The theme of isolation in “A Rose for Emily.”

The theme of isolation in “A Rose for Emily.”

Introduction

William Faulkner, in his work “A Rose for Emily,” tells the story of Miss Emily Grierson, who resides in a town called Jefferson. William uses narration as a literary device to tell Emily’s story, and it is through the narrative that we get to know about Emily’s life. From the start of the story that covers her death, the death of her father, her illness, and the conflicts between her and the townfolk, the theme of isolation comes out so clearly, which in turn affects the outcome of the story. The community isolates Emily due to her character, which they regard as toxic, her family precisely her mother is detached from her life, which causes personality issues in her, and these, together with more, are the outcomes of isolation as discussed in this research paper. Though the story seems too one-sided based on the premise that Emily does not give her side of the story, what is clear is that the theme of isolation affects the outcome of the story.

According to Mezo, the interpretation of texts or literature differs between individuals and culture, and language is the cause of this variation. He asserts that some of the occurrences in the story, such as the buying of “arsenic” by Emily and “the gray hair,” symbolizing being manly found on Homers to deathbed, would be hard to believe to some readers because of their cultural background. The isolation of what the narrator chose to tell us influences what we understand about the story and what we get from it. In the whole of Jefferson town, the narrator decides to tell us the story of Emily. The selective choice of the details by the narrator brings doubt in what we are being told by the narrator. The missing gaps of the story, such as how they knew what happens inside the house and no one allowed into the forty-year gap when no one interacted with Emily, leads to the doubting of what we are being told about Emily as being untrue. This isolation of what events to say to us influences this doubt.

The narrator of the story gives various accounts of Emily’s life and her place in the community, which shows how isolated from the rest of the townsfolks she was and that she existed in a world of her own (Faulkner). Through the use of contrast to Emily’s family house with the rest of the houses, the narrator shows how isolated from the rest of the community Emily was. The depiction of the house as misplaced, judging from what was the trend at that time, shows that Emily’s existence was toxic (Medina). Apart from the fact that Emily’s house was intoxicating the neighborhood, the narrator also portrays Emily as toxic.

Emily isolates herself and does not want to associate with the townsfolk or Tobe, her servant, who the narrator confirms to us that Emily does not talk to him. Even though she finds companionship in Homer, her character comes out as toxic because of her lack of socialization with the community. Emily comes off as toxic also when she dismisses the aldermen who come to advise her to pay her taxes, but she sends them packing. The townsfolk also keep gossiping about her relationship with Homer, who they think will end up marrying Emily, but this does not happen, and the townsfolk believe that Emily cannot sustain a relationship. These isolated events about Emily’s character are used by the narrator to paint Emily as toxic, yet she used to teach children china-painting something that seems out of character for someone deemed to have a toxic character.

The remoteness of Emily’s mother in the narration of the story ends up reinforcing the idea of masculinity in Emily, and this masculinity in her is believed to have been caused by her domineering father (Kirchdorfer). Through the countless times that her father has chased away men that were courting her, one would be hard-pressed to accept the idea that Emily’s house is a no men allowed kind of house. But this is not the case.  Emily breaks this rule by inviting Homer to live with her as her companion, and this is contrary to what is supposed to happen where Homer would be the one inviting Emily to live with her up in the north where he came from.

Emily is seen in various scenes in the story showing masculinity in various forms emotionally and physically. The narrator posits, “Upon the day of her death at seventy-four, it (Emily’s hair) was still that vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of a man” (Faulkner). Emily has been transformed in her appearance from what the narrator says the town had thought of as a tableau of her and her father, in which “Missy Emily (was) a slender figure in white in the background …” (Falkner). Emily transitions from not only being fat to having hair like that of a man making her appear to be very manlike. Emily’s way of communication is also male-like. Brevity and directness are detected in her manner of speaking very straightforward, a shift from how one would expect a Southern lady to communicate. Examples of her manlike talking such as “I have no taxes in Jefferson” (Falkner), “See Colonel Sartoris” (Falkner), and “Show these gentlemen out” (Falkner).

