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The Influences Of William Faulkners Life English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1765 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“A Rose for Emily”, first published in 1930, has been a reader’s favorite of William Faulkner’s works. The events, accusations, and hardships happening in Faulkner’s life at the time he wrote the story may have greatly affected the writing of “A Rose for Emily”. Faulkner’s questioned homosexuality, shyness, and marital problems, all influenced the story’s setting, plot, and characters.

“‘A Rose for Emily’, which appeared in the April issue of Forum, was Faulkner’s first publication in a national magazine” (Oates 92). According to Stephen B. Oates, he sent a large quantity of short stories to multiple high-paying magazines (92). These are some of the same magazines that had previously rejected his earlier works (Oates 92). But now, with a growing reputation and four published novels, the magazines gladly published more than one of his stories and paid him more than he had ever received for any of his novels (Oates 92). “A Rose for Emily”, like the majority of Faulkner’s novels and stories, is set in a fictional Mississippi county Faulkner called Yoknapatawpha County. It is modeled after the areas of Mississippi he grew up in (Fargnoli, Golay 256).

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At the peak of his career, Faulkner was dealing with the questioning of his homosexuality. Jay Parini, author of One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner, claims, “It is not outlandish to suppose that Faulkner had homosexual feelings at this time. His feline manner was observed by his classmates, and biographers have noted his attraction to ‘boyish’ women with slender hips and small breasts” (31). Rumors such as these would be hard on anyone’s reputation, but being in the public eye only magnifies the dramatic elements of life. Faulkner married his wife, Estelle Oldham Franklin, in 1929. By this time, his homoerotic feelings were safely repressed (Parini 31). Parini observed, “Faulkner was clearly at ease with homosexual men. I suspect that he identified with homosexuals as outsiders and considered himself- as an artist- an outsider as well”. Parini also said on the subject, “My own sense is that Faulkner entertained a wide range of selves, allowing himself to experience the homoerotic feelings that are commonplace in adolescent boys long after they would normally have subsided” (31).

Faulkner is known to model his characters after people he knew. One of the most questionable characters in “A Rose for Emily” is Homer Barron. Since the publication of the short story, many questions have arisen. Is Homer homosexual? Why is Homer, a popular and well-known figurehead, interested in the introverted spinster Miss Emily? Were they lovers? Were they going to be married? Why did she kill him? Faulkner is possibly the only one capable of answering these questions. Faulkner, himself, wrote in “A Rose for Emily”, “…because Homer himself had remarked- he liked men, and it was known that he drank with the younger men in the Elks’ club- that he was not a marrying man” (Faulkner 92). This one simple statement has created much controversy. Faulkner did not necessarily mean Homer was homosexual. Men often like the presence of other men. Homer enjoyed going for drinks with his male friends- something that, in this time, was frowned upon once married. The questions leave the reader confused and wondering. The answer to the most debatable- Homer’s sexual orientation- could in turn make the answers to the others come easier.

Faulkner was the kind of man to often isolate himself from society. “His social life was hit or miss” (Fargnoli, Golay 71). He did not enjoy school and he enjoyed learning in many other ways such as observing, experimenting, experiencing, and storing up material his imagination would one day transform. “He took a keen interest in people and their habits and stories” (Oates 12). He was much happier to sit in the background and watch than to take part in the activities or festivities. Withdrawal was his only strategy, even in his teenage years. He, like many teenagers, rebelled against his parents. Stephen B. Oates, author of William Faulkner: The Man and the Artist, said, “Yet his rebellion made him even more withdrawn, more unhappy. He did not feel right with himself. He retreated behind a wall of silence, surrendering monosyllabic responses in a soft, quick, high-pitched voice, which was still that way after it changed. Even his laughter was silent” (14). Even today shyness, quietness, and concentration are often interpreted by others as unfriendliness, excessively prideful, and superiority. William Faulkner was, of course, no exception. “…citizens of Oxford remarked that he would pass them on the street and seem not even to see them. This was taken for rudeness and arrogance, which may have been partially the case, although it seems more likely that Faulkner was simply shy- a predominant trait of his adult personality, which he often compensated for by acting brusque or dismissive. He was aloof by nature, as his fellow students at Oxford noticed” (Parini 49).

