William Faulkner’s short story, A Rose For Emily, was originally published in an April 1930 edition of Saturday Evening Post. It is a gothic grotesque, and at first glance appears to have little in common with the short story, Soldier’s Home, by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway’s story appears to be the tale of a soldier newly returned home from service in World War I. A Rose For Emily appears to be the straight forward account of the life of a southern aristocrat, a genteel lady who seems to have survived into a later age, and stands, in the story, as a relic, or even a monument to that way of life long gone from the American South.
Faulkner says that her funeral was well attended for various reasons. “…the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument,” (Faulkner 47). Upon reading the two, similarities can be found in the works, penned by giants of 20th century American literature.
The protagonist in each short story is alienated and feels no longer a part of a little understood society, as if life has somehow managed to pass them by. Emily and Harold both withdraw into their own private world (Hemingway 112). The narrator of Faulkner’s work is more involved and takes sides, so to speak, in voiced judgment of Miss Emily. Hemmingway’s narrator, on the other hand, is lifeless and flat, and while he may be omniscient, he is not descriptive, and shares little with the reader other than the bare bones of necessity. The two works are both alike in some ways and unalike in others.
A Rose For Emily is a tale of the final days of what was once the post-bellum American South, and is considered a grotesque. It evokes the spirit of Mary Shelly or even Bram Stoker in its proximity to pure horror. The reader learns that not only is the cultivated and very proper Miss Emily Grierson a murderess, having poisoned her lover, but is a necrophile, sleeping with the rotting corpse each night of her life. “What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay,” (Faulkner 59) the narrator says, describing the appearance of the corpse in Emily Grierson’s bed. In this manner she has passed her adult life, behind the closed doors of her decaying gothic mansion, living out her days in genteel poverty while maintaining the illusion that she is still what she and her family had once been. At her death the town gathers, both to pay respects to a vanished Americana and to see firsthand the inner sanctum of a legend. Harold Krebs, Hemingway’s protagonist, also has opted to turn his back on society and let his life drift along on the winds of fate. “In the evening he…read and went to bed,” the narrator tells the reader (Hemingway 112). He sleeps late, he ignores women unless they make a gesture to him and he lets the world go by. His mother worries and tries to get him out of this doldrum that she believes is war related. The end of the Faulkner story is resolved with the death of his protagonist and the denouement of her particular proclivity. For Hemingway the ending is more a whimper than a bang and the reader is left to decide whether the protagonist’s new outlook on life is good or ill
Emily Grierson, the daughter of a rich man, once had more than mere money; she was born into a way of life that was vanishing as she grew up. Her father had turned down every suitor who had come calling for Miss Emily on the grounds that they were beneath her socially. The end result was that she found herself an ‘old maid’ at the age of 30, with little prospect of ever finding a man to take in marriage. Faulkner’s narrator shows the reader various sides of Miss Emily, with the title of the story being a symbolic accolade, a rose, presented to a Southern monument, a woman worthy of a retrospective. Still this anonymous voice also shows the reader the perversity and the insanity inherent in the character. She, like Harold Krebs of Soldier’s Home, has opted to drop out of life and let it pass by unexamined. Harold, returning late from the war finds that it is no longer news, and no one cares what he did or why he did it. Even his loving mother is ready for him to begin his life. She is quoted as asking, “Have you decided what you are going to do yet, Harold?” (Hemingway 115). He is a classic example of the old adage that God and the soldier are both ignored once danger has passed. Unlike Miss Emily, however, the reader gets no clear conclusion and is left to form an opinion as to the outcome of Krebs’ attitude toward life. While everyone wants him to be the same man he was when he left for war, he clearly is not, nor does he intend to ever be. While Emily Grierson wants marriage and perhaps loses her mind over a lost love, in contrast, Harold Krebs attitude flies in the face of convention and he is not interested in the fair sex. He has developed an attitude that he will be most happy just simply being left alone.
The setting of A Rose For Emily is the old south and the mansion of Miss Emily Grierson. The writing evokes a southern charm and southern manners which may not have ever existed but are still burned into the collective memories of generations of readers. It is Gone With The Wind revisited. She, like Harold Krebs, withdrew unto herself. Faulkner’s lines, “A deputation waited upon her, knocked at the door through which no visitor had passed since she ceased giving china-painting lessons eight or ten years earlier,” (Faulkner 48) illustrates her near total withdrawal. It is Margaret Mitchell with just a dash of Stephen King added for flavoring. A small town in rural 20th century America is the stage upon which Soldier’s Home plays out. In contrast to the changes that have taken place in Emily Grierson’s town, Harold Krebs finds nothing has changed in his hometown. It is he who has been transformed and not the rest of society as is the case with Emily.
The narrator of A Rose For Emily is difficult to pin down as his point of view changes as the story progresses, making him an integral part of the story as well as the voice. He has opinions and makes judgment as the story progresses. It is as if he is the voice of the community at large, and reflects the attitude that the community has toward the aging woman. When it is obvious that the woman has been in a nightly tryst with a decaying corpse the voice of the narrator changes judgmentally. The narrator of Soldier’s Home is flat and uninvolved. He is detached and emotionless, as a rhetorical device he is the omniscient source of information and reflects the flat emotionless life of the protagonist. He is, in many ways, a metaphor for Harold Krebs as Emily’s narrator is a metaphor for the changing attitudes and mores of the new American South.
The two stories share many similarities but fundamentally they are more unalike than similar. Just as all works that qualify to bear the title of literature share basic structure and rhetorical devices, so too do these two works. In the final analysis they are not the same or even overly similar; they stand as monuments to the skills of their two authors and are both a part of American literary heritage today.
Faulkner, W. Selected Short Stories of William Faulkner New York: Random
Hemingway, E. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca
Vigia Edition New York: Simon and Schuster Inc. 1987
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