Southern Gothic. A Rose for Emily, is a story in which a woman, Emily, is discovered by the townspeople to have a rotting corpse of her lover, Homer Barron, in her bedroom, and OConnors A Good Man is Hard to Find, portrays a southern fa
13 February 2010
Southern gothic style is a style of writing that engages grotesque and ironic events to study the values of the American south and its people (Southern). Two of the best known writers to use this style of writing are William Faulkner and Flannary O’Conner. Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily,” is a story in which a woman, Emily, is discovered by the townspeople to have a rotting corpse of her lover, Homer Barron, in her bedroom, and O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” portrays a southern family’s death at the hands of a heartless murderer, “The Misfit”. Both of these short stories are great examples of southern gothic writing because the authors used grotesque and ironic characters and events to show the readers the unpleasant aspects of Southern culture and its literature. Furthermore, both authors use different symbols and themes throughout their short stories.
The most significant and revealing aspect of southern gothic writing is the use of macabre events. Such occurrences are easily recognized in both stories. In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” which is told thought the views of a southern town and its people, portrays a woman named Emily, who is the last remaining member of her family. The townspeople watch as Emily begins to get stranger and stranger as the years pass. Eventually, when Emily dies alone in her home, the townspeople enter Emily’s home and are shocked to discover the horrible smell and decomposed body of her lover. Before Emily’s death, the townspeople thought that Emily’s lover had left her, but really he was in the upstairs bedroom slowly decomposing after Emily had poisoned him. Faulkner ends the story by showing the reader how gruesome Emily’s actions were when he writes, “ Then we noticed that in the second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gay hair” (215).
Flannary O’Conner’s story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” is equally grisly. In the story, a family is on a trip to Florida when their car loses control and ends up in the ditch. Helpless and stranded, the family notices a car turn towards them. When the car stops and the men get out of the car, the Grandmother notices that the man driving the car is no other than, “The Misfit”, an escaped convict. When “The Misfit” finds out that he has been recognized he tells his two accomplices to take the family members into the woods, out of the sight of the Grandmother, and murder them two at a time. O’Conner ends the story when the Misfit disregards what the Grandmother has to say and shoots her in the chest at point blank range. “She reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times thought the chest” (392). “The Misfit” thought that he was getting attacked by the grandmother and in an effort to defend himself he decides to shoot her.
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Another aspect of southern gothic writing that both authors use is how they portray their characters and how the characters are models of the southern culture. In “A Rose For Emily, Faulkner’s main character, Emily, is a great model or example of the classic southern solitary, aging, lonely, unmarried woman after the Civil War. She lives her entire life in her family’s massive home, alone, served to by a black man who brings her food and other necessities. When Emily finally finds her lover, Homer Barron, she poisons him and prevents him from leaving her since this is the only lover she could find after the war. Furthermore, the reader notices that Emily has lost her whole family and has completely let her appearance and health diminish due to her depression. Faulkner paints a great picture in the readers mind when he writes, “Her skeleton was small and spare; perhaps that was why what would have been merely plumpness in another was obesity in her. She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue. Her eyes, lost in her fatty ridge of her face, looked like two small pieces of coal pressed into a lump of dough as they moved from one face to another while the visitors stated their errand.” (210) On the other hand, John A. Mcdermott makes a great point when he says, “Emily is a woman who just cannot let things go, even decomposing things.” (Mcdermott) It seems as thought Emily needs something or someone to hang on to in order to cope with her loneliness and depression.
The Grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is a great example and model for the aging southern woman. She is narcissistic and full of manners, and keeps reminding the family how disrespectful they are and have no admiration for their elders. She wants to show people that she is a lady and dresses her best for the car ride, so that in “....case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady” (382). Faulkner and O’Conner use different characters, models, and examples in order to show and censure the themes and values of the American south during the 1930’s.
