Hints for Deciphering from Biography
Faulkner often stated his desire to be “null and void as a private individual” (Reilay 65). That is why his writing contains scarce references to himself or his life. As a method, biographical criticism offers an idea that art and life are intricately linked with the artist himself and encourages critics to investigate writers through the lens of autobiography, using his own statements about life and art as authoritative comments. Both as a man and as an artist, it took Faulkner a while to be discovered. He is thought to be “too derivative to deserve major critical attention, too bizarre, complex and complicated for his own good, or too dark and perverse for public or critical attention” (Reilay 68).
His literary style reflects the complexity of his personality. Indeed, by determining Faulkner’s contribution to the world literature, many English-speaking critics underline that the writer’s genius manifested itself in his oeuvre despite, or rather, due to the intricacy of the style that he has developed.
The short stories of the writer are equally popular as his novels and widely appraised by critics. “A Rose for Emily” is a crucial part of Faulkner’s art.
Analyzing the plot, background, and chronological order, special manner of novelistic narration developed by Faulkner becomes evident. Faulkner’s unique writing style is clearly observed in the chronological type of narration in “A Rose for Emily.” Therefore, the mystical story becomes endowed with even more vague and mystical aura built around the personality of the author.
Does the study of Faulkner’s background and personal disappointments in love, which he himself called “the whole burden of history of his impossible heart’s desire” (cited from Martin 611), help appreciate and interpret the complex writing manner and treatment of time in his fiction?
Faulkner’s fiction is clearly influenced by attitudes towards the American South. A Southern writer to the core, he was born in a small town called New Albany in Mississippi on September 25, 1897. As one of the best-known Faulkner’s aphorisms states, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” So, the history of Lafayette County, Mississippi, becomes the principal source and model for Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha, where the protagonist of his first published story lives (April 1930). Faulkner depicts the ambivalence of human existence, shows inherent contradictions of the American South, the essence of which lie not only in its historical past, in social conflicts of the present, but in the contradictory nature of the inner world of the individual. Outón argues that “A Rose for Emily” contains a typical collision between a woman and the obligations imposed by the patriarchal society of the early twentieth century South. Faulkner faithfully depicts the historical realities of his time, which lead to the decline and even perversion in the gentle female personality. Forter argues that the writer “dramatizes the construction of Southern manhood as the inassimilable, traumatic incursion of the histories of white supremacy and misogyny upon the psyche” (261). In the story, the conflict is illuminated through the protagonist’s attempts to embarrass the most outstanding males in the town, who try to guard and judge her existence. By using the pronoun “we,” the narrator expresses opinions of the majority of people in the town and opposes them to Miss Emily. Their opposition reveals the envy of its members towards “the position of superiority that the protagonist occupies” (Outón 41). Opinions of townspeople are based not on actual needs of the individual but on stereotypical expectation that nothing can “cause a real lady to forget noblesse oblige… ” (Faulkner III, para. 3)
Such restrictions meant that the definition of a lady leads to the isolation of the character and her personal deterioration. They feel “vindicated” when the protagonist suffers. She makes them lose calmness and feel ambivalence when a woman “insists on preserving her individuality in spite of the devastating altitudes of the majority” (Outón 42). Thus, the narrator’s disordered recollections express the conventional opinions of the newer generation, which, despite stated care and understanding, reveal envy and hostility. Outón argues, “In her tragic defense of her privacy, Miss Emily tries to créate a microcosm, solely her own, where there are neither laws nor time, where death does not even seem to have its usual meaning” (45). Trying to preserve the past unchanged, the protagonist seems to create her own universe where she buries herself and adheres to the dead, rejecting their passing. Therefore, in “A Rose for Emily,” disordered recollections reveals the conflict between the protagonist and community, which is characteristic and one of the most essential elements of Faulkner’s oeuvre, because this conflict discloses a deprivation of personal self-realization under the social pressure.
