What is some evidence from the short story "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner that Emily is a tragic figure because of her staunch (resolute) individualism and the probing and judgmental...

What is some evidence from the short story "A Rose for Emily" by William Faulkner that Emily is a tragic figure because of her staunch (resolute) individualism and the probing and judgmental speculation of the townspeople? 

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The premise behind the descriptor of “tragic figure” is that such a character possesses a personality flaw that, ultimately, will lead to self-destruction or personal failure. Your question asks how is Emily a tragic figure based on her staunch individualism and the speculation of the townspeople. Let’s see what the story reveals.

Based on the evidence of the story, we find that Emily is not exactly someone who initially exhibits an inherent individualist nature. She was very much dependent on her father, who raised her by literally looming over her existence, ever-watchful and ever-forbidding of her mixing up with the wrong kind; or with anyone, so to speak. So attached was Emily to her father that she even refuses to give up his body after his death, which shows the tremendous need for an anchor that she seems to have in her life.

...the day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days...

It is after her father’s death that Emily resurfaces again in society, this time with what could be described as a first attempt at individuality. However, this individuality stems from a false sense of prestige and from an overestimated pride that were imprinted from her father’s upbringing.  

These factors make her a tragic figure because we realize that the woman is clearly trying to belong to a niche. However, a lifetime based on separation from the rest of society left its dent in her persona, and made her stand oddly aside, whether she likes it or not. This tendency to separate and remain away from the world clashes with her inner desire to connect to it, be loved, and feel protected. This is the tragedy that ultimately seals her fate.

That was when people had begun to feel really sorry for her. People in our town, remembering how old lady Wyatt, her great-aunt, had gone completely crazy at last, believed that the Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were...

These very qualities are the reason why the townsfolk would hold such a judgmental speculation about her and her whole family. Yet, however heavy and bold their speculations are regarding Emily, they still manage to detour their bias and find some way to humanize someone who has become an enigma.

Another example that shows the dichotomy between Emily’s surfacing individuality versus the court of public opinion was the “scandal” that was caused by Emily’s choice of beau.

Emily courageously carried on her relationship very publically whilst knowing very well the factors in her relationship that were likely making everyone else frown upon Homer Barron: the man was younger than Emily, a drifter, someone of a lesser “social station” (he was a construction contractor), someone who preferred to hang out with other males, a guy who said he wasn’t the marrying type, and even worse than all of that, a Yankee.

Still, there was yet another streak of compassion that would flow

At first we were glad that Miss Emily would have an interest, because the ladies all said, "Of course a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer." But there were still others, older people, who said that even grief could not cause a real lady to forget noblesse oblige- -without calling it noblesse oblige. They just said, "Poor Emily. Her kinsfolk should come to her."

Knowing already how the ending unfolds, it is safe to argue that there were a lot of factors that would have driven the people of Jefferson to speculate about the Griersons, and especially about Emily. She conducted herself during her aging years in a rather eccentric and unapologetic way. The tragedy of her character, as previously stated, is her lack of ability to connect to the world in a proper and healthy manner.

It is also clear that there was a reason for this lack of skill, and that it was caused by a poor upbringing. Ultimately, the need to belong and to be a part of someone’s life drove Emily to extreme and tragic circumstances.

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A Rose for Emily

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