In both of the short stories, the authors use irony which is also an aspect of southern gothic writing. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the Grandmother was the biggest supporter for the family taking the vacation. The Grandmother, on the other hand, did not agree with the families decision to go to Florida, because, “ She wanted to visit some of her connections in east Tennessee and she was seizing at every chance to change Bailey’s mind” (381). She tries to convince the family not to go to Florida by telling them that there is an escaped convict on the loose, “I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did” (381). The irony in this story is when the Grandmother convinces the family to take a detour which leads the family to “The Misfit”. Furthermore, the reader can notice irony when the Grandmother is alone with “The Misfit.” When the Grandmother notices that “The Misfit” is going to kill her she begs for life, saying, “You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! I know you come from nice people!” (388). The irony is that even thought “The Misfit” is from a good family, he is still a convicted murderer. O’Conner uses “The Misfit” to represent how social standards have no representation on the quality or worth of a person. Just because “The Misfit” grew up in a nice, loving, caring family it doesn’t change the fact that he still a bad person and a convicted murderer.
On the other hand, Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” also contains irony in a similar way. Emily is considered to be of great value since her father was an important figure during the war. The social standing of Emily keeps her from having to pay taxes since she comes from a family of an important figure. Furthermore, the irony is shown because Emily grew up in the upper calls of the southern society and commits a horrible crime. Faulkner uses irony to show and criticize the class system that prevailed during the 1930’s.
Additionally, each author has a different symbol and theme for his/her short stories. In Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” the author uses the house as a symbol of depression, mental illness, and death. It is a place of the past, it represents everything that happened after the Civil War. On the other hand, in O’Conner’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, the Grandmother’s hat is a symbol of misguided moral code. It seems as thought the grandmother is being selfish and only cares about herself and her looks because she wants to look like a lady if she is found dead. She does not concern about the family or the children, she only seems to care about herself. The reader notices that once the grandmother is in a car accident, the hat falls apart just like her moral standards. O’Conner does a great job to represent this in her story as she writes, “...her hat still pinned to her head but the broken front brim standing up at a jaunty angle and the violet spray hanging off the side” (387).
In “A Rose for Emily,” the main theme is death. Death is found throughout the story. From the beginning the reader notices death, “When Miss Emily Grierson died, tour whole town went to her funeral:..”. (209) The reader notices that Emily is slowly beginning to die by her appearance and her gray hair. Furthermore, Emily uses poison to kill her lover and keeps his rotting body in her bedroom.
The major theme in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” is religion. The reader notices that the Grandmother uses religion and Jesus as a way to convince “The Misfit” that he is a good man and would not kill a woman like her. “Jesus!” the old lady cried. “You’ve got good blood! I know you wouldn’t shoot a lady! I know you come from nice people! Pray! Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady.” (qtd. in O’Conner 391). “The Misfit” believes that the Grandmother is wrong and that there is no ultimate point in life. O’Conner uses the discussion between “The Misfit” and the Grandmother as a way to examine religion in the south. The grandmother tries to convince “The Misfit” not to kill her by telling him to “Pray”. But he does not agree with the grandmother and doubts Jesus and religion when he says, “He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then its nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can--by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him” (391). “The Misfit” doesn’t believe in Jesus or religion because there is no true evidence to support it when he says, “if I had of been there I would of known and I wouldn’t be like I am now” (392).
William Faulkner and Flannery O’Conner are two of the best know and influential writers who loved to write about the American south and its people. Both authors used southern gothic style of writing in their short stories “A Rose for Emily”, and “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. Furthermore, both authors criticized and examined the society and its morals in the south. Each author used similar grotesque events, irony, and characters to portray and depict macabre. While William Faulkner’s story depicted death, O’Conner’s story examined religion. “A Rose for Emily”, and “A Good Man is Hard to Find”, depicted great examples of the American society during and after the Civil War.
Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily." Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2010. 209-215. Print.
McDermott, John A.. "“Do You Love Mother, Norman?”: Faulkner's “A Rose for Emily” and Metalious's “Peyton Place” as Sources for Robert Bloch's “Psycho”." Journal of Popular Culture 40.3 (2007): 454-67. OmniFile Full Text Mega. Web. 13 Oct. 2010.
O'Connor, Flannery. “A Good Man is Hard to Find”. Literature: Reading, Reacting, Writing. Ed Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell. 7th ed. Boston: Wadsworth, 2010. 381-392. Print.
"Southern gothic." Encyclopedia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 13 Oct. 2010 <>.