Gothicism and “A Rose for Emily”

Southern Gothic literature is a sub-genre of the Gothic writing style. This style of writing usually centers on grotesque, mysterious, and desolate characters and settings. Writers of Southern Gothicism examine the decay of the old south and the

families that went along with it. Usually, the main character has some kind of deep dark family secret, and has become reclusive. Writers of this genre create empathy for its characters while also hinting at an underlying horror. Therefore, there is no distinction between who is good and who is bad. William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” does a great job of demonstrating southern gothic literature by defining a stereotypical gothic character, creating a decaying southern setting, and revealing a looming family secret.

Miss Emily Greirson, in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is a stereotypical Southern Gothic character. She comes from a well-to-do family who once stood among the elite of the South. This “old south” is now decaying, as is Miss Emily. Although times are changing, Miss Emily will not. She still insists on being held at a higher rank than everyone else. When presented with the idea of paying her taxes, Miss Emily says “See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson” (131, paragraph 12). She believes that she is above the law just because of who she is or was. Miss Emily is described in her later years in a very gothic, morbid way, “a small, fat woman in black…leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold heart” (131, paragraph 6). Also, it is important to note that after her father passed away and her lover “left”, Miss Emily slipped into a life of seclusion and never left her home. She became the decaying, morbid character of a Southern Gothic story.

Furthermore, the story’s setting is that of typical southern gothic literature. The story takes place in Jefferson, a town somewhere in the south, which was the site of a civil war battle. This goes along with the Southern Gothic theme of waning societies in the aftermath of the civil war. Also, Miss Emily’s house is a symbol of the decline of the wealthy in Jefferson. Her home, which was once among the other elite homes in Jefferson, is now the only one left standing and it is decaying and falling apart. “Only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps-an eye sore among eyesores” (130, paragraph 2). The interior of Miss Emily’s house is also bordering the eerie. When the city authorities, and after her death, all the funeral attendees enter her home, they are taken aback by the lack of cleanliness. The home is described as dim and “It smelled of dust and disuse-a close, dank smell…It was furnished in heavy, leather-covered furniture…they could see that the leather was cracked; and when whey sat down, a faint dust rose sluggishly about their thighs, spinning with slow motes in the single sun-ray” (131, paragraph 5). There is also mention of dust and a “thin acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere upon this room” (135, paragraph 57) when the proprietors enter the room upstairs in which no one had entered in forty years. These observations of Miss Emily’s home help to create a morbid setting which supports the gothic themed story.

In addition, at various points in “A Rose for Emily” there are connotations that a looming family secret will be coming out. There are some suggestions that her father was a very condescending man who was very controlling over her life, resulting in Miss Emily never marrying. Also, she buys arsenic, a very foreshadowing event that tells that something bad may happen. Faulkner delivers the goods at the end of his story by letting out a whopper of a family secret. First, that the long lost Mr. Barron has been dead and decaying in Miss Emily’s upstairs room, which has been kept like a bridal suite for all these years. Second, they find even more disturbing clues as to what exactly had been going on. “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” (135, paragraph 60). At this time the story has revealed, in a truly gothic fashion, a very disturbing picture of Miss Emily sleeping next to the deceased Homer Barron, whom she was likely to have murdered herself.

And so, in literature there are many genres, but none which have captured the ideals and overall feelings of despondence better than the Southern Gothic. Faulkner has truly embodied the gothic nature in “A Rose for Emily”. He provided a setting, a character, and the darkness that comes with that character, all of which made “A Rose for Emily” a perfect example of Southern Gothic literature.