As a male author, how does William Faulkner portray the female character in the story "A Rose for Emily?"

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One could argue that Faulkner at first does not portray Emily in the short story "A Rose for Emily" with much sympathy. For example, here is his grotesque description of her physical self: "She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue." Her grotesqueness is further emphasized when the story recounts that a foul smell begins to emerge from her house, one that the townspeople have to surreptitiously treat with lime.

However, as the story goes on, Faulkner's take on Emily is more sympathetic. Her story is deserving of pity, as her father drove away any eligible bachelors and the one man who took an interest in her, Homer Barron, seems to have left her. She is eventually forgotten as she ages, and she dies alone. When she dies and the townspeople unearth the skeleton of Homer Barron in a kind of bridal chamber in a sealed room, the scene is both grotesque and pitiable. Faulkner describes the dead man's body in the following way: "The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him." In other words, Emily poisoned her lover so that he would always remain true to her. Though this scene is grotesque in the true spirit of Gothic horror, it also presents Emily is a sympathetic light. Faulkner presents her as a sympathetic character who is so lonely that she kills her lover to make sure she is never alone. 

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A Rose for Emily

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