Faulkner And Poe: The Effect Of The Southern Gothic And The Gothic In Literature

The Gothic novel was often criticized because of its sensationalism and melodramatic elements, and its play upon the supernatural. The Gothic novel dominated English literature since 1764 when it was published by Horace Walpole in The Castle of Otranto. This book was then published until 1820. Baldick, xx. “The Gothic genre was influenced by graveyard poets who interwoven a landscape of dark forests with vegetation and monasteries with horrific rooms, monasteries, and a forlorn, melancholy character.” Despite its decline in popularity, the Gothic genre has seen the rise of another subgenre. It shares many of these themes and other disturbing elements. The Southern Gothic is an attempt to uncover the past. If the Gothic can be used to do this, it can also be used to highlight cultural and social issues. Southern Gothic’s conflict is largely about what is valuable and must be preserved, and what is considered normal and superior. In these conflicts, gender and race play a key role. Following is an analysis of a selection of Edgar Allan Poe’s works, which are both profound in Gothic fiction. I also compare the single William Faulkner piece, A Rose for Emily (1940). Faulkner was a direct link to Southern Gothic fiction. His work has had a profound impact on the canon. Because of the striking similarities between his story and the Gothic elements, I chose A Rose for Emily. I also believe that the Gothic theme of unrequited affection leading to madness in a woman adds depth. The way they function in different ways is what I consider to be the implications of the Gothic and Southern Gothic literatures that were prevalent at the time.

Poe’s stories are told in first person. “As tellers and narrators of their own stories, they also use their Gothic models to recount the past through a veil, illness, excitation, or memory. This causes the reader uncertainty about how events will be interpreted” (Silverman 111). Poe’s tales about sensation are filled with unreliable, anxious, and afflicted narrators, such as The Tell-Tale Heart or Ligeia. The past is often reconstructed by narrators who are engulfed in alternate realities of anger and forgetfulness. Yet, they leave the reader with a feeling of uncertainty. A key component of Southern gothic fiction is off-kilter character. These include John Singer, Carson McCullers’ The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, Flannery Ol’Conner’s A Good Man is Hard to Find, and Flannery McCullers’ The Heart is A Lonely Hunter. Faulkner’s descendants are both Faulkner and O’Conner, who was well-known for his quirky and sometimes mentally ill protagonists. This is not the first time Emily has received a Rose for Emily. Unknown first person plurals use a universal pronoun “we” to excavate the madness Emily is experiencing. The insider has a keen eye for details and can see the details on the arsenic label. Emily’s upstairs is also hidden. Emily’s mental illness does not lead to her madness. Instead, the reader is given the power and perspective of the narrator, who gives us a glimpse into her dysfunctional relationship with her dad, which leads to her ruin. Emily’s father kept a strict stance on Emily and her potential suitors. Freudian terminology says that the father prevented Emily from transferring her sexual pleasure to another person, thus increasing her dependence on him. The death of her father was clearly traumatic in her own life. She couldn’t cope with it. (Scherting 399). We didn’t say that she was insane. We believed that she needed to do this. We thought of the young men she had lost, and we knew she would have to live with what was left. Faulkner’s fiction is part of the larger Southern Gothic fiction project, which often addresses the problems of those traditionally excluded from Southern culture. Emily’s story can be told through disapproval or judgment. She held her head up high enough, even when she believed she was falling. It was like she wanted to know her dignity as last Grierson more than ever. Emily’s actions are kept distant by the universal word “we”. We can see them through a veil, but we cannot feel their pain. Emily is described in the book as a “fallen statue” and this applies to her home. Her house was once the focal point of a vibrant street in her village. However, over time businesses and mills have taken over the homes. Now her house is the only one left. Gothic fiction typically deals with decaying buildings. “The Gothic castle or house does not represent an evil and old building. It is also a place of degeneration and even decomposition. The living space becomes darker and more like the death space of the graveyard and the tomb.” Baldick,xx. Emily’s darkened house, covered in dust, indicates that she is having difficulty relating to the outside world and with reality. Emily is almost heroic in her stubborn and lonely denials of time, change, but her archaic abilities doom them to decline as well. As Poe’s Ligeia says, this obsession with the past is also negative. Lady Rowena is kept in prison by a great Gothic stained window window. Gothic and Druidic is now shorthand for a disturbing and bizarre reality. Not the wonderful world we imagined. Soon Emily is gone, and she no longer cares about the society that is progressing around her. “The newer generation became backbone and the spirit in the town, and the paintings pupils grew up ….. After the last person left, the front door was closed and it remained closed until that one came back. Miss Emily refused to have the metal numbers attached to her door by the postal crew, even though she was entitled to free delivery. She was not willing to listen to their advice” (328). Emily’s home and the feeling it conveys is one of the Gothic’s most cherished themes: solitude and remoteness. Emily’s home is far from the rest of the neighborhood, which has been destroyed over time. Emily is lonely, alone with her husband and no friends. She is further isolated by the fact that she is the topic of gossip in town. Our protagonist is isolated in a traditional remote house. Faulkner dealt with Emily’s cultural isolation as a consequence of her spinsterhood. Faulkner also moved away from certain settings and placed this burden on a character. It was a dark implication of the time.

