William Faulkner, one of the most famed writers of our times, explores in his writing the themes of alienation and isolation. He interweaves these themes with his female characters. In A Rose for Emily, Miss Emily Grierson is a woman who is alienated and lives in isolation from the people in her town. The theme of isolation is the focal point of the story, since it is what drove her to her madness.
Faulkners theme of alienation comes up many times in his writing. In the book The Major Years, Melvin Backman states that Faulkner was reaching for a more decent life and more decent people in the midst of evil. He was reaching for love, innocence, simplicity, and strength, but he also knew that these things were being hidden by reality. “With Faulkner, as with all men, the personal condition underlay and shaped his view of the human condition” (Backman, p.183).
The critic goes on to note that men in Faulkners works tend to undermine women and their roles in society. Women are oppressed and are usually controlled by men. The women try to fight the men in their society and are trying to find a way to escape from their grasps. They are hesitant to stand up to the men and instead they tend to hide away. Backman notes that, “The will to confront reality seems to be losing out to the need to escape”(p.184).
Miss Emily is a woman who had the whole town wondering what she was doing, but did not allow anyone the pleasure of finding out. Once the men that she cared about in life deserted her, either by death or by simply leaving her, she hid out and did not allow anyone to get close to her. Miss Emily was indeed afraid to confront the reality that Backman discusses. Since she did not want to accept the fact that the people she cared about were gone, she hid in her house and did not go out. She was the perfect example of a woman alienated by a society controlled by men who make trouble for her instead of helping her.
Minrose Gwin, author of The Feminine and Faulkner, states that several of Faulkners female characters, including Emily Grierson, are “indeed active disruptive subjects in their narratives; theirs are voices which denounce and subvert male power”(Gwin, p.8). They do what they do , such as killing Homer Barron in Emilys case, because they are tired of men telling them what to do.
Gwin further states that the patriarchal world creates its own images of women. Emily tried to challenge these images by not being what the men in her society would consider “normal.” The men felt that all women should tend to their homes and be sociable, not locked up in a house with a manservant to clean it. They also felt that it was not right for a man to be doing that kind of work; it was a womans job to clean the house. ” Just as if a manany mancould keep a kitchen properly, the ladies said; so they were not surprised when the smell developed. It was another link between the gross, teeming world and the high and mighty Griersons”(p.26).
Backman, paraphrasing Wright Morris in The Territory Ahead, says that flight and nostalgia are essential to American life, “The American flees the raw and uncongenial present for a mythic and desired past”(Backman, p.185). This perfectly summarizes Emilys character because she is trying to leave the present and go back to a happier past. She is attempting to recapture her past because she needs to find the love she once knew. “After her fathers death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all”(p. 26). Emily alienated herself from anyone when the two people that once loved her went away. She was afraid to grow close to anyone in fear of losing them again.
Emily was a headstrong woman that seemed frail and weak, but was instead very strong. She had the whole town convinced that she could not hurt a fly, but instead she was capable of the worst of crimes, murder.
“Faulkners works convey a deep sense of oppression and withdrawal, yet they convey too the struggle with self and society. In the midst of defeat and despair a small center of resistance resides”(Backman, p.186). Emily, in the middle of all the alienation and isolation she felt from the residents of her town, also found the resistance to show them she was not someone to be taken lightly.
Backman, Melvin. Faulkner: The Major Years, A Critical Study. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1966
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed.
X.J. Kennedy. New York: Harpers Collins, 1991. Pp. 24-31
Gwin, Minrose c. The Femenine and Faulkner: Reading (Beyond) Sexual Difference. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1990
Morris, Wright. The Territory Ahead. The Macmillan Company, 1957.