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A study of the genius of Faulkner’s unconventional style highlights that Faulkner’s stories and novels are deeply imbedded in the historical background, which is the author’s background, too. The research of Faulkner’s chronology conducted by Burg et al. enhances understanding that considering the historical realities of the time proves to be crucial in understanding the conflict of the mystical story with inconsistent chronology. Starting with a reference point, “When Emily Grierson died,” Faulkner then twists the events of Emily’s life confusing orientations of “thirty years before,” “eight or ten years after,” on the “next night” or “within three days.” Admitting that Faulkner’s treatment of time is a captivating and mystifying element of his work and a fixation on chronological order leads to a misinterpretation of Faulkner’s “huge meadow” of time, “testing the consistency of various proposed chronologies is useful to an understanding of his characters’ motivations and historical circumstances” (Burg et al. 378).
Shifting narration of Faulkner’s story seems to be the inconsequential recollections. In a sample timeline, Burg et al. demonstrate approximate Emily’s biography. Considering that she was born in 1850 and died in 1924, the reader analyses that her life began before the Civil War and ended within the period of America’s industrialization and growth, a time noticeably unlike the pre-Civil War era of her youth. In view of the historical settings in which Emily lived, the extent of her rejection of the end of the old order of Southern life and disregarding “the next generation, with its more modern ideas” (Faulkner I, para. 4) become obvious. At the same time, the noticeable critiques of the old views are not disconnected from the past but comprise a memory mixed with fantasy.
Faulkner’s fiction is clearly influenced by attitudes towards the American South. Faulkner’s inventive style presents aversion to capitalism and business, originally and formally revealing truths about their negative effects on human existence. A boyhood friend, Cullen, thought Faulkner took much of short story “A Rose for Emily” from life, because it is based on suspicions and gossips regarding the courtship of Miss Mary Neilson from an aristocratic family in Oxford, Mississippi. She married Captain Jack Hume, a Yankee supervisor of the paving of Oxford’s streets. The Nelsons’ objections did not prevent their happy marriage. According to Cullen, “A Rose for Emily” was about “events that were expected but never actually happened” (Blotner 247). Having gossip in its origin, the story plot-timeline is compounded and difficult to follow due to a collective narrative voice. According to Melczarek, the story’s convoluted chronology reveals an ambiguous concept of reality of the townspeople that is a belated realization or even a hidden inability to accept that knowledge about what was happening (241).
Intricate plot describes the events in the story in the order told by the narrator, and this is the order of the story’s own “real” space-time, which was stylistically designed to prevent the reversal of the story from being comprehensive and, thereby, denies the reconstruction of a consistent chronology. In “A Rose for Emily,” “Faulknerian” convoluted narration focuses on necessary aspects in the text and manipulates attention of the reader from textual evidence by the very narrator contributing to the final intrigue realization. Using a reverse chronological narrative scheme, the narrator is able to declare what the townspeople discovered and hint at their own obsessive and manipulative behavior suggesting possible contribution.
The whole Emily’s life is depicted through time fragments constituting the symbol of the passing epoch, which is seen by the new generation with hostility masked as respect. The community considers the protagonist to be “an eyesore among eyesores” (Faulkner I, para. 2), but watches with curiosity as the last member of the aristocratic family is trying to disclose “that touch of earthiness” (Faulkner III, para. 6). The disordered time sequence seems usual for colloquial recollections when some circumstance or detail narrated leads to new associations. The narrator is a representative of this community, sharing subjective attitudes and judgements. The narrator’s recollections seem to expose “a complex mixture of admiration and hate … against Miss Emily who insists on protecting her privacy in spite of the curiosity that surrounds her” (Outón 41). Therefore, the entire story becomes clearer despite a disordered plot, because the number of chaotic puzzles are rearranged into a whole picture of prejudiced patriarchal social views in the end.
