William Faulkner and “A Rose for Emily”

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Last updated: March 7, 2019

Although Faulkner lived in Canada, New Orleans, New York, Hollywood, and Virginia, most of his life was spent in his native Mississippi (Faulkner 177). “In his works William Faulkner used the American South as a microcosm for the universal theme of time” (Larinde). Almost all of his stories are set in the Deep South. Some critics describe Faulkner as “the quintessential Southern writer with his greatest works centered in this region” (Zane 1).

Many of his stories’ central themes seem to be based on themes that the South has struggled with for decades. These are race, gender, repression, myth, and heroism (2).William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” is an intriguing story of a lady who gets away with murder in the South around the turn of the century. There are many different interpretations regarding the meaning of this story. These range from Ray West’s theory of Emily Grierson’s attempt to stop time to Jack Scherting’s suggestion that she suffers from an Oedipal complex (Blythe 192).The Past Is the Present After World War One, there were many changes occurring in the world. Man’s inherent need to follow tradition was now being challenged by a continually changing, modern world.

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The past and the present often conflicted. William Faulkner, a southern born writer, based much of his novels and short stories on this conflict. He aptly reflects the turmoil of the past and the present in, ” A Rose for Emily”. The conflict between the past and the present is symbolized in the beginning of the story by this description, ” only now Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores” (331). It is ironic that the same description ” stubborn and coquettish decay” can be a description for Miss Emily as well. And just like her house, which had once been white and on a ” select street”, Miss Emily had been a slim young girl dressed in white. But as the house fell into decay so had Miss Emily,” she looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue”(332). The town played a part in Miss Emily’s delusion.

Flannery ‘O’ Connor and her “Good Man is Hard to Find”In the story ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’, O’Connor uses many different characters as representatives of different generations in the same family and uses these generations as examples of the change from the old to the new south. O’Connor uses the main character of the grandmother to represent what the south once was. One of the characteristics of the old south that the grandmother displays, is the need to keep herself looking like a lady. For instance, O’Connor writes:Her collars and cuffs were white organdy trimmed with lace and at her neckline she had pinned a purple spray of cloth violets containing a sachet. In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady. (O’Connor 11)By giving the grandmother the great need to be dressed like a lady, O’Connor makes this character a throwback to a time of white gloves, flowered hats, and women always wearing dresses.

Situations like this firmly place the grandmother in a very old south role.Contrary to the role of the grandmother, O’Connor uses the person she recognizes as the children’s mother to show what the south was becoming:Bailey didn’t look up from his reading so she wheeled around then and faced the children’s mother, a young woman in slacks, whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit’s ears. (O’Connor 9)The main characteristics of the new south are shown in the dress of the children’s mother. A lady of the old south would never wear slacks and tie her hair up in a head-kerchief and go out in public. Under an old south mentality these actions would be considered very unlady like. O’Connor reveals her own dissatisfaction for this new south character in the way that she describes the children’s mother.

First, O’Connor only refers to her as the children’s mother, by not giving this character a name O’Connor shows some amount of contempt for her. Second, O’Connor uses the description of a cabbage and a rabbit when describing the children’s mother. The use of such unflattering terms is another way that O’Connor shows contempt for the new south.

Finally, the tone of the language that O’Connor uses when talking about the children’s mother must be examined. For example, the grandmother ‘wheeled’ around to face the children’s mother. The use of the verb ‘wheeled’ connotates a negative meaning in the way that the grandmother looked at the children’s mother. O’Connor makes it sound as if the grandmother could have killed the children’s mother just by turning to face her.

The third generation in ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’ is represented by the two children John Wesley and June Star. O’Connor basically characterizes these two children as nothing more than selfish brats. For example, O’Connor writes:When there was nothing else to do they played a game by choosing a cloud and making the other guess what shape it suggested. John Wesley took one the shape of a cow and June Star guessed a cow and John Wesley said, no, a automobile, and June Star said he didn’t play fair, and they began to slap each other over the grandmother. (O’Connor 13)O’Connor’s characterization of the children as brats further reinforces her disapproval of the new south.

O’Connor makes these characters so self destructive that it seems impossible for them to survive. This characterization also shows the lack of hope that O’Connor felt for the south. O’Connor gives the children no hope for the future, thus no future.Eudora Welty and her “Worn Path”An author is a regional writer when his or her body of work reflects a particular area or region. For instance, Eudora Welty is a Southern style writer because her stories are mostly set in the Deep South, and more specifically in Mississippi.

They reflect the physical setting, language and culture of that area and time.Eudora Welty’s short story “A Worn Path” deals with a very elderly and frail black woman, Phoenix, and the hardships in her life. Phoenix makes a periodic journey into town to obtain medicine for her grandson. Phoenix has made this journey so many times that she can do it by a kind of interior radar, and thus her mind is free to wander while her feet stay on track.

Inside of Phoenix is a lifetime of hardship, brought about partially by her role in society: she is an old black woman in a white world, and she is cast into an inferior position in a world that considers her unimportant. A hunter she meets treats her patronizingly, calling her “Granny” and says he knows “old colored people” go to town to see Santa Claus (Welty 868).Both the lady who ties her shoes for her and the first attendant at the clinic call her “Grandma” (Welty 869).

The attendant rudely asks if she is deaf because Phoenix does not immediately reply to her questions, and from that point on, she treats Phoenix as if she is stupid. Phoenix’s path is worn not only because she herself has had to travel it so many times, but because it symbolizes the path traveled by poor and oppressed people everywhere. Phoenix is an example of social anxiety because of the fear of her social status and her life situation.Works CitedBlythe, Hal. “Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.'” Literature for Composition.

4th ed. Ed. Sylvan Barnet, et al. New York: HarperCollins, 1996.

191-193.Brooks, Cleanth. “On ‘A Rose for Emily'”. Literature for Composition. 4th ed. Ed.

Sylvan Barnet, et al. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. 190-191.

Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Literature for Composition. 4th ed. Ed.

Sylvan Barnet, et al. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. 177-183.Fetterley, Judith. “A Rose for ‘A Rose for Emily.'” Literature for Composition. 4th ed. Ed.

Sylvan Barnet, et al. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. 193-196.Larinde, Toyin. “Biography of William Faulkner.

” The Mississippi Writers and Musicians Project at Starkville High School. 11 Feb. 2000Zane, J. Peder. “William Faulkner’s literary legacy.” 21 Sept. 1997.

The News & Observer. 11 Feb. 2000 p1-8.

Welty, Eudora. A Worn Path. Writing About Literature. Brief Eighth Edition. Edgar V Roberts Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995.

712-936.Flannery O’Connor, ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’. NY: Rutgers UP, 1993.


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