The isolation of Miss Emily Grierson may have been in direct relation with Faulkner’s personality. Faulkner may have tried to make a character similar, but more drastic than himself, out of Miss Emily. Miss Emily isolated herself severely both physically and emotionally. She spoke to no one, accepted no visitors, refused to go out, and took no calls. “After her father’s death she went out very little; and after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all” (Faulkner 90). Now, through scientific studies, it is common knowledge that isolation is very unhealthy for humans. Miss Emily’s front door remained closed and the only one allowed in the house was Tobe, a servant. The criticisms Faulkner faced were also dropped upon Miss Emily. She confused the citizens of her town of Jefferson. They saw her, as Faulkner himself says, as a “tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation…” (90). They interpreted her isolation and seclusion as smugness and superiority. They were curious about her. Some women even attended the funeral just to see the inside of the house that no one, other than Tobe, had seen in ten years (Faulkner 89). Miss Emily was an enigma of Jefferson, Mississippi in “A Rose for Emily” as well as William Faulkner was an enigmatic celebrity in the public eye.

In 1929, William Cuthbert Faulkner married his childhood sweetheart Lida Estelle Oldham (Faulkner) on June 20 (Warren 304). They had been best friends as young children and she pressured Faulkner to marry her after divorcing her first husband (Fargnoli, Golay 66). According to Nicholas Fargnoli and Michael Golay, authors of William Faulkner A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Works, “The marriage seems to have been a failure from the start. Estelle was voluble, Faulkner silent; she was shallow, he was utterly committed to his art. Estelle liked to party; her husband preferred solitude…” (66). They were both self-destructive alcoholics. Faulkner was simple. His wife, spoiled from her first marriage, was far too extravagant (Fargnoli, Golay 66). The situation was bad from the very start, which is only one year prior to the writing of “A Rose for Emily”.

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Faulkner had many extramarital affairs. He had a succession of affairs with many young women: Meta Carpenter, Joan Williams, and Jean Stein. Estelle offered him a divorce more than one time but he turned her down (Fargnoli, Golay 66). Right before his marriage, though, he was courting a young lady named Helen Baird. “He pursued her vigorously…” and “…made a fool of himself rather obviously and comically” (Parini 77-78). Her parents didn’t approve of him because of his bohemian mannerisms, appearances, and ways (Parini 78). According to Parini, Baird married a man more to her parent’s approval, though to them, no one was ever right for their daughter (94).

The situation of Helen Baird sounds quite similar to Miss Emily’s. Her father kept her out of relationships because no man was well suited for her. “None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such” (Faulkner 91). Faulkner could have easily used this tough rejection as a model for Miss Emily. After all, he met Baird only two years before the publication of “A Rose for Emily”. Faulkner’s troubled marriage would make it seem easy to write a story about a troubled and twisted love. With a personable and social wife, Faulkner was vulnerable to feeling uncomfortable and maybe even betrayed. She dragged him to many parties thus taking him out of his quiet element and his isolated concentration (Fargnoli, Golay 66). When forced to see visitors, Miss Emily’s voice goes “dry and cold”. Her words are strong and to the point, as if to get the conversation over with as soon as possible. Short, firm sentences make it clear that she wants away from the small socialization scene as soon as possible. “I have no taxes in Jefferson… I received a paper, yes” (Faulkner 90). Her tone gives off a similar feel to what could be imagined of Faulkner’s uncomfortable, shy tone.

At the time William Faulkner wrote “A Rose for Emily”, Faulkner was being put in the public eye spotlight. His reputation was at risk as soon as questions were brought up about his sexual orientation. Many had rumored and suspected Faulkner was a homosexual. Readers criticized the character of Homer Barron and suspected he was homosexual too. Faulkner’s childhood not only affected the setting of the story but the shy mannerism he had lived with also flourished through the character of Miss Emily. Faulkner gave Miss Emily many similar characteristics of himself: isolation, seclusion, and social awkwardness. The issues he was facing with love in his marriage could have easily have prompted him to write a twisted love story. His extramarital affairs, especially that with Helen Baird, seem to have a large influence on the treatment of love and courtship within the story. It is not far-fetched to assume Faulkner brought a lot of his personal life into the story “A Rose for Emily”.


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