Faulkner focuses more on comprehension of the members of the community and their vision of the changes in the life of the protagonist than on the character’s emotional state. After the death of Emily’s father, the entire town is attempting to change her personality by either returning her to life or blaming for immorality. Emily, however, needs neither of these pittances. All this turned Emily into a certain monument, a relic that is valued by the town’s denizens. They try to push her into the old frames, but she escaped them. After the death of her father, Emily cuts her hair and looks much younger (Faulkner III, para.1). A whole year she walks freely with her lover until the townsfolk begin to resent it. The entire town seems to envy her life and urges her to remember the putative honor. Ironically, the malevolent treatment contradicts the statement “Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (Faulkner I para. 3). The more she suffers, the more “people were glad [because] at last they could pity Miss Emily” (Faulkner II para. 14). As a result, Emily prefers reclusion. While the entire country is moving forward, Emily is forced to maintain her reputation and exist like a fossil in her own house. Comforting conventional presuppositions about Miss Emily empower the neighbors to isolate her to guard her life in such a way. Due to the lack of information about an individual who rebels against imposed submissive position, the variety of the recollections of Emily’s life grow while their reliability decreases.
The extensive period covered by the story highlights the longevity of the protagonist, which enables her to observe the transition from a traditional to a more modern society in the South witnessed by the author and influencing him. The fiction is also deeply rooted in the author’s psyche. Martin argues that Faulkner “completely sexualized aesthetics; he could scarcely mention art without speaking about women” (617). The researcher bases his conclusions on Faulkner’s relation to his own mother, Maud Butler Faulkner, possessing a self-contained, self-sufficient personality. Her significant influence on the gifted son can be proven by the fact that, “Bill did all his writing on a spindle-legged table Mother gave him… It was of awful frail construction and belonged in some lady’s parlor.
His writing chair Mother had given him too. … [It] was the only writing chair he ever used” (My Brother Bill cited from Martin 615). While neither the desk nor the chair was convenient enough for writing, being his mother’s presents made them suitable for writing for William. Martin mentions, “It was not easy to evade Maud’s influence and he certainly did not succeed in doing so, but there is no doubt that he dreamed of … freedom” (624). With this in mind, the researcher contends Faulkner’s fixating on sexual superiority of women. In “A Rose for Emily,” the protagonist alienates time and constructs her own world, embodied by a room in which she stops the time for Homer Barron and continues to sleep beside his body, as her lover cannot betray her anymore. Emily’s denial of the deaths of her father and Sartoris, and later the preservation of Homer’s body symbolize her rebellion against social impositions. Possibly, this reflects the rebellion of the author himself who has experienced disappointments in love directed toward both his father and mother, as well as the betrayal of his affection to Estelle Oldham. When Estelle returned into his life after divorce, Faulkner first invented his Yoknapatawpha saga and “so moved in the direction of his great works” (Martin 628). Marriage to Estelle becomes a turning point in his literary work, because for him “time was reversed, and his defensive inhibitions were unraveled” (Martin 628).
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“A Rose for Emily” is a prominent work to represent his genius style and treatment of time in fiction. Opposed to rational chronology, the story reveals an understanding of time as “not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches ….” (Faulkner V para. 2) Emily’s recollection of the past brings back a vision untouched by death and loss. The disordered time sequence illustrates the protagonist’s inability to separate reality and illusion. Moreover, the final scene, when townspeople open the door to the room and see rose canopies and lampshades covered with dust, seems to symbolize Emily’s rose dream that has been mocked by her surrounding. Thus, the reversed chronological order of the narration seems to be the reflection of her excessive emotional dependence on the past caused by suffering from a hostile society.
In conclusion, while the mystery of “A Rose for Emily” gives rise to multiple interpretations by critics, the study of Faulkner’s background of the South society with its prejudices and contradictions helps to understand the complex writing manner in his fiction better. In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” the reversed chronological sequence provides a deep historical and social background, making the story an exemplary one of Faulkner’s narrative, which presents the confrontation between a woman and the obligations of society. Possessing the past, the protagonist rebels the patriarchy that has been interfering with her life and denying her the right for self-realization. The obscurity of the narration is caused by the townspeople hostile attitude towards Emily’s life, expressed not in a truthful account, but in conventional collective presuppositions talked associatively. In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”, the purposes of disordered time sequence are subtle insinuations of growing through townspeople’s hostility masked as care for the character, of strains that the protagonist faces under social pressure, and of her personal deterioration not realized by the reader until the end. Considering Faulkner’s personal disappointments in love helps appreciate the writer’s original invention of the most intricate, illogical style and treatment of time in fiction, which also creates the thought provocativeness of “A Rose for Emily” and other works and contributes greatly to the appreciation of the story while reading.
