel Miller, ISBN 0415242665, 9780415242660
The Psychological Criticism of Emily in William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”
Psychological criticism is an approach to literary criticism that interprets writings, authors, and readers through a psychological lens. This essay will perform a psychological criticism of the main protagonist from A Rose for Emily.
William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, Emily Grierson is a lonely old woman faced with death and her actions to satisfy her immense desire to retain her ‘love’ shows psychological issues. The story is broken into five different sections in which in each point the narrator switches point of view. The chronological order of the story deceives the reader’s perception of Emily, which enhances the horror of Emily once the truth is revealed.
Emily is at first depicted as a sad lonely old woman who has trouble after dealing with the death of her father. In the first part of the story Miss Emily has died. The funeral is taking place at her home and many people come to pay their respects and are also are curious to see the inside of the house. No one had seen the inside of the house besides the manservant for 10 years. Throughout the story we see the struggles a woman has with loneliness, depression and even necrophilia. Miss Emily’s character has many mental problems and is often compared to a woman Ms. Wyatt, who was known to be crazy. Ms. Wyatt is referenced to let it be known that psychological issues are present in the family.
We see further into the story that Emily has psychological problems when her father dies, and she tells the townspeople he is not dead. For three days his body sits in the house and only when the townspeople threaten to bring the authorities does, she let them in to retrieve the body. Emily becomes an introvert after her father’s death, until she meets Homer. He comes into her life and the townspeople are concerned about them getting married which they think is going to happen, then he suddenly disappears. Emily goes and buys arsenic and will not tell the druggist for what. Then finally at the end of the story, Homer’s body is found upstairs dead with Emily’s grey hair found on a pillow beside him. Homer was known to be gay and to not be the kind of man to marry. Emily was scared to lose Homer and killing him was her own way to retain his love forever. This is shown in the way that she still slept with him, she never lost him.
The point of view that “A Rose for Emily” is written in is very acentric. The chronology that the story is written in is very deceiving to the reader. “The chronology deliberately manipulates and delays the reader’s final judgement of Emily Grierson by altering the evidence.” “The one element that Nebeker’s study appears to ignore is motive — not Emily’s motive for killing and hiding Homer, which has been variously explored over the years through psychological, psychosexual, historical, metaphorical, and other various critical methods, but rather the narrator’s motive for presenting a text in which the clues, as Nebeker states, “are all there as early as the second section” but are presented in such a way that when we reconstruct the timeline, we can easily predict for ourselves what seems to have surprised the “we” narrator. That is, while exploring the effects of chronology on interpretation, or untangling the chronology, or setting the chronology into stylistic context, neither Nebeker’s nor any other scholar’s extant criticisms attend to why the tale is told in the chronologically convoluted way that it is.” The chronological order that the narrator uses delays the information that Emily is a killer. What is the reasoning for this, did the author want us to feel sympathetic for the lonely old woman before we learned she was a murderer? As an audience we were naïve because clues were revealed so early, such as the stench in the house. The chronological order this story is told in, sells the story, as the narrator leads up to the horrific truth the clues lead us along the way.
Another interesting and different aspect to the point of view in “A Rose for Emily” is that the narrator never truly picks a position in the story. The story is rendered in the first-person plural creating ambiguity about the identity of the narrator. The narrator could be the voice of the community as he often uses the personal pronoun “we”. He also differentiates between “we” and “they” are suggesting that its collective identity might only represent a part of the local society. This may also mean that the narrator is in fact just one person, who associates himself with the opinion and knowledge of part of the community, but not all. “Nebeker examines the complicated use of pronouns in light of the story’s timeline. As she notes, “the truth of the Miss Emily episode lies … in the identity of the narrator,” which is textually comprised of the pronouns “our” and “we,” with references to “they. Faulkner here affects one of his most ingenious narrative innovations: a first-person-plural narrator. But the narrative voice makes nothing simple: as Nebecker further notes, within all five sections, we note a continual shifting of person, from our to they to we…. Thus, in the first two sections, we have ambiguously but definably presented before us three groups — the general townspeople of the inclusive our; the they of a contemporary society functioning when Mis Emily was in her late 50s or early 60s and to whom she refuses to pay taxes; and the they of an earlier group.”
“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner is a short story with the main character Emily who has psychological issues with the loss of her father. The chronological order of the story eventually reveals that she secretly murders her lover, so that she will never lose him. She sleeps by his skeletal corpse until her own death. The chronological order and the ambiguity of the narrator makes the story even more interesting. The way the story is told severely changes the interpretation of Emily.
