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
- https://www.tandfonline.com/action/cookieAbsent. n.d.
- Melczarek, Nick. https://www.tandfonline.com/action/cookieAbsent. 2009. 2019.
- 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.
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