According to Kirchdorfe, Emily is all business, sure of herself in her limited verbal exchanges, as would have been expected of a man during the era in which she lived. There is nothing ornate or ladylike about Emily either when she tells the pharmacist, “I want arsenic” (Falkner), and engages in a practical, brief dialogue with him if it is a good poison she is picking. Emily’s isolation from her mother cannot be exhausted enough in how it led to the way she is from her manly behaviors, her brevity in talking to even her dressing.

Emily’s seclusion from her duties as a citizen of the community brings about the theme of weak men in the community (Kirchdorf). Her exclusion from paying taxes or being answerable to the community only reinforces the notion that there are weak men in Jefferson. The first illustration of how weak the men are is when they are unable to subvert the will of Emily in forcing her to give up her father’s decomposing remains. What the narrator tells us is the inability of doctors and aldermen in failing to secure Emily’s father’s remains, and it was not until she broke down that they were able to get his body and bury it.

The other two scenarios that the weakness of men is seen are when Emily cuts short or interrupts conversations when men are talking to her. Case in point, the men who came to ask her to start paying taxes and the druggist when she went to but arsenic. In a show of how the powerful can surely become powerless is when Colonel Sartoris is unable to revert his legislation of excusing Emily from paying her taxes even when it is her father who is supposed to be enjoying this right since he is the one who lent the community money.

Judge steven, who has jurisdiction over Jefferson, fails to address the issue raised by the men concerning the smell that is emanating from Emily’s house. Instead, what is narrated to us is the cowardly acts by the men of the town of breaking into her home and pouring lime around the foundation of her home to curb the smell. This act of breaking and entry highlighted the weakness and fear of the men when it came to addressing Emily in particular. Even in her romance, Emily acted as the domineering partner even though Homer was a foreman and exerted control over many men at work. This just points out that the men in Jefferson had no chance of winning over Emily in a power game.

After the death of her father, Emily refuses to hand over his body for burial. This was the first mark up of Emily’s mental illness. The community did not view Emily as crazy for wanting to hold onto her father’s death remains, which would have signaled the need for her to get mental help. In turn, Emily is isolated by the community since she is deemed as toxic and unapproachable. Emily is left to live her own life as she sees fit, and the community does not see her outside her house; only Tobe is seen but does not talk about what happens in the house. After her breakdown, due to her father’s death, Emily’s mental illness seems to have gone untreated.

The poisoning of Homer by Emily explains how mentally unstable she was. The gray hair found beside homers final resting place leaves the reader to imagine whether or not Emily was cohabiting with Homer. The poisoning of Homer can only be explained by using the oedipal complex where Homer was a victim of suppressed psychosexual issues by Emily (Scherting). Although the narrator does not give the genesis of Emily’s psychological problems, Scherting attributes the Oedipus complex to explain Emily’s mental illness. The isolation of Emily from socializing with men and the community, in general, meant that her psychosexual issues remained unresolved and turned tragic.

In conclusion, the theme of isolation recurs and contributes massively into what we understand about the story and what to focus on. Without isolating what one wants to pass across in a story, it would be hard to tell a story. In the end, the story tells of what isolation can do to an individual and a community at large is the main theme that William Faulkner focuses on. Isolation drove Emily to insanity, and if the situation had been different, maybe Emily would not have been a victim of mental illness.

 

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.”

William tells the story of Emily Grierson, who becomes mentally ill after the death of her father. The story tells of a community in Jefferson town that is undergoing massive industrialization, and Emily is being left out, and the description of her house as a representation of the old southern culture is still standing amid urbanization. Emily’s life becomes the center of attention in the story. Her isolation from the community, her resistance to adhere to any form of authority that leads the community, and her lack of sense in determining what is right or wrong. In the end, the story ends with her death, and the town is shocked at finding her lovers remains upstairs after some forty years. The story acts as my main source in analyzing my thesis, which stems from analyzing the theme of isolation in the story and how it affects its outcome.

