Mystery in William Faulkner's a Thesis

  • Length: 10 pages
  • Sources: 10
  • Subject: Literature
  • Type: Thesis
  • Paper: #16664215

Excerpt from Thesis :

Faulkner utilizes many techniques in setting up this mystery and one is imagery. The images associated with the house are ones that conjure up visions of death. For example, we read that the house had "a big, squarish frame house that had once been white" (Faulkner 452). It had once been on the town's "most select street" (452) but now it was doing well to lift its "coquettish decay about the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps - an eyesore among eyesores" (452). It also smells of "dust and disuse -- a close, dank smell" (452). These images foreshadow what is about to occur in the house and they prepare us for a woman that is much like the house in that she is stuck in a time and place that does not exist anymore. Another technique Faulkner uses with the house is symbolism. The house is also a symbol representing the contrast between the present and the past. Because the house never changes, it can also be a symbol of Emily's life. It embodied everything Emily knew. It kept Emily and those she loved safe and secure. Renee Curry believes the house is more than just a house. She notes, "Faulkner's desire to get inside this house, yet his unwillingness or his inability simply to enter in while Emily lives, establishes Emily as psycho-barrier. This woman thwarts Faulkner's ability to negotiate the intimate space he has, as author, created to house her" (Curry). If we look at it this way, we can see how the house is very much a part of the story. We want to get inside as well but we, too, are held back until the very end when we finally see what the rest of the town does. While the last room of the house is shocking, it provides the missing pieces of the puzzle. The house allows Emily to live out her dreams - however deadly they may be.

The story is nothing without death. Again, Faulkner prepares us for the surprise ending with images that whisper death. Emily's appearance and body change from young and sweet to old and dying. Young Emily is a "slender figure in white" (Faulkner 454). Older Emily usually dressed in black. Her hue is "pallid" (453) and she looks "bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water" (453). In addition, her voice is "dry and cold" (453). Even her hair grows "grayer and grayer until it attained an even pepper-and-salt iron-gray" (457). These images, directly associated with Emily, point toward death. There are other techniques that Faulkner employs to gear the story toward mystery. One of the most significant is the narration. We depend on this narrator for every piece of information and Faulkner withholds information to keep us in suspense. He does this in such a way that we are almost unaware that anything is being withheld. Edmond Volpe states, "Faulkner sometimes deliberately withholds important details, and the narrators frequently refer to people or events that the reader will not learn about until much later, making the style seem even more opaque than it really is" (Volpe 366). This is the case with "A Rose for Emily." Death is a big secret to keep and Faulkner does a good job keeping us in suspense.

Our narrator drifts from the present to the past. The structure is important to our understanding and the story is structured in such a way that it becomes more and more mysterious. Laura Getty maintains, "The chronology deliberately manipulates and delays the reader's final judgment of Emily Grierson by altering the evidence" (Getty 230). The final paragraph holds all of the answers and Faulkner keeps in the dark on purpose. Joseph Reed believes that the story is a "ghost story" (Reed) because it "depends on suspense, order, empathy with the first-person narrator, death and decay as subjects, and the reader's desire for horror" (Reed 13). Interestingly, Reed points out that part of Faulkner's success as with the narrator lies in the fact that we never doubt him or her. Instead, we "retain an allegiance" (Reed 15) to the narrator "who seems tough-minded and objective and who promises us horror" (Reed 15). Getty continues, "What the chronology does is as important as when the events actually take place" (Getty 230). While there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the events of the story, they are laid perfectly in place to surprise us. Getty claims, "the story's chronology is a masterpiece of subtle insinuations" (Getty 230). This is true and it demonstrates Faulkner's ability to construct a mysterious love story from what appears to be a tale about an old spinster.

There is another element of mystery that is associated with the narration of the story and that is secrecy. Curry notes:

The mystery lives on in Faulkner's ability to tell this secretive tale... Faulkner abides by the form in that he provides Emily as enigma, Homer Barron's murder as focal point, and the bisexual narrator to exhibit the conscious voice of the tale, but the revelation of Homer Barron's skeleton, coupled with the gray hair at the end of the tale, affords an irregular closure and limited 'knowingness' for the reader. Although the story closes in the sense that its words cease, no mention of restoration of any order reveals itself through the language of the tale. Faulkner stops writing, and the narrator stops narrating at the sight of the unlikely coupling of the skeleton and the hair. The narrator sees but ceases to narrate at the sight. (Curry)

We have an ending but we are left wondering if that is all that there is to this story. Because we discover the secret just moments before the story ends, we wonder if there are more secrets we should know. Even more interesting is that we want to know them. Faulkner has created the mystery and kept it alive after the words have stopped.

Mystery is enhanced through secrecy and it is developed with confusion. Faulkner allows the lines between the past and the present to blur in order to create mystery. Time is manipulated in this way. The narrator's shifts are deliberate and this forces us to look at time and its significance to the story. Our first realization is that there is no time for Emily because it seems to have stood still for her. There is no present with her - only a past.

Ray West claims, "As in most stories, the first indication of Faulkner's meaning is implied by the contrasts he immediately establishes -- in this case, the strong contrast between past and present, which creates an atmosphere of 'distortion' and 'unreality'" (West 48). This is certainly the case with Emily. The details of the story do seem to be distorted because we are reading about the past in present tense. West maintains that this is necessary to set the "atmosphere" (West 48) for the story. In West's opinion, Faulkner does so from the first sentence of the story, which "prepares us for Emily's unnatural act" (West 48). The story would lose its punch without the jumps in time and because the end makes its way back to the beginning only reinforces the fact that the confusion worked.

Love, mystery, and death are inseparable in this tale. The story begins with a funeral and ends with a shocking, deadly revelation. Emily's father dies as does Homer. The only people that Emily actually loves die in the house in which she lives. Even Emily dies there as well. In the death and in the dust, and in all that Emily does, she is surrounded by death. In her world, it is safe to assume that love leads to death. We are told, "the past is not a diminishing road, but, instead a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches" (Faulkner 458). Here we see that coming to terms with reality may be even more difficult than death itself. Cleanth Brooks makes a keen observation regarding the structure of "A Rose for Emily." He notes, "Although the story emphasizes horror and psychological abnormality, it must have some moral significance to be truly meaningful" (Brooks 410-11). Perhaps this is the truth that we must face about humanity. While we shudder to think that such actions could occur, we must realize they do and this gives the story meaning. Hal Blythe also points out that the most "provocative aspect" (Blythe 49) of the story is not that strand of gray hair but Emily's "motive in killing Homer" (49). He surmises that she murders Homer not because of unrequited love but as an act of "revenge" (50) for humiliating her. Brooks seems to support this notion, stating, "Emily's independence of spirit and pride and her refusal to accept the herd values exhibit a dignity and courage that make her simultaneously intimidating, pitiable, and admirable" (413). Her madness manifests "her refusal to…

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