Written by Audrey Thibodeau
elements of “A Rose for Emily”
Gothic can be defined as “literature dealing with the strange, mysterious, and
supernatural designed to invoke suspense and terror in the reader.”
(Pickering, 2004, p. 1425) Gothic literature generally presents the same themes
and motifs: love lost, hidden secrets, love and death hand in hand, beauty,
youth, grotesque characters, macabre eroticism, etc. Gothic literature also
explores taboo subjects such as murder, suicide and incest. “A Rose for Emily”,
by William Faulkner, is representative of the Southern Gothic stories since the
themes of love lost, death, and murder are present in it. There are many
elements that hint at the Gothic nature of the story: Emily’s description, her
house, the poison she bought, and finally the ending.
Emily, the protagonist, used to be the perfect young and rich lady living with
her father, but now she is an old woman living alone in her crumbling house.
However, the inhabitants of the city she where she lives respect her. Throughout
the story, the author describes her as being weird and lonely. “She looked
bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue.
Her eyes, lost in the fatty ridges of her face, looked like two small pieces of
coal pressed into a lump of dough.” She is described as a living death. This
description creates suspense for the readers. Then, later on in the story, Emily
denies her father’s death and refuses to let people come in her house to get
the body. “She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three
days (…) just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down,
and they buried her father quickly.” This attitude generates a frightening
atmosphere for the readers and this kind of atmosphere is an important
characteristic of Gothic stories.
Moreover, Faulkner’s portrayal of the gothic is also described through Emily’s house. What used to be a big and beautiful estate is now an ugly and desolated shack. It is describe as being damp, large, empty, and full of corners to hide secrets. The house and Emily are depicted the same way they both are vestiges of the past. The inside of the house is also similar to her. Empty, dark, similar to the dry and cold voice of Emily. The use of terms such as “smelled of dust and disuse” and “a closed, dank smell” suggest neglect and decay. Each of these elements ties in with the surface layer, the Gothic setting. There is also something particular about the house: there is a horrible smell coming out of it. This odour adds the dark atmosphere around the house.
Furthermore, at one point in the story she buys poison. This episode
enhances the fact that this story is Gothic. The use of such a dangerous
substance in the story creates a feeling that something bad is going to happen.
There is a reason why Emily wants to buy poison and the fact that she does not
want to reveal why she needs it also demonstrates that something is not right.
Her social status helps her not to give a reason why she wants poison to the
druggist. At that point in the story, Emily’s purchase of arsenic leaves no
doubt that the story is leading to dark events.
At last, the main element that makes the
story Gothic is the ending. Emily’s secret is revealed; she has hidden her
dead lover. She has murdered him to keep him with her and to keep an element of
the past with her. Then, at the end of the story, when they discover the corpse
in a bed, they also find a strand of her hair on the pillow next to him. This
last episode suggests that she slept with the corpse. It leaves no doubt in the
mind of the reader that “A Rose for Emily” is a Gothic story. It uses the
theme of murder, which is a recurrent theme in Gothic stories.
In conclusion, “A Rose for Emily” is a Gothic story. Emily’s character,
her immense and decayed house, the arsenic episode, and the discovery of her
lover’s body are all events that prove it.
Each of them makes the reader suspects that something terrible is going
to happen at the end.