Literature, in the form of poetry and prose have brought to light various and innumerable social aspects to the knowledge of people. It has played a crucial role in awakening the mind and spirit of human beings, by urging them to come out of their individual selves and contribute something towards the development of society. Literature reflects upon the attitudes; thinking; and social progression of mankind. It keeps track of social development and deterioration of a particular age in the most unbiased manner.
Societies deteriorate when individuals stop taking interest in the collective lives of the people they live with. But if the bond between individuals and societies remain strong, then communities are sure to prosper. It is the responsibility of communities to assimilate all segments of society in the mainstream in order to help them in their difficult times.
Literature employs the use of imagery and symbolism to explain the characteristics of an individual; event; or any theme. ‘A rose for Emily’ by William Faulkner(1983) is one such story of an individual who lived and died in solitude and mystery; the author has used symbolism and grotesque imagery to explain the chain of events that revolved around the aristocratic figure of Emily, till her death. His father was a nobleman, and ‘He kept telling Miss Emily that none of the young men in this town were good enough for her.’ (Faulkner, 1983, p.8)Hence she remained single till her father’s death.
The people of her age interacted with her; she used to give China painting lessons to the daughters and granddaughters of Colonel Sartoris, a man who had favoured her by exempting her from all her taxes in Jefferson. The next generation was only curious about her; they rather felt sorry for her. They did not know about the life of Emily Grierson: they only come to know that she had necrophilia, after her death. They found the decayed and rotten corpse of her lover, Homer Baron, whom she poisoned and killed. She slept with his dead body for a very long time, and people were simply isolated from this horrible act of hers.
There was a time when she had started courting Homer Barron, a day labourer – much beneath her social status. He liked men, and it was known that he drank with younger men and was not a marrying man. Society expects that individuals follow a certain code of conduct and ethics. ‘We will find the relationship of the individual to society is one of mutual dependence. Individuals always adopt their beliefs and perform their actions against the background of particular social contexts.’ (Bevir, 1996,p.1)
So the respectable ladies of the town contacted her distant relatives to resolve the matter and persuade Emily to follow the tradition of society. One of the reasons of Emily’s downfall and violent action of killing her lover is that she alienated herself from the society. She did not consider herself to come under any law; or to abide by ethical standards fixed by society.
On the other hand, we have an example of an individual who claims, ‘This land is your land, this land is my land.’ (Guthrie, 2008) he addresses the readers directly to establish a direct communication between him and the rest of the society. Throughout the poem, he uses the phrase ‘you and me’- emphasizing upon the bond between individuals and society, irrespective of age, gender, social class or occupation. Though he is aware of the geographical boundaries; he wants everyone to stand up and unite to form a strong society.
‘From California to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters
This land was made for you and me.’(Lines 2,3)
The poet uses pure imagery and symbolism to explain how important it is for the individuals to take responsibility of improving and strengthening the societies they live in. ‘As I went walking through that ribbon of highway…’ (Line 5) Guthrie symbolizes ‘highway’ as the main vein of society: the connection between individuals and societies.
Guthrie points to the ‘private property’ signboards, meaning that there are individuals who remain on the borderline of societies and do not wish to join the mainstream society. (line 22) but it is incumbent upon society to open its arms to everyone living within its bounds for a collective prosperous future.
Literature reveals how societies react to the behaviour of individuals. Societies cannot function properly without the enforcement of law and order; as obvious from the heinous act of murder by Emily (Faulkner, 1983). It shows how much people have distanced themselves from the communities they live in that they come to know about the murder of Homer Barron after decades.
Bevir, Mark. (1996).The Individual and Society. UC Berkeley:
Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/3zg4k60s
This is an electronic version of an article published in Political Studies 44: 102 /114, 1996.
Faulkner,W. &Robinette, J. 1983. A Rose for Emily. Illinois: Dramatic Publishing.
Guthrie,W.2008. This Land is your Land. Little, brown books for young readers.