- Getty, Laura J. “Faulkner’s a Rose for Emily” The Explicator. 64.3 (2005): 230. Gale. Web. 3 Oct. 2011
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- Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Literature: Reading Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. Robert DiYanni. 6th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2008. 79-84. Print.
Analysis of Fear and Independence in “A Rose for Emily” and “Fleur”
What is it to be ostracised? “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner and “Fleur” by Louise Erdrich, are tales that encompass the idea of social exclusion. The characters in these stories sit upon a precipice of social isolation, destitute to be ostracised by their communities. Fleur and Emily both challenged societal ideals invoking fear within their compatriots and were consequentially ostracised and treated with aggression when perceived as a threat. Both women retaliated against their stereotypical confinements based on gender, age, race, and class. Fleur and Emily defied the traditional concepts of socially accepted gendered behaviours, and even dared defy gender normativity. Fleur was ill perceived. She displayed raw masculinity throughout the entirety of her story. She was first perceived as masculine through the clothes she wore. She was described as being “dressed like a man” (Erdrich 803).
This concept of her unfiltered masculinity was again represented by her having a man like strength (Erdrich 804) when she worked at the butcher’s shop. This uncompromised masculinity flared once more in her ability to play cards. She was thought to be abnormal because a co-worker named Lily could not believe, “that a woman could be smart enough to play cards” (Erdrich 806). These displays of masculine traits were not accepted and were even feared by the relative community. Fleur was a strong, uncompromised woman and therefore uncomprehensive and threatening. Her skill at cards, while once seen as impressive, quickly turned into a suspicious trait (Erdrich 806). These traditionally masculine traits forced Fleur from the gendered role of dainty and meek, which resulted in her inability to be traditional, controlled and defined. Emily was seen in the same regards as defying her perceived gendered behaviour. Emily openly fought men and disregarded their attempted superiority (Faulkner 1).
When gentlemen went to Emily to collect her taxes, she openly disregarded them and asked them to leave (Faulkner 1). She also defied the gender normal ideals on the presentation of a woman’s appearance because she cut her hair off (Faulkner 1). Emily further defiedher gender expectations through her relations with the other women in her community. Within this era, it was perceived that women were supposed to be polite and follow certain cultural behaviours (Faulkner 3). Emily defied this idea, and even went as far as to be individualistic and ignore the ideals of polite femininity (Faulkner 3). Fleur and Emily were bold when they chose to step outside the traditional gendered roles. These actions bonded them together in defying societal expectations but added to their ostracization from their respective communities and ultimately aided in the societies’ fear and abandonment of these women. As well as gender roles, class and race formed another point of contention for Fleur and Emily. These two components within society dictated how their relationships and actions were supposed to be performed. Fleur was a young Indigenous woman, and even within her society, was clearly a lower ranked individual. Within her own community she was cast down to the association with animals instead of people, being describe as a bear (Erdrich 803), or having “grinned the white wolf grin” (Erdrich 805).
When Fleur left her town to seek refuge elsewhere, she was still classed as a lowly Indigenous female. Yet even with this detrimental classing system, Fleur was fiercely independent. Fleur chose to ignore the idea that she owed people anything. She ignored the words of the elders and lived her life according to her own ideas (Erdrich 803). Fleur was not phased by the advancements of gentlemen who where viewed superior to her in the era (Erdrich 805-808). Emily, much like Fleur, defied her class label. Emily was supposed to be demure, but often opposed that concept. She was described as strong willed and in defiance of her class identity. It was said that, “she vanquished them” (Faulkner 2), when discussing men. Further her interaction with the druggist demonstrated her incapacity to fulfill the suspected role. When she went to collect poison, she stared down and intimidated the male druggist into giving her what she wanted without the traditional protocol (Faulkner 4-5).
