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Insanity

In "A Rose for Emily," the author has created characters flawed with madness. How is this madness revealed to the reader? What characterizes the madness, and what makes the characters appear to be mad? How do personality, society, and choices play a role in the development of madness within an individual?

[Webmaster's Note: As of Nov. 2004, no one replying on this topic mentioned Emily's insane aunt Wyatt, a hint dropped by Faulkner's narrator early in the story.  Even those who mention the idea of "control" as love do not site the behavior of the Alabama Grierson's as an expression of this controlling love.  First readings don't allow much time for making such connections.

In addition, no respondent has cited any critic's opinion or referenced a source online or off.  Both connections within the story and published criticism are, then, topics that might be added to enrich the commentary that already exists in the archives.]

Danielle (2003) sees insanity made invisible: "The town overlooked her insanity.  EX - 

  1. the insane aunt, 
  2. she was a recluse
  3. she denied the death of her father
  4. Colonel Sartoris 
  5. she intimidated them. ex- druggist, taxes, mailbox, minister, smell. 
  6. pity- "poor Emily", smelly house, her fathers death, she was alone, "at last they could pity her" 
  7. respect- stood when she walked in the room; at her funeral they wore their uniforms."

Jules (2003) notes Emily's necrophilia: "Of course she was a necrophiliac - all the evidence points towards it. The story wouldn't be as shocking and appealing if she wasn't. Why else would the story end with the chilling words 'a long strand of iron-gray hair,' which is found on the pillow beside the corpse? The story explicitly states that Emily's hair began to turn gray AFTER the disappearance of Homer; moreover, her hair is described as 'that vigorous iron-gray, like the hair of an active man' - she was actively sleeping with the corpse 'Up to the day of her death at seventy-four.'" [Of course, the dust level in the closed room--which had been shut for 40 years--suggests that she could NOT have been sleeping with or beside Homer for the latter part of her life.]

Connie (2003) suggests that: "Emily is not crazy. Emily is a desperate woman. Her father ruled her life until the day he died; she chose to sidestep society's strict rules for relationships and to behave in ways her father would have deemed inappropriate. When she realized that Homer was more than willing to take advantage of her and leave her ruined and alone, she made the choice to poison the rat who irreparably damaged her life.

"Is she likable? The story does not allow her to voice her feelings about anything but the taxes! We learn of her life from the eyes of the narrator, who alternately voices his opinion and the town's opinion about her."

Jared (2003) points out Emily's isolation as intensifying her insanity: "I also believe that Emily was crazy and had mental problems. Staying in that house year after year and not interacting with many people just helped her get more insane. All of her anger and stuff got built up."

E. Clevenger (2000) saw dependency: "Emily's dependency issues are strong and present throughout the story. The started with her father who was overbearing and overprotective. And when he left her (i.e. died) she was left with no-one.

This combined with her loneliness and the insanity factor in her family was what put her over the edge.

The ties to Hitchcock's "Psycho" are extremely close related. If anyone has any other sources that link these two stories, please guide me. I'm doing a paper on this thesis and it's refreshing to find others on this same line of thought."

Whitney (2003; KCKCC) sees insanity more than malice: "I think Emily was crazy and had some mental instabilities, but it didn't just happen over night. As the years passed, she just kept getting crazier and crazier. It all came out because of the way her father treated her. It scarred her for life, and that just led to her actions later in life. There can be some revenge against Homer, because he is a male, and that just added to her craziness. I believe it was more her just being completely nuts than revenge."

Ashley V. (2004) of of Donnelly College points out that Emily becomes crazy: "I don't think that Emily started out crazy but I do think she ended up crazy. After her father's death I think she didn't know what to do with her new freedom and felt she needed to control another person's life."  She adds that control is her motive for killing Homer: "I think Emily killed Homer because she started to realize she couldn't control him and make him do what she wanted to do. I think she understood he was just stringing her along."

D. L. (1998) summarizes the case for Emily's insanity:

This short story begins introducing Miss Emily as "a tradition, a duty and a care" for the town. Because she was not paying taxes this also set the background that she was under the impression the town owed her not the other way around. The Grierson family had problems with mental disorder, and Miss Emily must have been at the top of the list. 

Faulkner makes clear the oddness in her character throughout the story. First, in her reaction to the aldermen that came to ask her to pay the taxes, she spoke very little, only saying, "I have no taxes in Jefferson." Then at her father's death not allowing him to be buried, not accepting that he was truly dead. Her becoming a hermit and not associating with the people of the town created a mystery for the townspeople, who did not truly know what she was doing behind the closed door.

Then again when she went to the drug store and asked for arsenic. Her reaction to the druggist's request for her to give a reason for this purchase was simple--a blank stare with no response to his question. He became so distraught over her reaction that he made someone else give her the poison. Her label of insane came from these narrations of her character. The final example is the way she left her boyfriend locked away in the room he died in, decorated as for a bridal. The cause of death was not clear. Only the manner he was found in pointed to her insanity once again--arms "in the attitude of an embrace" with her "iron-gray" hair on the pillow beside the corpse.

Jean (1999; JSRCC) sees the insanity as emblematic of all that was wrong with the post-Reconstruction South: 

Emily was definitely sick, however what her character represents is the real statement that is being made by the story. A Rose for Emily is a parable about the atmosphere and attitudes that culminated in the south after the civil war. There was a sick mentality that prevailed during that timeframe. Emily's unhealthy perspective on life and relationships was a metaphoric device. It spoke of the civil sickness of the south which went essentially ignored, much in the way Jefferson ignored the obvious dementia of Emily. While Jefferson was ignoring the obvious they were, at the same time, focusing on Emily as the last living representative of the august Grierson name. The story was designed to magnify the absurdity of the old traditions of the south that held people up to disgrace by reason of whom they associated with, the color of their skin, their geographical birth place, or their station/social status in life. "Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town," This first line of the story makes a statement for the metaphoric premise of Emily's character as a symbol of "tradition". The sentiments of these old traditions were base and inhuman. Homer Barron was a symbol of these aspects. His character was course and unrefined and his irreverence toward humanity is exemplified when he is described as "cussing at his niggers". Isn't it odd that when you look up the meaning of the word barren (which sounds a lot like Barron) you find that it means "devoid of life." It also means; unfruitful, useless, Homer seemed to fit these descriptions but most clearly, in the end he certainly was devoid of life. The progeny the south was continuing to support (slavery, class-consciousness, social stratification, etc) were dead issues. Jefferson held onto their corpse even after the battle was lost. Emily knew that Homer was a lost cause as far as marrying her when he was alive - so she married the cadaver. This spoke to the fact that the south continued to cling to old thoughts and traditions after they had become dead issues. At Emily's funeral the old men wore the vestiges of their lost causes: "and the very old men -some in their brushed Confederate uniforms."