Emily would rather be in prison than her home. She is stubborn and will not let go of her home for more than a decade before she finally dies. The Gothic has a long history of imprisonment. The Pit and Pendulum is about a prisoner who wants to escape. The Tell-Tale Heart dealt with mental imprisonment. Lady Rowena locked herself in a room during Ligeia. Madeline is buried alive in the catacomb, while Emily is held in the house due to her father’s austerity. He beats Emily with a whip and she is too old by the end to marry him. A tale that has a Gothic effect must have both a fearful sense about her past and a claustrophobic sense in space. This creates a feeling of falling into disintegration. A Gothic tale will usually invoke the tyranny in the past, which is a curse on a family, survival of archaic forms depotism or superstition, and that this weights down to the point of making the present hopeless. (Baldick xix). Emily’s father is the tyranny and Emily is the hope for the future. Emily’s physical imprisonment is the end. Emily’s demise is her inability as an independent woman. Her father died well before Emily reached marriage age and she was not allowed to marry. The only thing he left was her house. You can see Emily being held in a home and the idea of her physical confinement as something to contemplate. “The Gothic fiction imprisoning house has been a symbol of patriarchy from its inception, both in its feminist and earlier forms. While our inability of escape our decaying bodies may be the Gothic’s existential fear, it is also historical. This is due to our inability, historically, to find the truth about ourselves. Baldick, Baldick, 12:12. Two other people are also entombed in the home. After her parents’ deaths, Emily preserves the bodies of Homer Barron and her father. Emily preserves her father’s and Homer’s bodies after they die. This speaks to her inability not to be surrounded by men. She tries to imitate the realities of time and reality in both instances. The story concludes with Homer’s corpse, found in her upstairs bedroom after being there for 40 years. “A thin, acrid, and unnatural pall appeared to be laying everywhere in this room, which was decorated and furnished for a bride: upon the valance curtains in a faded rose, upon the lights with rose-shaded bulbs, upon the dressing table, and upon the intricate array of crystal and man’s bathroom items backed with tarnished Silver (Faulkner 330). The last line is about Emily’s “long-stranded iron-gray hair” which she found on Barron’s pillow. Emily was a close friend of Barron’s up to her death. Faulkner makes a more thorough assessment of patriarchal implications. Perhaps at the time when he wrote this story, people were beginning to be more concerned about the unfair way women were treated in society. Although Faulkner might not have had progressive views, his narrative seemed able to sympathize, even parodying, the mental or physical confinement suffered by women of that time. Poe brought out the emotion of mourning to his stories when he addressed the topic of death. This theme is carried over to A Rose For Emily. Emily told her family that her dear father had not died and was unable to grieve. She continued to do this for three days. The ministers and doctors tried to convince her to dispose of her father’s body, but she finally gave up and “broke down.” (Faulkner at 325). Poe’s stories feature reanimations, resurrections, and reiterations that are characters from past lives. Poe’s preoccupation with the essential unity of two individuals or perceived opposites is apparent. The Fall of the House of Usher shows a male twin burying his sister prematurely. She then returns to the tomb to see her brother die. Poe’s fascination with the reanimation of deceased loved ones in different but similar corporeal forms explains part of this. It also provides an insight into Poe’s…perpetual yet persistent desire to be reunited with his loved one after their death” (Hutchisson, 52-53). The theme of reincarnation is discussed in Poe’s three short stories, Ligeia and Morella. In Ligeia, the narrator is grieving the deaths of two women, one of whom he desperately tries to revive. After she dies, he reincarnates as his first wife. Morella tells the story about a dead wife that becomes their child after she is revealed to be his first wife. Poe has a main preoccupation, a persistent questioning about the end of life. Is this the end? Is it possible to lose your identity through death? Death can either be treated as an illusion (Hutchisson), 52. Emily keeps Homer at her bed. Homer has a “fleshless look” and her body is “laid in the posture of an embrace,” which gives the illusion that Homer still exists. We know she murdered him with poison, but she doesn’t want to get married to him. It is possible that Emily’s murder/marriage of her father’s corpse was a result of an unresolved conflict. After her father died, her needs were transferred to Homer Barron who was a male surrogate. Emily’s funeral guests saw the crayon portrait her father in crayon on a tarnished gold easel by the fireplace. It is evident that her father is still as present as ever. Emily’s act is of mourning. It is a form of revival and inability for change. Poe and Faulkner were both concerned about the past, their questions around death, and their inability for change.

