Thursday, June 5, 2008

Roses, Loneliness and Tragedy



I find A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner as one of those Gothic tales that not only fills your heart with mysterious dread but also of pity --- pity for “Poor Miss Emily” who was imprisoned by her family’s high standards and villagers' gossip and envy. Her father, a dominating man who thinks no man is good enough for his daughter (which intensified the latent animosity of the town against the family), had caused Emily to be reach the old age of thirty without having a husband (Back then, a woman not married by thirty is considered already on the way to spinsterhood). Since Miss Emily doesn’t really have that many friends in town, when her father died, she found it hard to let go ... literally. She refused to accept the fact that her father has passed away and she kept the body inside the house, acting as if nothing is amiss. It took days for the townsfolk to wear down her resistance. She finally capitulated, to the relief of the people, allowing them to bury the corpse.



Then a northerner, a Yankee named Homer Barron came to Jefferson (the town) and captured the heart of the Southern lady Miss Emily. The townspeople were at first happy that she finally found a man without her father interfering with her choice. But of course, I believe Miss Emily is quite aware that there’s an unspoken censure from the people about her choice --- she’s from an old rich family (albeit the wealth is gone now) and she couldn’t be seriously thinking of marrying such a man. Then, when they think Miss Emily is “fallen”, it was like, she HAD to marry Homer because of that… it is a great scandal if they don’t do the respectable and decent thing. And when she bought arsenic, they even find it the best thing if she would just commit suicide.

I think Miss Emily went to bed with Homer, not only out of loneliness or love. I think it’s also her way of rebelling. For years, she has been imprisoned by the morals and traditional values of the South and she longs to break the mold. Or maybe I’m reading too much form it. But it must have been really hard for her to grow up in such confining environment, especially with her family background. She must have wanted to be free, and yet she hadn’t known any other kind of life aside from what she had, leaving her no choice but to cling to it. Then of course, the villagers didn’t help, for they still censure her when she finally tried to act against the supposed norms for a Southern lady.



Well, in a way, I also couldn’t really blame the people for secretly wishing her and her family’s downfall. The Griersons (Emily’s family) aristocratic attitude and wealth, the family’s haughtiness and aloofness, the difference between their socio-economic status with that of most of the townspeople, created an unspoken animosity (and envy, I believe) against the family. And Miss Emily, being the last Grierson in the changing South, bore the grunt of years of inequality, jealousy and spite felt by the people against what she stands for. Her defiance against the people’s subtle hostility, her loneliness and need for companionship and the madness that seem to run in the Grierson family (a great-aunt died crazy) might have drove Miss Emily to poison Homer Barron and keep him close, once again, literally. Well, of course, the townspeople just thought Barron went back north, for after all he’s not the marrying type. Besides, there are hints that he was bisexual, if not homosexual. They whispered that Miss Emily is “fallen” (hence, their opinion that it’s better for Miss Emily, if she won't get married, to commit suicide when word got out that she bought arsenic). And yet, they know for a fact that Barron likes men, particularly younger men. When it seems that Miss Emily and Barron won’t do the “right” thing, they sought everyone they could think of who can influence Miss Emily, to urge her to marry. So, this and maybe the fact that Miss Emily really did love Barron, forced her to seek the only solution she could think of ---- keep Barron with her in whatever way possible.

When Miss Emily died at the age of seventy-four, they found a dead man’s corpse, well, actually more a dead man’s bones, in an upstairs room decorated as a bridal chamber. And upon taking a closer look at the bed, they found a gray hair on a pillow next to the bones implying that she's been sleeping on the same bed with dead Barron for years after he's supposed departure for the North.



I don’t think Miss Emily, her family’s standards and the madness that seem to run in the family are purely to blame for this tragic end. I believe the town also played a role --- by their whispers, censuring looks, subtle and not-so-subtle ostracism when they think Miss Emily had fallen down from her pedestal. I think there is hypocrisy on the townspeople side --- the villagers seem to pity Miss Emily and yet secretly gloat with the idea that she is not after all the great, unreachable southern lady she’s supposed to be; and pride on Miss Emily’s part --- she couldn’t and wouldn’t admit that she’s lonely, that she needs other people’s compassion and companionship. Or maybe no one is to blame... maybe the event was brought by circumstances, by social standards and norms, that are, if not beyond our control, at least would take a certain amount of time to change. And Miss Emily was caught in that "in-between" time of change. Or perhaps she was never in that "in-between" in the first place --- she stayed in the past while others are moving forward. Well, what I can say with some certainty based on the story is that sometimes, loneliness, vindication and clinging to old ways and custom in a world at the point of changing can lead to such perplexing, sad end.

(Selerines, I included here photos of roses, as you requested. You can find more in my previous entry "nunc scio quid sit amor. I hope you enjoy them.)

4 comments:

Selerines said...

Thanks for accepting my request and posting it here.... All are really superb and beautiful.... Nice one friend...

FRANCINE said...

got you tagged here

http://www.macheriefrancine.com/?p=1104

Davidlind said...

A fascinating tale. Living in Virginia these past 35 years has helped me understand this story.

So much hostility is repressed in the south. It has to come out in odd ways.
Northerners are much more open in terms of hostility and aggression.
It is a question about whether you would like the knife placed in your chest or your back.
Miss Emily of course was far above such behavior. No knives for her.
Appearances are everything in her world and so she is even more repressed than the average southerner. Utterly repressed. And so ends up doing unspeakable things to herself.
These are my opinions in any case and may or may not have anything to do with the story or the truth having read the story many years ago.

lareine said...

to selerines: you're welcome and thank you very much for your encouraging comment :)...

to francine: did your tag and posted it :)...

to davidlind: i believe virginia is somehow a "borderline" state... and i think it's a good place to witness, experience and understand the differences between the south and the north...

i agree with you the repressed hostility can come out in odd ways --- no matter when and where the person was born and raised...

and you have given a very good insight into Miss Emily's psyche... thank you very much for sharing... it gives a better perspective on understanding her seemingly abnormal behavior... i really appreciate your visit and comment :)

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