Emily also refuted the idea of staying within her class for relationships, she instead defied it and was involved with a man beneath her class(Faulkner 5). Emily and Fleur were defiant in nature. They would act outside the realms of social propriety, class, and of course gender, ultimately posing them as threat to the community. The community within both, “Fleur” and “A Rose for Emily”, had intensive beliefs about women. The communities did not accept the women, predominately because of their intensive rejection of societal expectations. Fleur broke the predetermined and undiscussed rules of the community by dressing as man (Erdrich 803), acting animalistic (Erdrich 803-806), and defying the rules of class (Erdrich 803-808). She did not allow the social barricades to control her actions, she instead was freed. This forced her into being viewed as evil and therefore a threat. The upmost desire to extinguish this threat can be seen in the violent act of letting her drown (Erdrich 802). It was stated that, “the next time she fell in the lake Fleur Pillager was twenty years old and no one touched her” (Erdrich 802). The town did not accept Fleur for who she was. In fact, she was so despised and feared that people would rather let her drown or try to run her out of town (Erdrich 803). Fleur again was feared by the gentlemen that she worked with (Erdrich 805-810). They did not understand her abilities or attitude, and this was shown through the medium of cards (Erdrich 805-810).
In retaliation for this she was punished through rape (Erdrich 809). Emily was seen less of a threat solely because of age. She was from a generation that was protected and therefore she was a burden (Faulkner 1). Her punishment for defying rules was less violent. People disregarded her, gossiped and ultimately isolated her (Faulkner 1-7). She was isolated so badly that she kept a body in her house for years and no one knew until she died (Faulkner 7). The women were punished and feared because they were in defiance of the different social rules. To defy the socially constructed rules is to challenge the beliefs of one’s compatriots. Fleur and Emily both challenged the constructs and functions in their own realms. This ultimately led their communities to fear and punish them for their social defiance.
While both women were punished with ostracization and isolation, Fleur was also punished in drastic and violent ways. These women sharedcommonalities in bravery. To be strong and to defy unjust rules, is to evoke fear from their societies that have lost all control and therefore resolve to violent actions. Emily and Fleur were impressively strong women that demonstrated the pain and suffering that accompanied a defiance in the rules; and yet both women remained outcasts as opposed to reforming their behaviours and mold to societal expectations. Fleur and Emily, while their stories ended differently, and their punishments varied, proved undeniably that to be strong and to be feared is still a choice over diminishing their individualism.
Inherent nature of violence to the society
Hemingway’s In Our Time and Faulkner’s Light in August are both pieces of literature that revolve around violence. However, the authors’ treatments of violence contrast sharply. Hemingway focuses on culturally sanctioned forms of violence, while Faulkner focuses on more illicit violence. While Faulkner lays a complete foundation for every violent act in his novel, Hemingway is subtler, preferring to simply narrate and avoid directly explaining emotions. Faulkner emphasizes the influence of society on violent acts while Hemingway focuses on the inherent nature of violence in society.
Hemingway’s life and literature is full of violence. He eagerly enlisted in WWI, loved sports, hunting, fishing, and often got into fights. In Our Time reflects heavily this interest in culturally sanctioned violence. The vignettes between each story are, for the most part, graphically violent scenes of wartime or bullfighting. Many of the stories themselves involve violent acts (Indian Camp, The Battler) while others, without explicitly recalling the violence, involve the aftermath of the war (Soldier’s Home, Big Two-Hearted River). It is notable that for all the instances of violence in In Our Time, only one comes to mind that does not fall under the category of war, sports, or good, old-fashioned fist fighting – the Indian father’s suicide in Indian Camp.
Light in August is an equally violent novel, but in a remarkably different way. Most of the violence that occurs is particularly non-culturally sanctioned. There are references to war, as in Rev. Hightower’s grandfather as well as Percy Grimm’s desire to be a soldier. However the majority of violence, especially that perpetrated by and against Joe Christmas, is not of the sort generally accepted by society. His adoptive father, whom Joe eventually kills, beats him throughout his childhood. At various times in his life he beats women he is involved with and kills Joanna Burden. There is, of course, his ultimate lynching.
Hemingway and Faulkner’s narrative styles produce distinctly different contexts for the violence. Light in August is a saga, spanning generations. While Hemingway often gives background information on his characters, his descriptions are short and sweet and mainly serve to situate the story. He leaves it up to the reader to interpret the significance of the information. Faulkner, on the other hand, methodically traces the history of each character, clearly not satisfied until each character’s particular actions and feelings are fully explained. It is not enough for Faulkner to make passing references to Joanna Burden and Gail Hightower’s histories. He includes long sections detailing both their families’ histories and life stories. What is really of note is not the amount of background information. Not only does Faulkner reveal the background facts, he offers analytical explanations of behavior, something Hemingway typically refrains from. In particular Joe’s violent behavior does not stand on it’s own =96 it is important to Faulkner that the reader learn Joe’s past and his reasons for acting as he does. Faulkner traces Joe’s childhood =96 a history of abandonment and abuse.
