Written by Audrey Thibodeau


the Gothic 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.