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Perhaps the main literary element employed by William Faulkner in this novel is that of Southern Gothic. This literary tradition of Gothic found its way into Southern literature, but in a different manner from Gothicism; the grotesque and bizarre elements are used less for frightening effects and more for what they uncover in the human psyche. That is, the Gothic serves to reveal the psychology of human beings on the fringes of society (the grotesques) and their underlying and dark motives.
While Faulkner's narratives are not normally confined to a particular genre, "A Rose for Emily" with its decay and forbidding old mansion where suitors and aldermen alike have been turned away, added to a character singularly odd in appearance and behavior, qualifies this narrative as Southern Gothic. As a character, Emily is a grotesque; for instance, she is damaged psychologically by her intensely patriarchal environment in which suitors have all been turned away, so she refuses to let her father be buried, insisting that he is not dead.
We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.
Of course, Emily's poisoning of Homer Barron and her necrophilia demonstrate further her bizarre character. After a long time of being shut away, she dies in one of the downstairs rooms in a large bed with a curtain, "her gray head propped on a pillow yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight." However, when the townspeople come into the house after her burial, they find upstairs the skeleton of Homer, what "was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt." On the pillow next to him "lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust," but also on this second pillow is the indentation of a head and "a long strand or iron-gray hair."
There are several important literary elements in this story. The first one is point of view. This story is told in a flashback, but the actual narrator is unknown. This makes the reader question not only the identity of the narrator, but also the "trustworthiness" of this person--how does this narrator know these things? Is he/she telling the truth about Emily, her family and her situation?
Faulkner also uses foreshadowing. He drops hints along the way to make the readers believe that can predict the ending, and in doing so, builds suspense. But this ending, the surprise ending, can be considered an element in itself! Very few of my students have guessed the ending of this short story as they were reading.
Faulkner also weaves the setting and conflict together to create Emily's situation. The setting is the deep south where pride, honor and family name are of the utmost importance. Because of this, Emily finds herself in an uncomfortable situation more than once as her family money and name begin to age and decay along with her and her home. She and her choices truly are a product of the environment!
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