Faulkner’s extensive use of background information and analytical commentary emphasizes the social causes of violence. Joe Christmas is clearly presented as a victim of painful race relations and the power of social categories. Even though his “black blood”, if present at all, is only a drop or so, he has been tortured his whole life. At first the children taunted him, calling him “Nigger!”, but it is as if he has had that cry ringing in his head for the rest of his life and can’t shake it. His violence is always linked to his preoccupation with race. He was so used to shocking women by telling them he was part black that the first time one of them wasn’t shocked he beat her severely and was sick for two years. It is when Joanna Burden suggests that he attend what he refers to as “a nigger college” and become “a nigger lawyer” that he hits her. This leads her to consider joint suicide for the two of them, which is what leads to him committing his most violent act =96 killing Joanna. In a telling conversation with Joanna Burden she asks him how he knows he is part black. He thinks, admits that he doesn’t know and then comments, “If not, damned if I haven’t wasted a lot of time.” This is as close as he comes to conceiving of the possibility that his life need not be determined by an arbitrary gene he may or may not have.
Stevens, the district attorney, offers his theory that although Christmas runs from his crime “his blood would not be quiet, let him save it. It would not be either one of the other and let his body save it.” His black blood drove him to violence while his white blood drove him to try to save himself. “It was the black blood which swept him by his own desire beyond the aid of any man, swept him up into that ecstasy out of a black jungle where life has already eased before the heart stops and death is desire and fulfillment.” It seems that Christmas has internalized the social established stereotypes of black and white and has succumbed to his “dark” side after all.
Hemingway’s detached narration, in addition to his focus on culturally sanctioned violence, emphasizes the inevitability of violence. The war vignettes leave the reader with the sense that individual choice is impossible. For example: “The first German I saw climbed over the garden wall. We waited till he got one leg over and then potted him. He had so much equipment on and looked awfully surprised and fell down into the garden. Then three more came over further down the wall. We shot them. They all came just like that.” There is no sense of personal responsibility, only the feeling that war happens, and that people kill other people in wars and that is normal and inevitable.
Hemingway and Faulkner incorporate contrasting themes of violence in In Our Time and Light in August. Both take a societal view, but Hemingway sees violence as an inherent part of society, as unexplainable as it is inescapable, while Faulkner sees violence as a product of society, and if not rational, certainly avoidable.
Analysis Of “As I Lay Dying” By William Faulkner
The entire novel “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner is filled with great heroic efforts but at the same time is someway seems absurd at times. Anse, the father of the family and the laziest person should have been the provider but unfortunately he was exactly the opposite. He had a mentality of a rich man without any riches or wealth. He is a poor farmer with a hunchback and he’s selfish too. His wife Anse Bundren had five children, Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman. Her death triggers the novel’s action. She is a former school teacher whose bitter life causes her to take unfortunate actions. She loved and invested all her love in her favorite child, Jewel, instead of family and God.
The Bundern family is on to burring Addie. Jewel is very close to be considered as a hero. He was not traveling for any other motive except burying his mother. He also sacrifices his horse, which was very close to his heart, for the wagon team. Even if he did not know anything he had a more personal reason to bury his mother Addie away from the farm. In the middle of the whole mission they defeat water and fire to Jefferson where Addie has to be buried. There steps on this complications seems heroic although they come to a point where the consequence of the family’s action are foolish enough. The Burdrens’ looking to find a new way of crossing the flooded river at the beginning seems fine until it turns to be over dramatic.
Example to this would be the part where, a log approaches them and Cash makes a dash for the coffin while hurting his leg. This seemed to be a heroic action of Cash sacrificing his leg and his life too for his mother. Whereas Darl also says that his jumping from the wagon to save his life is also somehow saving their family’s future. Though according to me this action doesn’t seem to be heroic at all, instead it is somewhat disrespectful and selfish towards his dead mother. But at the same time if we take things in a different way than this Darl’s action could be considered as heroic as he already knew that his mother was dead and it was just her body with them now, so he tried protecting his family’s future giving it more priority. Addie is more of a “villain” than a hero of the story (which may seem obvious, but when we were first reading — before her chapter — I thought for sure that she would be proven compassionate, hardworking, etc. ), and the heroism of Anse is questionable. It’s interesting to look at Addie as the anti-hero.
