A Comparison Of The Main Protagonists In William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” And
Katherine Anne Porter’s “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”
The similarities and differences between William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Katherine Anne Porter’s “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” are best seen in a comparison of the two main characters of the story, Emily Grierson and Ellen Weatherall. While the most obvious similarities may be that both were in their twilight years (Emily 74, Ellen 80), both were from the South, and both were rejected by men, one must emphasize that both were very strong minded and stubborn as wells.
It seems that here the similarities between them end. Emily Grierson and Ellen Weatherall are actually as different as two women can be. At first they appear to be basically similar, however their reactions to changes and events around them show clearly that they think, feel, and react differently.
Their reaction to death…
Upon the death of her father, Emily kept his body in the house for three days and refused to acknowledge to anyone (even to herself?) that he had indeed passed on.
For three days “She told them that her father was not dead” (2). They nearly had to take her father’s body by force had she not finally agreed to let them bury him. It is evident that she has trouble letting go of those she has strong affection for.
On the other hand, Ellen “picked herself up” after the death of her husband. She was able to take care of herself and her children. She did mourn his passing but she was able to come to terms with it to survive. Her faith helped her through her loss.
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Their reaction to life…
Like most women of her era, Emily Grierson needed a man around to perform regular household tasks such as paying taxes. She had to rely on the generosity of a certain Colonel Satoris who helped her through her predicament after her father’s death. However when she was made to face the issue of non payment, she denied perfunctorily to everyone concerned that she owed anything. Thus she used her status as a woman, and an old one at that, to try to get away without paying.
Fencing in hundred acre farms, rounding up cattle and riding cross country in the dead of winter were not tasks associated with women. Yet upon the death of her husband John, Ellen had to learn to do all these things and more besides. She said, “I pay my own bills, and I don’t throw my money away on nonsense!” (1). She came across a very independent and strong willed woman.
Their manner of death…
While it is not stated what these two women died of (probably old age), one thing was made very clear in the stories. Emily died alone. The people who did visit her wake came for the sake of curiosity both about her and her house. And the one person who should have mourned her, her Negro servant and only companion for nearly 25 years, left even before she had been buried.
Ellen’s children attend to her on the other hand. All of them came home from different parts to see her. She was surrounded by those who loved her until her death.
Their reaction to being jilted…
Although the relationship between Emily and Homer is not described by the author in full detail, it is insinuated that he courted her then for some reason, just dropped her. The facts that she bought intimate items for him (hairbrush, cufflinks, etc.) and she slept beside his
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corpse until she herself died suggests an obsessive type of attachment to her suitor. His rejection of her may have been the final straw that would have pushed her toward the edge on which she had been tottering after her father’s death. Her purchase of arsenic from the druggist with which to murder him implies premeditation. Her keeping him on her bed even after death insinuates the possibility of madness.
It could be said that Ellen Weatherall’s jilting was more public and therefore more embarrassing and she would have been more justified to seek revenge than Emily, whose jilting was private and left to public speculation. But Ellen recovered from her humiliation. Eventually she got married and had children. Perhaps at times she may sometimes have looked upon her being left at the altar with some regret, but it seemed she truly loved her husband and children and wouldn’t have her life any other way. Emily Grierson had stayed single and had died alone.
Between these two women, one should have more trepidation with women of Emily Grierson’s character. Beneath her seemingly prim and proper ways is a dark side that is terrifying because it is both vindictive and vengeful. Faulkner himself said of her in an interview, “but I pity Emily. I don’t know whether I would have liked her or not, I might have been afraid of her. Not of her, but of anyone who had suffered, had been warped, as her life had been probably warped by a selfish father . . . .” (qtd.in Jelliffe). On the other hand, Ellen Weatherall is forgiving and takes things that happen to her in stride.
In conclusion, Emily in “A Rose for Emily” is a decorative, useless, insane, and vengeful creature who was perpetually adolescent perhaps even childish. Ellen Weatherall in “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” is a direct opposite of the former in that she is a useful member of society, a sane and practical person, and forgiving of all wrongs that have ever befallen
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her. She is also mature in her outlook and takes on anything and everything with a resigned, martyr complex.
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“Faulkner at Nagano”. Ed. Robert Jelliffe. Tokyo: Kenkyusha Ltd., 1956: 70–71.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily”. February 28, 2008.
Porter, Katherine Anne. “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”. February 28, 2008.
<http://people.morrisville.edu/~whitnemr/html/The Jilting Granny Weatheall.htm>.
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