It is believed that ruins and relics are preserved in an act of remembrance. Poe derived many of the Gothic traditions used in his stories. The Fall of the House of Usher uses ruins to draw on the Gothic’s strange taste for dramatic, ruined towers or abbeys. The odd exrescences in the landscape told of a fictional past and an imagined history. It also gives the impression of a very fake continuity with the land. A ruin is a symbol of humanity’s vanity and fragility, and of the transience, changeability and inevitability of life. They are like tombstones and allow us to sympathize both with the past that they have witnessed, and to envision our own death …” (Bloom 26). The house of Usher is broken in half and sinks into tarn at the end of the story. This symbolises the harsh reality of the fake continuity that exists today. Poe uses the Gothic method to construct a jeremiad about human ambitions and frailty. Emily is similar to Poe; she hides the bodies from loved ones to continue the fake continuity. Homer Barron was created to be a token of Miss Emily’s affection, like a rose, which is proof that love once thrived. Both symbol and reality are gothically mixed up. He is kept in a rarely used, rose-colored room that can sometimes be opened to let the memories of her love wipe away her loneliness. As an act to remember, we often send flowers to the graves loved ones. Faulkner’s story, which is the title, is a sort to Emily herself, and a reminder of her past, which she tried so hard but no longer holds any physical presence. Emily dies without an heir or a home to pass on her legacy. Even her servant, who stayed with her all her adult life, “walked right though the house and out at the back and was never again seen” (Faulkner, 329). Homer will finally go to sleep. The abandoned home will be demolished to make way for new buildings or mills, like those that her family lived in. While it’s not as dramatic as Usher’s house sinking, the idea is similar: all dwellings which carry the family’s legacy are demolished when the last member dies. Faulkner seems determined to carry on the legacy Poe left behind a century before. History is an illusion. We invented it to make logic out of what we don’t understand. Therefore, it facilitates continuity. Remembrance is fraught with anxiety because it can cause so much worry. It conjures visions about our inconsistency, and we may also die one day.