At first I saw her as a hero before I really got to know her, as she had to deal with the many woes of being a Bundren. I pitied her position, and felt for her. The way in which those around her treat her after her death (preparing to take a long journey to Jefferson to bury her) seems like a heartfelt move, which made me feel like Addie cared about the poor, misfortunate Bundrens. I really like that Faulkner didn’t give in regarding “hero” stuff. Anse and Addie are people, not elevated by a happy ending for the kids or a heroic twist. It starts in the middle of one episode with Addie, and ends in the middle of another with the new Mrs. Bundren. I think the story (especially the ending) is very original. I think Cash comes the closest to a hero. He’s much more compassionate than he was at the start of the story, though I agree with you that Jewel is “arguably” a hero as well.
Furthermore, adding Jewels heroic action into account I find that breaking the ice by submerging his horse and himself into the river which was tremendously dangerous. Jewel here does the most heroic action. He proves to sacrifice himself along with his beloved thing that he owns just to make sure that his mother’s coffin crosses the river safely. He is sort of a main character of the entire operation. The brothers somehow attempts to keep themselves united while crossing the treacherous river, but they eventually began to panic and got off the track by forgetting what their actual goal was. At the end of the novel the Bundrens are at the Gillespie farm, and the barn catches fire and once again it seems like an idiotic commotion.
The Unvanquished Embodies the Qualities William Faulkner Describes in His Nobel Acceptance Speech
“On December 10, 1950 , [William Faulkner] delivered his [Nobel Prize] acceptance speech to the academy in a voice so low and rapid that few could make out what he was saying, but when his words were published in the newspaper the following day, [the speech was] recognized for its brilliance; in later years, Faulkner’s speech would be lauded as the best speech ever given at a Nobel ceremony.”
His acceptance speech is much like his literary life- he wrote many novels, poems, and short stories, as many works as most writers produce in their lifetime in just over a decade, but received little recognition for them until after he had retired. In both his career and his speech, he was neither understood nor noticed until the next day, the next decade- after the fact. As a young writer his sales sagged, and he was largely unknown in America for much of his life. Was it because he refused to write anything lacking what he considered the “old verities and truths of the heart?î Faulkner’s speech stressed the writer’s duty to help man endure by keeping alive these truths in his or her work. He did not wish to fuel the American reader’s shallow taste for tales of “lust and not love, defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, victories without hope.î His tenth novel, The Unvanquished, is indeed a compassionate, truthful story in which Faulkner meets his own literary standards. Through his use of Bayard’s innocent, childish recollections as narration, John Sartoris as a minor character, and overall beautiful language, Faulkner wrote a novel that preached the age-old truths of man to his audience.
The Unvanquished chronicles the growth of Bayard Sartoris from a child whose early war experience reaches its crest at games with wood chips and scratches in the ground into a man who, when faced with the tragedy of his father’s demise, must make this decision: who lives by the sword shall die by it – is it time to change the Southern tradition of bloodshed? Recalling his childhood memories as an adult, trying to understand what he could not as a child, Bayard’s narration is an honest view of his young life. When adults narrate in present time, they tend to twist details and events to their benefit, to prevent embarrassment or to exaggerate accomplishments. A child’s memories are pristine. They do not know how or when to bend the truth. Their interpretations may not be exact, but they are the genuine emotions the child felt. When Bayard retells his childhood, the reader is given an exact picture of Bayard’s feelings in regard to several important events of his childhood. The events may be clouded, but this is only because it was clouded to Bayard. In this manner, Faulkner delivers a sincere, pure, fulfilling story. The reader has access to both the immature Bayard’s real consciousness and the adult Bayard’s intelligent interpretations. In this passage, for example, the reader experiences Bayard’s infantile fright and is helped to break out of his trauma through the older Bayard’s aid:
“-and then there was a bright glare and I felt my insides suck and a clap of wind hit me on the back of the head. I didn’t hear anything at all. I just sat there in the wagon with a funny buzzing in my ears and a funny taste in my mouth, and watched little toy men and horses and pieces of plank floating in the air above the water. But I didn’t hear anything at all; I couldn’t even hear Cousin Drusilla. She was right beside the wagon now, leaning toward us, her mouth urgent and wide and no sound coming out of it at all.
“What?” I said.
“Stay in the wagon!”
“I can’t hear you!” I said. That’s what I said, that’s what I was thinking, I didn’t realize even then that wagon was moving again.”
