Literature Studies: “A Rose for Emily” by W. Faulkner

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“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner is a short story that contains many themes, but the story is undoubtedly built on the theme of aging out and decaying. The story tells readers that once the town of Jefferson was one of the nicest towns in the South but lost all its beauty as years passed by. Similarly, Emily was one of the most beautiful girls in the town but lost all her beauty with time and became a fat old lady with grey hair.

The house that once stood out to be one of the most beautiful houses in the town had also worn out with time as there was no one to take proper care of it once Emily’s father passed away. Growing old and decaying are thus the most important elements and themes of the story, but one thing can be argued the role of Emily in the story. It is hard to figure out how the writer wanted to portray the role of Emily. To some, she may be considered as a poor victim of unfortunate events and to some as a villain of the story.

Although Emily is the most important character in the book, she is also the most mysterious one. Several attributes of her character may remind readers of the villainess in the famous movie psycho by Alfred Hitchcock. Thomson David believes that Hitchcock was influenced by the character of Emily in the short story.

He wanted to give the same killer instinct well matched with grey hair and a heavy body in his film. This can very well be seen in the movie. The description of Emily does fit the description of Norman’s mother in the movie. Alfred Hitchcock took the character more negatively in the sense that it gave him the inspiration to create a villainess for his movie (Thomson 59)

In other words, Hitchcock gave an interpretation of what he thought Emily was like. The movie shows many similarities with the short story in many ways. Firstly, the place where the movie was shot was isolated from the population just like what had become of the town in the story. It was shown as a town that had been forgotten by people.

Secondly, the house in the movie was the representation of Norman’s mother. It was cold and very unwelcoming, just like the house in “A Rose for Emily.” Hitchcock associated the semblance of the house with the mother just like Faulkner did with Emily and the house. Though Hitchcock showed the character of Emily as a negative one, many readers of the book may not agree to it (Thomson 60).

One of the critics, Claudia Durst Johnson argues that although the character of Emily was shown as a mysterious one, but it was just a victim of unfortunate events and that it cannot be considered as a negative one like done by Hitchcock. Claudia Durst Johnson believes that the character of Emily was also an inspiration for Lee Harper in her novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The character that drew similarities with Emily was the Boo Radley character in the novel.

Boo Radley was a mysterious man who kept all to himself. Nobody even knew whether or not he existed and became famous among children who thought he was a secretive man. The character of Emily always inspired Harper Lee, who made her character on the theme of the same kind of mystery.

The character of Boo Radley in the novel to kill a mocking bird goes from negative to positive. Readers are given the feeling that he may have many dark secrets to hide, but in the end, those dark secrets are nothing but conjectures made by children in the town. However, Emily did have some dark secrets with her buried in the corner of one house, and that was the body of her boyfriend (Johnson 113).

The people spoke about him and made all kinds of ridiculous stories. The short story also shows people making strange stories about Emily like when she was buying arsenic from the store, and people thought she was doing that to kill herself. Also, people were very much concerned with what happened inside the house and with what Emily kept herself occupied with. To Kill a Mockingbird also deals with the same situation as children gather around the house too see what Boo Radley was involved in (Johnson 113).

However, the interpretation of Emily in the form of Boo Radley was quite different because Boo Radley ends up saving the lives of children in the end. Claudia Durst Johnson believes that Harper Lee did not consider the role of Emily all that negative. Emily was not portrayed as a person slaughtering people inside her vacant home.

Her psyche has to be understood. She killed her boyfriend because she valued him. She must have thought he would leave her just like her father did, and it was best to kill and preserve them. It was with this intention that she killed her boyfriend. This interpretation comes positive in the novel by Harper Lee when Boo Radley comes out and saves the life of the children (Johnson 113).

There is a third opinion that suggests that the character was both positive and negative to some extent. This opinion is presented by Edmond Volpe, a writer who was fascinated with the character of Emily from the short story and did massive research on it. Edmond Volpe talks about how the character of Emily has evolved in movies and other books with nearly all of them, giving a different opinion about Emily.

Edmond believes that the character tends to be one of the most critical ones in storytelling, mainly because it has received so many interpretations. He says that it has both positive and negative attributes, and it cannot be said that the character has more positive ones compared to the negative ones. The one described by Hitchcock was more towards the extreme psycho type character, and it is not a true representation of Emily (Volpe 89).

In the short story, Emily does not slaughter her victims, leaving them bloody in a tub of water says, Edmond Volpe. He believes that the character does show sign of saving the lives of the people living in the town like shown in the novel “To Kill a Mocking bird.” So the character was on extreme to the positive end there.

The last part of the book quotes, “Some of us saw that the pillow lying next to it showed signs of an indentation of a head. By closely examining, we saw that it was a gray hair as hard as iron it may seem” (Faulkner 907-913). This is one of the most difficult lines to make out of the story. It gives a clear indication that Emily used to rest beside the dead body of her lover. But this baffles the reader even more (Volpe 89).

Edmond Volpe believes that this shows that she valued her lover and that he had a special place in her life that death could not do apart. But Edmond Volpe adds the fact that she killed him and made him rest next to him for the rest of her life rules out that she was normal.

He says that the word ‘psycho’ is too strong to use for her and the right adjective would be to call her ill or mentally unstable. So considering her mental illness, she cannot be called a villainess like the one in Hitchcock’s movie, but a lady who suffered from severe mental illness (Volpe 89).

It is still debated what a character can be regarded as. Faulkner kept the character open for people from the coming generations to argue. The fact is that some major work in story writing and Hollywood has taken inspiration from the character of Emily, and they all interpret it in their way.

For some, she may be as an old psycho woman killing people for her greed and some; she may be a person who lost the loved ones in her life and looked to preserve them. This character will always be a mysterious one to the readers, and it is up to them how they make out of it. There can’t be one straightforward opinion about Miss Emily.

Works Cited

Johnson, Claudia Durst. Understanding To Kill a Mockingbird: A Student Casebook to Issues. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1994. Print.

Thomson, David. The Moment of Psycho: How Alfred Hitchcock Taught America to Love Murder. New York: Basic Books, 2009. Print.

Volpe, Edmond Loris. A Reader’s Guide to William Faulkner: The Short Stories. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2004. Print

Faulkner,William. “A Rose for Emily.” (1930): 907-913. Print.