The Psychosis Of Emily Grierson In William
Faulkner’S “A Rose For Emily” Essay, Research Paper
Through the use of third person point of view and elaborate, repetitive foreshadowing, William Faulkner describes how numerous elements contributed to Miss Emily’s deranged behavior in the short story, “A Rose for Emily.” Not only does Faulkner imply paternal oppression, but there is also a clear indication of insanity that is an inherent pattern in the Grierson family. The shocking conclusion of “A Rose for Emily” could be the result of a number of circumstances, but is most likely due to the years of isolation and the overbearing upbringing Emily experienced with her father.
The first indication Faulkner gives the reader as to Miss Emily’s instability is towards the end of the first section which describes how several members of the Board of Alderman call upon Miss Emily in an effort to collect her taxes. Faulkner points out earlier in the same section that ten years ago in 1894, Colonel Sartoris, the Mayor of Jefferson at the time, remitted Miss Emily’s taxes following the death of her father. The board members are admitted to the Grierson home where, after listening to the reason for their visit, Miss Emily first suggests that they “. . .gain access to the city records and satisfy yourselves” (89). It is only moments later, after a brief exchange with these city authorities, that Miss Emily further advises them to “See Colonel Sartoris” (Faulkner 89). The narrator then adds that the colonel has been dead almost ten years, which is Faulkner’s first clue to readers that Miss Emily is perhaps a bit delusional or confused.
The second section alludes to the odor of decaying flesh emanating from Miss Emily’s home. The townspeople explain the smell away as possibly “a snake or a rat that nigger of hers killed in the yard” (Faulkner 89). The true cause of the odor is revealed at the end of the story. However, section two also sheds insight into Miss Emily’s family history by allowing that Miss Emily’s great-aunt, old lady Wyatt, had finally gone completely insane. A second reference to old lady Wyatt’s insanity is made in the third section as follows: “. . .but years ago her father had fallen out with them over the estate of old lady Wyatt, the crazy woman” (91). These minute details are perfect examples Faulkner uses to foreshadow the final scene of this short story.
It is also mentioned in the third section of the story that Miss Emily was reluctant to part with her father’s corpse for three days following his death. Faulkner writes “Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them her father was not dead” (90). Her statement is the first clue that Miss Emily has a strange way of dealing with death. In the resolution of “A Rose for Emily,” Miss Emily has relations with Homer Barron, and then purchases arsenic. It is at this point that the reader might suspect Miss Emily has foul intent. Homer Barron disappears in the following section and Miss Emily ages, with reference to her iron-gray hair (92). Section four goes on to provide the information that, prior to his death, Miss Emily’s father “thwarted her woman’s life so many times” (Faulkner 92).
As defined by Funk & Wagnalls: Standard Encyclopedic Dictionary, “Necrophilia is an abnormal reaction, especially of an erotic nature, to corpses” (435). While there is no indication of an erotic interest on Miss Emily’s part to her father’s dead body or that of Homer Barron as it lay dead in her bedroom for years, it could be concluded that sleeping beside a dead body, even while it reeks of decay, is most likely psychotic in nature. It is in the final section, after Miss Emily’s death, when the townspeople burst into the room which had been untouched for forty years, that Homer Barron’s remains are found in the bed. Faulkner goes so far as to add that the body had “once lain in the attitude of an embrace” (94). The final paragraph notes the indentation on the pillow beside Homer Barron, and the long strand of iron-gray hair which is pulled from it. Obviously, Miss Emily had been sleeping with Homer Barron’s body for a number of decades.
Whether the murder of Homer Barron by Miss Emily is the result of her father’s oppression, an inherited tendency toward insanity or a combination of factors is unknown. However, Faulkner succeeds in instilling the smallest trace of pity for Miss Emily, not only by acknowledging her thwarted love life at the hands of her father, but also within the title “A Rose for Emily.” While her actions were clearly of a psychotic nature, consciously planned out and carried through, by murdering Homer Barron, Miss Emily insured that she would finally have a love that would never leave her.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Eds. Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. 4th ed. Orlando: Harcourt, Inc. 2001. 87 – 94.
“Necrophilia.” Funk & Wagnalls: Standard Encyclopedic Dictionary. Ed. 1972. 435.