A Rose for Emily by William Falkner
The Sense of the Gothic in A Rose for Emily A Rose for Emily is regarded as one of William Faulkner’s most famous and accessible works. It has a number o unusual aspects, including the use of first-person plural, the non-chronological method of telling the story and the horrific secret that is stored in the upstairs room. The sense of the horrific in A Rose for Emily makes it a kind of gothic story, with the mixture of death and sex that this genre often portrays.
In the upstairs bedroom Emily keeps the corpse of her lover, Homer Barron. It is this corpse that is the source of the terrible smell that permeates the house and exudes into the surrounding neighborhood. This is a clear image for the secrets that many people hide from the world, but which are obvious to everyone nevertheless. We may seek to hide, but it is in vain.
The gothic sensibilities of the novel continue with both the nature of her lover and the various motivations she may have had to kill him. The following passage suggests that he was probably homosexual, “Homer himself had remarked – he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elk’s Club – that he was not a marrying man.” (Faulkner 1930) He may be her lover, but he will not marry her, thus giving a motivation for his killing. A mixed-up sexuality is often a feature of Gothic fiction.
The manner in which Emily has apparently killed Homer Barron, though it is never explicitly stated, appears to have been the “rat poison” (Faulkner 1930) that is mentioned early in the novel. This is a gruesome way of killing a person, and her actions turn into the completely macabre as she apparently sleeps with the corpse in the upstairs bedroom as if he was still alive and she was married to him. The mixture of death and sexuality within Gothic fiction is a common feature of the genre, from Dracula on. The fact that there is a sexuality within death might seem bizarre to the ordinary person, but to the heightened sensibilities of Gothic characters it makes sense.
Much is implied rather than explicitly stated in the novel – another Gothic feature. Thus the fact that a grey hair is found on the pillow besides the corpse suggests to some readers that in fact Emily had sex with the corpse, while others think that it shows that she just slept next to it, as if it were still alive. This makes a fine Gothic image: she literally sleeps next to the corpse that will be sleeping forever.
This story is famous because of its peculiarly gruesome plot, but much of its macabre nature is found within the details of the book. The rat poison, the smell, the grey hair, the locked room – all of these provide a layer of details that make the world that Faulkner portrays both horrific and yet strangely compelling. The story makes the reader look around herself with new eyes, wondering what secrets may be held behind apparently normal doors by ordinary people. This is the true nature of the Gothic.