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Psychological criticism is a way of interpreting literature by means of psychoanalysis, a form of interpretation developed by Dr. Sigmund Freud. In the practice of psychoanalysis, Freud attempted to understand the interaction of the conscious and unconscious mind. He believed that repressed conflicts and fears could be uncovered by having the patient speak freely and openly so that the listener may decipher hidden meanings and motives the patient might be unaware of. Much of his most famous hypotheses focus on the realm of the unconscious mind and how it goes about manifesting itself. Similarly, the role of psychological criticism is to attempt to analyze and draw conclusions from suppressed desires, conflicts, and fears within the realm of the unconscious of the characters, author, or even the reader of the piece of literature. This form of criticism can easily be applied to William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, a short story about the decaying life of Miss Emily Grierson as seen through the perspective of the town she lives in. Devastated by the loss of her father, Emily keeps herself isolated from everyone in the community except for Homer Barron, whom she later kills and holds on to in a last act of holding on to the past. To better understand Emily Grierson’s isolation from a psychological perspective, we must take a look at the underlying motivations within her character. Such motivations, can be discovered from many aspects of the story such as the setting and the relationship that Emily has between her late father and the entire community. Emily’s isolation can also be seen in her behavior of avoidance and denial.
The shot story ¿½A Rose for Emily¿½ takes place in a small town in the deep south shortly after the Civil War. Miss Emily came from the Grierson family, a noble, upper-class family from the time. She ¿½had been a tradition, a duty, a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town¿½ showing that she had noblesse oblige and she intended to keep it that way. The neighborhood that she lived in was quickly changing, where ¿½only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps¿½an eyesore among eyesores.¿½ While the town had progressed and modernized as most towns at the time did due to the change in ideals from the old generation to the new one, Miss Emily stagnated. In fact, she refused to change her ways at all. ¿½When the town got free postal delivery Miss Emily alone refused to let them fasten metal numbers above her door and attach a mailbox to it. She would not listen to them.¿½ The house she lives in is old and run-down, and is a displacement for the state Miss Emily is in. It has stayed the same for many years, and so has she, which is the way she wants it. However, by doing so she separates herself from the community. This is our first glimpse, as the reader, of Emily’s isolation.
At this point in the story, the reader is left unaware why Miss Emily chooses update and modernize her house. It quickly becomes apparent that it must have something to do with her relationship with her father. Emily and her father have a relationship that is only briefly mentioned, but there is an obvious complication that later manifests itself throughout the rest of Emily’s life. Even though Emily is described as being very beautiful when she was younger, her father would drive away any suitor who came to court his daughter. This, in a way, shows a sort of revers oedipal conflict where the father is trying to compete against possible husbands for Emily’s love and attention. A possible clue for her father’s actions is that the mother is not there and ,in fact, is never mentioned in the story at all which leads the reader to assume that young Emily is the only woman in his life. The narrator of the story, that is, the people of the community, paint a description of their father-daughter relationship; “Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background” and “her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip”.This description displays the idea that Emily is just a back drop to her father and his unconscious motive to keep his daughter close to him and him only. Her being in the back shows that she is being protected from suitors that are unworthy in her father’s eye. Also the whip that is holding may be interpreted as a phallic symbol signifying that he is the patriarch and will fight off anyone that wants to change that. Even so, Emily does not put up a fight but, rather, is submissive to her father’s wishes. She actually enjoys her father’s chasing away of men because, in a way, it brings her closer to her father and strengthens their relationship. This can be explained psychoanalytically as females can only gain identities in stories if they identify with a father figure. Even though young Emily is desperately trying to gain an identity, she is ignorant to the fact that by doing so she is creating a lifestyle of isolation that could only be made worse with the passing of Mr. Grierson.
After her father’s death and without any other close family, Emily quickly realizes that she is now alone and isolated. She could not cope with this grim fact and instead turned to denial. When the ladies of the town came to offer their condolences, ¿½Miss Emily met them at the door , dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead.¿½ She could not grasp the fact that with the loss of her father came the loss of her female identity and instead represses the idea as she stayed barricaded in her house for a ¿½long time¿½. The next time she is seen ¿½her hair was cut short, making her look like a girl¿½. Its quite obvious that at this point she is trying to live in the past to cope with her isolation. The cutting of her hair shows that she is unconsciously trying to go back to a place in her mind where her father is still alive and she is still a girl living under his rule. Shortly after, however, she is seen with Homer Barron, ¿½a Yankee¿½a big, dark, ready man¿½. Her infatuation with Homer was not that of romance as the townspeople thought, rather she was only displacing the idea of her father onto Homer. The only way she could have her father back and for everything to be how it was, Miss Emily must marry Homer; or at least that is what she believed. Her relationship with Homer was not meant to be because Homer was actually a homosexual. The story alludes to this with phallic symbols such as, ¿½his hat cocked and a cigar in his teeth¿½. When Emily discovers this fact she, again, is in denial. Her last chance of living in the past rushes away in an instant. So instead of letting go of Homer, she again tries to hold on to the past, more successfully this time, by poisoning Homer Barron and holding on to his body, a final act of desperation to save herself from isolation.
With Homer’s body in her possession, she is no longer isolated in her mind. She has her displaced father back but it is different this time; now she is the provider of the duo, or in other words, she has now taken the role of the father. Because of this new found identity her character actually begins to drastically change. ¿½She had grown fat and her hair was [¿½] that vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man.¿½ This physical change in her appearance signifies that she has now become patriarch of the so-called family. But she is still incomplete in her role because Homer, who has now been dead for some time, cannot ever identify with Miss Emily. So once again, Emily is left isolated by her own accord and she remains this way until the day she dies.
In conclusion, by using a psychoanalytic approach to analyze William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily, many overlooked details paint an overall theme of isolation in the short story. Her old deteriorating house is a stand in for Emily’s mental condition and unwillingness to change. Father daughter issues are prevalent in the story and end up determining the fate of Miss Emily. Devastated over the discovery that her displaced father figure, Homer Barron, is a homosexual she poisons him and denies his death while she holds on to his body, much like she did with her father, in an attempt to live in the past. In the end of her life, Miss Emily is isolated in world of her own creation where she lives in the past and desperately tries to hold on to the present.
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