Insanity in Faulkner's A Rose for Emily

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In the short story “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner the main character Miss Emily, a so-called monument amongst the towns’ people, lives a rather peculiar life. She comes from a well respected family and remains the last living member of noble decent. A woman whose life is restrained to see love because of her father’s strict ways. She was never able to experience the companionship of another besides that of her own father. The silhouette of her father clutching a horsewhip was hung on the wall, as one was to enter the house (31). This represents her father still hovers over her after his death; almost controlling what she does. Emily does not listen to her father’s words of wisdom and appears to fall for a man of lesser stature. With the uncommonness of the relationship along with several other events; it is evident that Miss Emily is up to something. With that said the central theme of Faulkner’s story is madness and insanity and with supporting evidence from the story I will be able to prove my case.

The first case to prove the theme is when her father had dies. She obviously is in great denial of her fathers death: “The day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom. Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead” (31). Understandable Emily doesn’t want to let go of the only person who cares and shows love for her. When the case is such one holds on to a deceased body three days after the death; that’s when we have some serious problems. Who knows how long Emily is preparing to keep this body because it took threats from the law for her to release the body to the ministers (31). When she cuts her hair off to make herself look young again it is apparent that she didn’t want to go through change.

This isn’t the argument of my paper but it does make sense that she isn’t willing to learn or do new things. From paying her taxes to living her life without the restraints of her father; not necessarily a good thing but she didn’t want it to change.

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When Emily enters the store and requests poison from the druggist another red flag comes up. When she speaks to the druggist she doesn’t clarify what the poison was to be used for, “…But the law requires you to tell what you are going to use it for. Miss Emily just stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him eye for eye, until he looked away and went and got the arsenic and wrapped it up” (32). If this doesn’t scream madness then I don’t know what does. You have a lady coming into a store requesting that she get the best poison she can but wont specify what for. At this moment I have diagnosed Emily to be mad.

Not a major point in my argument but a key factor that I couldn’t construct an answer for is what was said when the Baptist minister has an interview with Emily. For some reason he doesn’t want to return back to Miss Emily’s house. Something she said must have been so horrific that even the Baptist minister has lost hope for this poor soul. Even though we don’t know what is said in the interview; we can’t help but think to ourselves what actually was said (33)? In a position like this one can only think of the worse case possible, that she has told the minister her plans what she is going to do to Homer.

The last major evidence I have for concluding the theme of the story is no surprise. When the towns’ people break down the door of the room that no one has seen in 40 years and see the deceased body of Homer Barron. That wasn’t at all disturbing once we found out that Emily wasn’t able to let go of Homer either; “Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair” (34). The only real meaning to this is that for 40 years Emily was sleeping with this body. This is the icing on the cake; all that was pointed out previously was miniscule to this. This room had not been seen for 40 years that means that Emily had this body in there the entire time while everyone else had no idea. In some intrusive way it is out of love that Emily keeps the body. We don’t know if Emily murdered Homer or not. It sure is certain that the possibility lay there loud and clear. From that peculiar odor that encompass the perimeter of the house to the poison that was bought for no apparent reason all lead to an interesting case.

Miss Emily is no doubt the center of this story and is no doubt insane. It is hard to argue the correct theme for this brilliantly pieced short story. It takes an insanely mad person to keep the deceased body of your own father or boyfriend in your house. One cannot help but think you are going mad when you request the strongest poison you can purchase, but will not specify why you want it. When the Baptist minister refuses to return to your house after a brief interview you know something is up. The last piece to the puzzle in this short story is when they find that single strand of “iron-gray hair” on the pillowcase next to the deceased body (34). With all these points added together I could conclude that the central theme of William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is madness and insanity.

Work Cited
Faulkner, William. “A Rose For Emily.” An Introduction to Fiction. 10th ed. Eds: X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. New Yorkk: Pearson Longman, 2007. 29-34.


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