William Faulkner Short Fiction Analysis
William Faulkner has been credited with having the imagination to see, before other serious writers saw, the tremendous potential for drama, pathos, and sophisticated humor in the history and people of the South. In using this material and, in the process, suggesting to others how it might be used, he has also been credited with sparking the Southern Renaissance of literary achievement that has produced much of the United States’ best literature in the twentieth century.
In chronicling the tragedy of southern history, he delineated a vision tempered by his historical perspective that has freed the region from the popular conception of its character as possessing a universal gentility and a pervasive aristocracy, and he portrayed realistically a population often idealized and caricatured in songs, movies, and pulp fiction. In undercutting the false idealizations, Faulkner often distorted the stereotypes and rendered them somewhat grotesque in the interest of bringing them to three-dimensional life; and he attempted to show in the political and social presumptions of the South the portent of its inevitable destruction—first through war and then through an insidious new social order based on commercial pragmatism and shortsighted lust for progress. In this sense, the New South is shown to have much in common with mainstream America.
Faulkner’s themes are often conveyed in an elaborate baroque style noted for its long, difficult sentences that challenge the reader to discern the speaker, the time, and even the subject of the narrative. Faulkner makes considerable use of stream-of-consciousness interior monologues, and his frequent meshings of time reinforce his conviction that the past and present are intricately interwoven in the human psyche.
“A Rose for Emily,” frequently anthologized and analyzed, is probably Faulkner’s best-known story. Because of its elements of mystery, suspense, and the macabre, it has enjoyed a popular appeal. That Emily Grierson, an aging southern belle, murders the lover who spurned her and sleeps beside his decaying body for a number of years is only the most sensational aspect of the story. What is more interesting to the serious reader of Faulkner is the interplay between Emily Grierson and the two generations of townspeople who attempt to cope with her—one the old guard and the other a new generation with “modern ideas.”
The opening paragraphs of the story inform the reader that when Miss Emily died, the whole town turned out for her funeral. She was a “fallen monument a tradition, a duty and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town.” The townspeople, who are by the time of Emily’s death mostly of a generation younger than her own, have never been able to incorporate her into their community. For them, as well as for their fathers, she has stood as an embodiment of an older ideal of southern womanhood—even though in her later years she has grown obese, bloated, and pale as dough. The older generation, under the mayoralty of Colonel Sartoris (“who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron”), has relieved Miss Emily of her taxes and has sent its children to take her china-painting classes “in the same spirit that they were sent to church on Sunday with a twenty-five-cent piece for the collection plate.” The new generation, however, is not pleased with the accommodations its fathers made with Miss Emily; it tries to impose taxes upon her and it no longer sends its children to take her lessons. Miss Emily has been encouraged in her ways by the old guard, however; she refuses to pay the town’s taxes, telling the representatives of the new generation to “see Colonel Sartoris,” who has been dead for ten years. The town is unable to handle Emily; it labels her “insane” and likewise comes to see her as the ghost of a feminine ideal out of the past. She becomes a recluse, living alone in her house...
(The entire section is 3,985 words.)