The past plays a large role in William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, as well as in Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Both short stories involve women who bring up – and sometimes focus on – the past and how the world used to be. However, the usage of mentioning past events and how these women change are very different, in action and execution. Emily Grierson, from Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, wanted to live her life in the past. However, the grandma, from O’Connor’s tale A Good Man Is Hard to Find, just alludes to moments from her past that are better than her current situation. The past and change have a correlation, and these two stories prove so. The following displays of the past truly change these women, more for the worse than the better.
In A Rose for Emily, Emily Grierson was a woman who was beautiful in her youth, but her father refused to let her marry or even get close to a man; the townspeople “remembered all the young men her father had driven away” when he was alive (Faulkner, 81). She lived the rest of her life without a father, a mother – an unmentioned character in the narrative – and no husband. Emily was not completely without family, however: she had two cousins, and “old lady Wyatt, her great-aunt [who] had gone completely crazy at last” (Faulkner, 81). Emily had “insanity in the family” and some mental illnesses are hereditary. This means that Emily may have become mentally ill herself (Faulkner, 81). After her father died, Emily denied his death for three days; women who came to offer their condolences met Emily at her front door, but “she told them that her father was not dead” (Faulkner, 81). Emily later met a man named Homer Barron, whom she would date for quite some time. She was afraid that he would leave her just as her father did, and like how all the men left when her father felt they were getting too close to Emily. In order to keep Homer with her, she decided to poison him and keep his dead body in her bed; “the body had apparently lain once in the attitude of an embrace” (Faulkner, 84). Her mental illness had driven her to this obscene act. Perhaps this is how Emily displayed her affection, albeit unwholesome in nature. Emily wanted to live in that peaceful, loving moment with Homer Barron. This past life is all she really ever wanted in the world.
Emily Grierson’s concern with the past was her obsession. She had full knowledge of her father’s departure from Earth, but she just could not accept it. In addition, years after her father’s death, she refused to pay her taxes to the town because she felt that the arrangement her father made with Colonel Sartoris was still valid, but Colonel Sartoris died many years ago as well. Now she still believed that Colonel Sartoris and her father were still alive and well; she was becoming very delusional. When Emily met Homer Barron she truly fell in love with him, so much that she never wanted to let him go; she could not handle another man walking out of her life. She kept his dead body in her bedroom as a memory of their first night in bed together. Whenever she went back to that room, it was a reminder of that night, one she would not soon forget.
In A Good Man Is Hard to Find, the nameless grandmother is the protagonist of the story. Her family consists of her son (Bailey), his wife and their three children – a little boy named John Wesley, a little girl named June Star, and a baby. They decide to go on a road trip from Tennessee to Florida as a nice family vacation. Throughout the trip, the personality of each family member is portrayed, each one with some ill-mannered, sin-like aspect about them. The grandmother was the worst of them all because she was so self-centered; she did not care much for her own family. In her family’s final moments, the grandmother did not look back into the past for the moments with them that were enjoyable; she was too concerned about herself and her needs.
The grandmother in A Good Man Is Hard to Find continued to allude to the past as a way of correcting the children for their bad behavior. In one instance, John Wesley said some harsh words about the state of Georgia, and the grandmother stated to him that when she was younger “children were more respectful of their states and their parents and everything else. People did right then” (O’Connor, 187). In addition, the grandmother and Red Sammy, the restaurant owner, were talking about “better times” when children were more respectful and there were not as many bad people in the world (O’Connor, 189). Ironically, the people in this story that are bad were the main characters.
Looking at the aspect of change in these two stories, the power of love drove Emily Grierson to murder, but it did not change the grandmother at all. Emily loved Homer Barron so much that she never let him leave her house after that wonderful night they shared – the last night he was alive. Although this is not a normal way to show affection, it was understandable for Emily because she had a mental illness; it was illegal, yet it showed more love and concern than that of the grandmother in A Good Man Is Hard to Find. The grandmother reflected on moments of the past when children and other people in the world were less sinful. However, she did not try to correct herself; her entire family – killed just a few feet away from her – accepted death but the grandmother tried to cheat her way out of being murdered. In a situation like this, the average person would show more concern and affection and try to help their family, not themselves. The grandmother was the opposite: she was more concerned with stopping “The Misfit” from killing her than to accept the justified death (O’Connor, 186). The grandmother began to plead with “The Misfit” to coax him into sparing her using various tactics (O’Connor 186). She claimed that he was “one of [her] own children”, even though in the first paragraph the story stated “Bailey was the son she lived with, her only boy” (O’Connor 196, 186). In the end, the grandmother was egotistical and self-servient; she did not die a good woman.
These two short stories consisted of two different paths of life, themes, plots, settings, and much more; the differences between these two tales were vast. Even in their endings, the stories were different. A Rose for Emily ended with the body of the man she loved found in her bed in a loving embrace. However, the grandmother in A Good Man Is Hard to Find died trying to cheat her way out of death by telling “The Misfit” that he should pray to Jesus because she can tell he had “good blood” and that he “wouldn’t shoot a lady” even though he had already killed the mother (O’Connor 186, 195). Although diverse, these two stories relate to one aspect: death is the most freeing option.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily” (1930). Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004. 186-196. Print.
O’Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (1955). Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 2nd ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2004. 186-196. Print.