Poe is undoubtedly the most famous and influential figure in the Gothic sub-genre. Without a mention of Poe’s works, it is almost impossible to talk about the Gothic genre. Poe’s Gothic fiction covers a lot of ground. There are dark interiors and decrepit exteriors, reincarnated love, bodily decay and premature burials. These defining inclusions suggest that Gothic fiction’s most important focus is on the past. Poe was a big fan of this theme. Gothicism provided a setting for Poe’s writings. This included his philosophical speculations about reality and death. William Faulkner used Gothicism in the same manner, but his fundamental obsession was different from Poe: the historical, cultural, and social past that is the source of much of the tension and action in Southern Gothic. Faulkner found the Gothic to be a great tool in expressing his concerns. Faulkner was able to provide a cultural and cultural way of addressing society beyond Poe. We can reassess gender roles and reflect on our personal experiences by adopting a positive attitude toward Emily. This gives us the ability to better understand our society and formulate new opinions. This also gives us the tools and education we need to overcome our past mistakes and unfairness.

Works citées

Baldick, Chris. A collection of Gothic stories from Oxford University Press. The Oxford University Press published a work from the United Kingdom in 1992. Print.

‘Bloom, Clive. Gothic histories: The craving for terror, 1764-present London and New York: Continuum. 2010. Print.

Elizabeth, Carney Kurtz. Faulkner’s poem ‘A Rose for Emily. ‘The Explicator 44, No. 2 (Winter 1987): Page 40.

Print. Faulkner, William. A Rose to Emily. The Oxford Compilation of Gothic Narratives. Oxford University Press published a book about the United Kingdom in 1992. Chapters 13 and 14 focus on the main characters as they travel across the country. The two are on a road trip, exploring different places and meeting interesting people. They encounter a variety of different cultures and lifestyles, which leads to some unexpected experiences. Along the way, they also learn important lessons about friendship, loyalty, and trust. At the end of their journey, they have developed a deeper understanding of themselves and the world around them. Print.

James M. Hutchisson wrote a book about Edgar Allan Poe. The University Press of Mississippi published Mississippi in 2005. Print.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Ligeia. The Selected Writings Of Edgar Allan Poe. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. published a book in New York in 2004. Chapters nine through twelve focus on the period of time between the publication of the novel and the death of the protagonist. In chapter nine, the narrator is reflecting on the success of the novel, which has sold well and has been well-received. He takes a trip to Paris, where he is well-known and popular. However, he soon returns to his small town, where he finds himself isolated and lonely.

Chapter ten follows the narrator’s increasing depression and alienation from his small community. He begins to feel like an outcast and is struggling to find his place in the world. He is no longer able to enjoy the same activities he once did, and his life has lost its meaning.

In chapter eleven, the narrator’s depression deepens. He despairs over his failure to find a place in society, and begins to feel like a burden on those around him. He is unable to find joy in anything and is becoming increasingly isolated.

In the final chapter, the narrator’s death is announced. He is remembered fondly by those who knew him, and the novel is praised as a work of genius. The narrator is remembered as a talented writer who never found the recognition he deserved in life, but whose legacy lives on in his book. Print.

Scherting, Jack. Emily Grierson’s Oepipus Complex. Meaning, Motivation and Motif in Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” Studies in Short Fiction 17, No. 4, Fall 1980, pages 398-400 Print.

Silverman, Kenneth. Edgar A. Poe: A Mournful, Never-ending Remembrance. HarperCollins published a book in New York in 1991. Print.


  • rosssaunders

    Ross Saunders is an educational blogger and professor, who has written extensively on topics such as education reform, online learning, and assessment. He has also spoken on the topic at various conferences and universities.

rosssaunders Written by:

Ross Saunders is an educational blogger and professor, who has written extensively on topics such as education reform, online learning, and assessment. He has also spoken on the topic at various conferences and universities.

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