Literature Review (Work Cited)
Outón, Cristina Blanco. “The Conflict between Woman and Community in Two Short Stories by William Faulkner.” REDEN 14 (1997). Pdf file.
The author argues that “A Rose for Emily” contains a typical collision between a woman and the obligations imposed by the patriarchal society of the early twentieth century South. The article illuminates that the protagonist has experienced violence from her male environment, “so, the murder can also be interpreted as a type of rebellion against the patriarchal system and father figures.”
Blotner, Joseph L. Faulkner: A Biography. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2005.
The book is the ideal resource on the writer’s life and work, because it is based on letters, interviews, recollections, critical work, and other primary sources. The memories of Faulkner’s boyhood friend Cullen will be helpful in finding the roots of writing a story “A Rose for Emily.”
Burg, Jennifer, Anne Boyle, and Sheau-Dong Lang. “Using Constraint Logic Programming to Analyze the Chronology in ‘A Rose for Emily.’” Computers and the Humanities 34.4 (2000): 377–392.
The authors try to uncover an irregularity in the time information specified in the story. Using a computer-based tool for comparing and checking the regularity of events sequence, the authors implements sorting of the chronologies to remove the inconsistency. Burg et al. argue that while “this nonlinearity has thematic signiﬁcance to the story,” sorting and consideration of the resulting timeline contributes to understanding the historical background.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Virginia.edu. n. d. Web. 21 April 2016.
Forter, Greg. “Freud, Faulkner, Caruth: Trauma and the Politics of Literary Form.” Narrative 15.3 (2007): 259-285.
The article debates the trauma inflicted by patriarchal identity formation. The author argues that Faulkner’s account of Southern history reconstructs Southern manhood as a traumatic invasion of “white supremacy and misogyny upon the psyche” (261).
Harris, Paul A. “In Search of Dead Time: Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.’” KronoScope 7.2 (2007): 169-183.
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The research highlights that the purposefully constructed narrative of “A Rose for Emily” is “a set of nested containers and events that the reader must enter and traverse.” The reading of the story encourages reviewing the construction, which containers comprise one sign after another to decipher a mystery encoded.
Martin, Jay. “‘The Whole Burden of Man’s History of His Impossible Heart’s Desire’: The Early Life of William Faulkner.” American Literature 53.4 (1982): 607 629.
The author argues that Faulkner’s aesthetics reveal ambivalence of his character and retentive memories, which can be connected to a number of disappointments of love toward the dearest people. The source of this complex, inconsistent style is the history of Faulkner’s imagination formed by “speech straining helplessly to give voice to the preverbal and forever inexpressible” (614).
Melczarek, Nick. “Narrative Motivation in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.’” The Explicator 67.4 (2009): 237-243.
The author examines the narrator’s manipulations of the timeline and motive for presenting a text in the chronologically convoluted way. According to Melczarek, the story’s convoluted chronology exposes an ambiguous conception of reality of the townsfolk that is a delayed realization or even a hidden incompetence to admit the knowledge about what was happening (241).
Railey, Kevin. “Biographical Criticism.” A Companion to Faulkner Studies. Eds. Charles A. Peek and Robert W. Hamblin. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004.
The author gives an account of biographical criticisms on Faulkner admitting the complexity of the writer’s personality. The article helps to understand the purposes of biographical criticism, which are interpretations of personal events into analysis of the fiction, or reveal that Faulkner’s real life is embodied in the fiction.