What are some points of comparison between Faulkner's Emily in "A Rose for Emily" with Williams' Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire?
An interesting discussion can arise from the following points of comparison.
1. Death results in mental and financial losses for Emily and Blanche.
Although grief is an expected reaction that affects everyone, death affects each of these women in a similar way, both mentally and financially.
In Emily's case, she is essentially alone in the world, with the exception of her two cousins from Alabama, who live far from her.
When her father dies, Emily suffers a trauma that leads to temporary insanity. This is evident in the fact that Emily refuses to give up his body, even days after he dies. The death of her father clearly affected her deeply.
The ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid. . . . She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days. . . . Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down, and they buried her father quickly.
Another result of the death of her father is that Emily's formerly grandiose home starts to fall apart and the state of her finances decline. She is left to fend for herself however she can.
It was a big, squarish frame house . . . set on what had once been our most select street. . . . Miss Emily's house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps—an eyesore among eyesores.
In Blanche's case, the deaths in her family also affect her deeply. Her mother, her father, Margaret, and old Cousin Jessie, all die, one after another, with Blanche having to pay for the expenses of the illnesses, deaths, and funerals.
The ongoing deaths in the family left her psychologically exhausted and clearly bitter to be the only person left to deal with it all.
Funerals are pretty compared to deaths. Funerals are quiet, but deaths—not always. Sometimes their breathing is hoarse, and sometimes it rattles, and sometimes they even cry out to you, "Don't let me go!" Even the old, sometimes, say, "Don't let me go." As if you were able to stop them!
Like Emily, Blanche also suffers financially. She, too, sees her formidable home go away.
How in hell do you think all that sickness and dying was paid for? Death is expensive, Miss Stella! And old Cousin Jessie's right after Margaret's, hers! Why, the Grim Reaper had put up his tent on our doorstep! Stella. Belle Reve was his headquarters!
Like Emily, Blanche is left with nobody to rely on, as her sister is too invested in an unstable relationship with Stan.
And I with my pitiful salary at the school. Yes, accuse me! Sit there and stare at me, thinking I let the place go! I let the place go? Where were you! In bed with your—Polack!
2. Emily and Blanche challenge conventions by being seen with men.
Emily's relationship with Homer Barron comes as a surprise to many who feel that the estranged, aging woman was too snobby and stuck in her old ways to even consider "a Northerner [and] a day laborer" as her gentleman caller. More surprising still is Emily's behavior once she starts dating Homer. Unchaperoned buggy rides that are seen by everyone prompt the townsfolk to look for Emily's closest surviving kin, her two cousins from Alabama, to instill some sense into her. The close-knit people from Jefferson feel that Emily has "fallen," that is, at Homer's insistence, she has been intimate with Homer. This would b a social faux pas, especially coming from a family of "good name."
Due to her stubborn and eccentric behavior, Emily has built a reputation in her town for challenging the conventions and expectations of decorum bestowed upon women.
Blanche also gives plenty of reasons for people to talk about her. It is clear that after Blanche's husband's suicide guilt and desperation take over her. This and her financial issues cause Blanche to presumably go around Laurel becoming intimate with men. She is ultimately accused of "mixing up" with a seventeen-year-old student. Blanche also acts like a seductress all the time, and she always fishes for compliments from men. She makes Stanley uncomfortable and, as a result, he warns Mitch about her. She does not behave the way women should, in his eyes. She defies conventions.
3. Their reputations in town: "crazy women"
Both women are considered unstable and develop terrible reputations as a result of their behaviors. Emily's townsfolk are more forgiving. At the very least, they feel sorry for her.
We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. 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.
Blanche's case is very different. According to Stanley, he knows all the information about Blanche from back in Laurel. She establishes herself in a second-rate motel, The Flamingo, after she loses Belle Reve, her family home. Once there, she apparently allows men in her rooms. Still, she also demonstrates traits of instability that leas to an ill reputation.
The trouble with Dame Blanche was that she couldn't put on her act any more in Laurel! They got wised up after two or three dates with her. . . . But the town was too small for this [and] she became a town character. Regarded as not just different but downright loco—nuts.
Therefore, while Emily and Blanche seem to be very different women, we can definitely look closer and see that they have more in common than we think.
Blanche DuBois in Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire and Emily Grierson in Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily" share several similarities as troubled women from the Old South who have a difficult time accepting reality. Both characters hail from once-prestigious aristocratic families in the South that have declined with the passing of time. Blanche comes from Laurel, Mississippi, and grew up on an estate named Belle Reve, while Emily occupies a large decaying mansion in the town of Jefferson.
Throughout both works, Blanche and Emily are portrayed as troubled, delicate women who have experienced significant tragedies in their lives. Blanche's young husband committed suicide after she openly ridiculed him and Emily's overbearing father passed away, leaving her alone and traumatized. These separate traumatic events negatively affect each character's ability to move on in life and accept reality. Emily initially refuses to acknowledge her father's death, while Blanche attempts to recreate her past in New Orleans.
Blanche and Emily are both ridiculed by members of their community for various reasons. Blanche was expelled from Laurel's community because of her promiscuity, and Emily is criticized for dating Homer Barron. Both characters also are negatively affected by domineering men. Emily lives a restricted life under the constant supervision of her father, which severely affects her psychological and emotional state. Similarly, Blanche is raped by Stanley, which completely destroys her.
Lastly, Emily and Blanche both seem to share an urge to escape reality. Emily refuses to acknowledge her father's death and completely ignores the passing of time, preferring to remain isolated rather than to leave the comfort of her childhood home. Similarly, Blanche attempts to recreate her innocent past and chooses not to accept her difficult reality. Blanche tells Mitch,
"I don't want realism. I want magic!" (Williams, 127).
Emily in "A Rose for Emily" and Blanche du Bois in Streetcar Named Desire, though very dissimilar, are nonetheless similar in several ways. First and foremost they are both formerly wealthy Southern women at historic and cultural crossroads where definitions of culture, society, and behavior--even appearances--are being rewritten and neither Emily not Blanche successfully make the transition.
Emily fails in her transition from pre-Civil War ideals to post-Civil War realities because she cannot grasp a life without her father taking care and control of her; a life in which society is defined by the best families in town instead of by the Town Hall that assigns house addresses and taxes.
Blanche du Bois fails in her transition from twentieth-century, post-turn of the century, beauty and elegance to mid-twentieth achievement and license built on greater industrialization and greater personal choice. Blanche seems forever stranded by the streetcar named "desire" that seems to transport her to places that she doesn't understand as she disrupts marriages, disrespects pregnancy, hobbles household routine and hysterically idolizes beauty.