What are some Gothic features in Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily"?

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massaroh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" is rooted in Gothic structure and style, but it is actually part of a sub-genre of the Gothic known as "Southern Gothic," which began its evolution into a literary style in the early 1900s. 

Elements of mystery, darkness, and the supernatural were popular and conventional components of Gothic style. In other works of Gothic literature, we also see an examination of the darker and more grotesque aspects of the human psyche; however, most traditional Gothic writers like Poe and Shelley set their stories amidst dank dungeons and cob-web infested castles. 

Writers of the Southern Gothic differed in that they were much more interested in exploring the darker and more unsavory aspects of human psychology through their writing. Individuals suffering from various mental illnesses or individuals who were seen as anti-social outsiders were often character subjects of the Southern Gothic.

"A Rose for Emily" examines the anti-social behavior of Miss Emily Grierson and the mystery surrounding both her and her home. Miss Emily's alienation from society is only the tip of the iceberg, though, as it is later revealed to the reader that she was a necrophiliac. This is both disturbing and grotesque. Despite the town's realizations about Miss Emily and what she was hiding, her character is still very much shrouded in mystery. 

While Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" examines the psychologically disturbing conventions of the Southern Gothic, traditional aspects of the Gothic genre can be found in the text as well, specifically with regard to Miss Emily's house. The house is crumbling and in the midst of decay. 

Homer Barron, Emily's lover and victim, is instrumental to the story's narrative as well.  He is an outsider, in his own way, as he is a northerner and is largely distrusted by the other townspeople. Because Homer describes himself as not "a marrying man", he is symbolic of change and modernity, while Emily and the townspeople of the South more or less represent tradition. The change that Homer brings to the town and to Miss Emily can be construed as dangerous, which can be seen in his horrific fate.

The various Gothic elements of the story are strewn throughout and can be seen in the character depictions, the collective and individual psyches of townspeople, and in Miss Emily's house itself. 

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

William Faulkner did not typically write Gothic literature; however, it is hard to miss the Gothic elements in "A Rose for Emily." This short story is actually considered Southern Gothic literature, which is slightly different than a more traditional Gothic style. 

Like traditional Gothic writing, the story contains elements of the grotesque, including a rather foreboding tone (the story starts with an announcement of death) as well as the more obvious decay and decomposition (putrefication) in the form of dead bodies being kept from burial (both her father and Homer Barron). The mansion is crumbling from age, and Miss Emily herself is a rather grotesque and putrid figure. She is 

a small, fat woman in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt, leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head. Her skeleton was small and spare; perhaps that was why what would have been merely plumpness in another was obesity in her. 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 as they moved from one face to another while the visitors stated their errand.

Even her servant, Tobe grows more stooped and misshapen over the years.

As a Southern Gothic tale, the story is concerned with antisocial behavior, usually because of changing social mores and traditions. Miss Emily is certainly antisocial and lives in her own world which has nothing to do with the more modern world in which she is living. This alienation from the world is no more obvious than when Miss Emily's necrophilia is revealed.

This genre of literature is also concerned with the concept of appropriation and transformation--taking something familiar and showing it in the grotesque. In this case, Miss Emily is a princess-like figure (no one is worthy to marry her, according to her father) who is transformed into a psychologically unstable old maid. 

The Gothic elements in this story are hard to miss and one of the reasons the story is so haunting.