After the bridge was destroyed, the terrible shock of it stunned Bayard. The reader imagines a boy completely bewildered, his senses dominated by the image before him. The adult Bayard relishes the moment as well, but then moves time again when he points out that he didn’t even realize the wagon was moving again. The combination of these two factors in the narration provides the reader with a sincere view into a child’s perceptions and a mature explanation of these perceptions. The child’s voice is the soul and spirit with which Faulkner says all authors should write, and the adult is the endurance, the prop, which supports the novel.
An interesting and pivotal character, John Sartoris helped fill out the story and illustrate Bayard’s growth. He is the fine line between a coward and a hero, the space between Grumby and Mr. Redmond. Early in the story, Bayard sees his father as a towering man, not in stature but in character. Ringo and Bayard eagerly await his return to the small plantation, running down the drive to meet him, as he is riding gallantly on Jupiter, with mud-caked boots and sabre, every bit a war hero. To his son, John Sartoris smelled of powder and glory. Reflecting, however, Bayard says he knows better now, that the odor is only the will to endure. This juxtaposition of the mature and immature Bayard is brought about over John Sartoris’ character. As Bayard ages, the tone he sets for his father is increasingly vilifying. His retelling of the manner in which his father harassed Mr. Redmond further jades the reader’s opinion of John. Father and son grow apart over the course of the novel, with the climax at the duel with Mr. Redmond. Bayard arrives without any will to fight, unlike his father- a man who lived by the sword- would have. John is placed in the novel as a character whose traits are interminable, while his son’s are in the midst of developing. Without John, one may not be as aware of Bayard’s growth in the novel from a typical, violent Southerner to an intelligent man. John’s absence from his home for a great deal of the story allowed for Granny to become a major character, acting as Ringo and Bayard’s main guardian, teaching them tolerance and stubbornness, love and religion. Her influence on the two growing boys was arguably greater than that of John Sartoris. She deterred them from a life of only bloodshed and pain. John Sartoris’s character also furthered Drusilla’s growth. Riding with his troops, Drusilla was able to explore a way of life ordinarily forbidden to “southern belles.” Faulkner’s use of John Sartoris’s character allowed the reader to better see the changes in his son and in Drusilla, and to create some changes on his own. John showed Bayard and the rest of the cast of characters his take on pride, compassion, and sacrifice. Whether they grew towards or away from his mannerisms, his character nonetheless was necessary for the development of those to whom he was close. Faulkner did an excellent job of conveying these views to the reader, once again writing with the base elements of man.
The most moving part of Faulkner’s acceptance speech is his call to writers to remind man of the “courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.” Although it is a run-on sentence, its meaning is received so clearly that the average grammar is lost. In The Unvanquished, Faulkner utilizes an authentic blend of southern dialect and vivid descriptions in his words that make the story believable and lovely. His lush metaphors and solidly stated characterizations bring an artistic quality to the story. Drusilla’s portrayal is blunt yet graceful: “-looking at Drusilla standing there in the sawdust and shavings, in her dirty sweated overalls and shirt and brogans, with her face sweat-streaked with sawdust and her short hair yellow with it.” The reader immediately has a bright image of this tomboy, sawdust coated, working in the yard with the boys. Faulkner uses no extensive words or metaphors to display Drusilla; he uses simple, strong words that cut into the reader’s consciousness. On another page, Faulkner describes a footprint as a half-moon sickle left in the mud by the boot heel. Faulkner can make even a muddy footprint a work of art. The southern dialect is another vehicle Faulkner uses to make his story genuine. When Ringo sees his first railroad track, tied around and annealing into trees, he says: “you mean hit have to come in here and run up and down around these here trees like a squirrel?” Using the actual southern dialect of that time shows Ringo’s ignorance and his upbringing without actually stating it. Having Ringo and Bayard speak in almost identical dialects displays their near brotherhood, regardless of race or relatives. Faulkner’s attractive writing style is beautiful without too much flourish, and allows him to focus on the strong elements of his work while maintaining an enjoyable read.
Upon receiving the Nobel Prize for literature, William Faulkner said that he felt the award was not made to him personally, but to his work. He wanted to create something out of the human spirit that did not exist before. His world view was optimistic- that man will not only survive, he will endure supported by pillars that writers build to help him do so. Faulkner wanted to write of pride and compassion, honor and sacrifice, the old verities and truths of the heart. Through skillful narration, intelligent usage of the John Sartoris character, and language of a superb quality, Faulkner not only wrote the way he said the world needed to endure, he put aside profit and glory to sculpt his life’s work into something that never existed before. He wrote The Unvanquished with heart.
William Faulkner: Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech. Online. Available-