Kirchdorfer, Ulf. “‘A Rose for Emily.'” Q: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews 29.4 (2016): 247.

The author in this article covers Emily’s backstory, more so specifically her childhood. It is a known fact that Emily has a domineering and controlling father, but the narrator stays silent when it comes to Emily’s mother. The ripple effect of the missing mother in Emily’s story is what the author in this article discusses. He argues that Emily’s lack of a feminine role model is part or mainly the reason as to why she develops a manly character. Based on what the narrator tells of Emily, she exudes manly character traits, which the author argues she imitates from her father. The use of the past as a predictor or explanation of the future is what the author uses to explain why Emily is the way she is even though she is a lady. The isolation of Emily from her mother or any female role models, including her cousins, explains Emily’s outcome of being manly in her lifestyle.

Kirchdorfer, Ulf. “Weak Men in William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.'” The Explicator 75.3 (2017): 145.

Through analyzing the gender roles in the story of Emily, the author comes up with a conclusion that the men in “A Rose for Emily” are weak. The kind of weak that the author talks about is not the physical kind but the power of imposing their will on others. From the story, Emily subverts the will of the men that address her. She even goes as far as interrupting the men when they are talking a thing that is un-ladylike and unacceptable in the era that she is from.  The men of Jefferson have the power to exert external influence over Emily and make her do what they want her to do, but they are unable and choose to leave her alone. This act of isolating Emily from external influence affects the outcome of the story by painting the men as weak, something unexpected from men of the south at the time.

Medina, Isabela. “Defending the Toxic Woman.” Sigma Tau Delta Review, 2020: 178.

The author narrates a toxic discourse that emanates from the environmental and cultural anxieties of the changing south brought about by industrialization. Emily represents the old southern culture and the ideal white womanhood. Through analyzation of the story through the lens of toxic discourse, the author defends Emily by arguing that what she represents is the same thing that the town is holding onto the old culture of the south and its ideals. Emily represents contamination in the community. Be it her house that is an “eyesore of eyesores” to her character of what is expected of a white woman from the south, all that we are told about Emily is aimed at showing how toxic she is. The importance of this article in my thesis is to provide commentary on why Emily’s isolation from the community proved toxic to the community.

Mezo, Richard E. “Miss Emily, Homer, Roses, and Reading.” Eureka Studies in Teaching Short Fiction 11/12 (2015): 111.

The reading of “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner varies in interpretation, according to the reader. This is the conclusion that the author of this article makes after researching the role of culture and language in how we interpret literature. Based on the information that we gather up from the story, we can make up our conclusion in what we think about the story. Whether we take the information given to us literary or come up with our explanations, what is true is that we are free to make our interpretations of the story. The idea of interpretation, according to the reader, is of importance to my thesis because through the isolation of what the narrator wants to tell s, we build perceptions and knowledge from that.

Scherting, Jack. “Emily Grierson’s Oedipus Complex; Motif, Motive, and Meaning in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.'” Studies in Short Fiction 17 (1980): 397.

Scherting asserts that Emily’s motive for killing Homer was due to the Oedipus complex. The suppressed psychosexual issues that Emily had in her turned tragic, and Homer is the evidence of how tragic things got. The author also incorporates Freudian theories to explain what exactly could have been going on in Emily’s mind.  The issues that stem from her father’s controlling behavior and his chasing away of male suitors that want Emily even though she is of age to entertain a romantic relationship only lead Emily to seek comfort in loneliness, explaining why she never had a problem with being alone months after months. My thesis aims at adding to this theory of the Oedipus complex by adding that the failure of the community to get her mental help due to them isolating her meant that the suppressed psychosexual issues could not be addressed and what happened to Homer would have been prevented.

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