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Faulkner is a Southern writer whose characters are deeply affected by the illegitimacy of the Southern cultural legacy. Some critics have said his characters (Emily, the Snopeses, the Bundrens, et al) are plagued with a "feeling of guilt, failure and poverty." Also, his characters seem to buy into and perpetuate the dying Southern mythology: Chevalier heritage, Agrarian virtue, Plantation aristocracy, white supremacy, and the purity of womanhood. These are horribly outdated modes which breed self-destruction and feelings of inferiority.
W. J. Cash and Lillian Smith have suggested:
...the South continues to constitute a profound problem: how to resolve its contradictions? It is a distinct and wonderful place, the source of jazz and the Southern novel; it is also the site of slavery, lynchings, and hyper-conservative delusions of Christianity. In short, it is a bipolar culture suffering a grave existential crisis, and her residents posses the same fragmentation of identity, the same duality of existence, which makes the South such a difficult place to consider without anxiety.
In "A Rose for Emily," Emily (like the first editor mentioned) is caught between the Southern mythology of her father's generation and the incestuous pact with the Northerners of her husband's (Homer Baron) generation. These experiences lead to a perverse sanctity of trying to keep both alive, even though both are dead (symbolized in sleeping with Homer's corpse). Her anxieties are manifest in the smell of death that lingers throughout the story.
There are some psychologists who believe that we are a product of our own significant childhood experiences. In Faulkner's short story 'A Rose for Emily' go back to the beginning and do some close reading of the text and make some careful notes. Jot down any clues you can find about Emily's family, parents, father and their attitude to the community and then to her a young daughter during her childhood and girlhood. See if you can spot any correlation between this and the way she approaches life, and her community. Did her family encourage to engage? Did they engender an enthusiasm to be flexible and malleable and move with the times - or something very different? How far were they responsible for her mental state?
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