One of the most appealing aspects of William Faulkner’s short story A Rose for Emily is that the readers’ exposure to the main character of Emily Grierson provides them with a better understanding of what accounts for the effects of socially oppressive circumstances onto the process of an individual becoming mentally insane.
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This is because it was namely the fact that, ever since her early years Emily was indoctrinated to believe that she had no other option but to live up to the expectations of her traditionally minded relatives and neighbors, which caused her to murder Homer Barron in the end. Let us elaborate on this suggestion at length.
As it appears from the story, throughout the course of her young years, Emily did not exhibit even a single sign of being predisposed to act in a socially withdrawn manner. At that point of her life, she was nothing but a pretty girl who strived to attain happiness by marrying a man she could love. In fact, Emily’s father also wanted her to do this.
However, being the representative of a Southern aristocracy, he never ceased insisting that his daughter may only marry a ‘worthy’ man. In its turn, this prevented Emily from being able to find a husband, while her father was still alive. Nevertheless, being the product of an elitist upbringing, Emily was having a particularly hard time while coping with the fact that, after having turned thirty, she ceased being desired by men, as a potential fiancée.
This is exactly the reason why, after her father’s death, Emily choose in favor of leading a socially alienated lifestyle, while going as far as making a deliberate point in not even stepping out of her house. Apparently, such Emily’s decision reflected the fact that, because of her failure to get married, she never ceased experiencing an acute sensation of guilt for not being able to lead a life she prepared herself for.
Therefore, it is fully explainable why, after having met Homer, Emily decided to marry him, despite the fact that she did not truly love him and despite the fact that Homer was not taking much interest in marrying her either. Yet, it was only the matter of time before it would eventually dawn on Emily that her expectations, in this respect, were vain.
The realization of this fact proved little more than Emily could take. After all, just as it happened to be the case in all highly religious/traditional societies, single women that spend time with single men, without entering into a marital relationship with them, are being commonly regarded ‘unworthy’ and ‘morally wicked’.
This was exactly the reason why Emily decided to poison Homer – she simply could not let him go, as it would result in the remains of her elitist sense of self-worth being thoroughly destroyed. Such a strong was Emily’s desire to live up to the socially constructed and religion-based dogmas of public morality that, after having murdered Homer, she continued to sleep with his corpse for years. By doing it, she strived to reaffirm her worthiness as a potential wife.
Thus, the character of Emily Grierson can be well discussed as a victim of social circumstances, which triggered the process of her becoming ever more insane and which brought about Emily’s ultimate demise. Therefore, even though Emily did commit murder, the story of her life suggests that she cannot be held responsible for what she had done. Instead, the blame must be placed upon a moralistically oppressive society, in which Emily had the misfortune to be born to this world.