In “A Rose for Emily,” William Faulkner explores what encourages and what happens due to insanity. Emily Grierson’s life is narrated through, we can assume, a member of the community to which she belonged— “belonged“ is used because she is already deceased at the beginning of the short story. Faulkner avoids telling the story chronologically and instead tells us about Emily’s past in a way similar to the way the human mind works—a series of memories all jumbled up.
Emily, we find out, lived a life under an overly controlling father—she practically had no social life to speak of. Her father was basically the only person in her life so it is not surprising—although shocking—that she clings to him even after he dies. Upon his death, she goes out in the town and defies the set rules of society by seeing a man under her status. Fraternizing with this man, Homer Barron, may have had a positive impact on her life; however, Homer is “not a marrying man” (29), which turns out to be absolutely devastating for Emily. Emily, we can conclude from her father’s death, does not deal well with strife.
The heartbreak is too much for her and causes her madness to lash out. Emily’s yearning for someone to love combined with her insanity leads her to commit deeds that a sane person would never do such as killing a man, leaving the decaying body in her house, lying next to the corpse, and perhaps even committing acts of necrophilia. Looking at Emily’s story, it is quite frightening to think of the extent of damage that madness can compel people to inflict. It is very probable that Emily did not realize how horrific her actions were. Truth to tell William Faulkner’s “ A Rose for Emily” is an incredibly fascinating story about a woman who practiced necrophilia. The story is about a woman who poison's her boyfriend and keeps his body in a bed in her upstairs room for decades. No one ever exits or enters her old house except for her negro manservant.
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And what is necrophilia, exactly and how do we prove by using the text of “ A Rose for Emily” that indeed, Emily Grierson was a necrophiliac? Necrophilia for Mirriam-Webster would mean, “obsession with an usually erotic interest in corpses or erotic interest in the stimulation by corpses”. Medical dictionaries would define “necrophilism” to be , “1. A morbid fondness for being in the presence of dead bodies, and 2. The impulse to have sexual contact, or the act of such contact, with a dead body, usually of males with female corpses.”
Necrophilia can best be described as sexual arousal stimulated by a dead body. The stimulation can be either in the form of fantasies or actual physical sexual contact with the corpse. Legends with necrophilic themes are common throughout history and the concept of sexual interference with the dead has been known and abhorred since the ancient Egyptians, as noted by Herodotus:
"When the wife of a distinguished man dies, or any woman who happens to be beautiful or well known, her body is not given to the embalmers immediately, but only after the lapse of three or four days. This is a precautionary measure to prevent the embalmers from violating her corpse, a thing which is actually said to have happened in the case of a woman who had just died."
The symptoms of necrophilia are as follows: necrophilia are the presence, over a period of at least six months, of recurrent and intense urges and sexually arousing fantasies involving corpses which are either acted upon or have been markedly distressing. And the manifestations are said to be characterized by the following data. There is a broad spectrum of necrophilic behaviors, ranging from fantasies alone to murder for the sake of procuring a dead body. Faulkner’s Emily did commit murder in order to have a dead man’s body to sleep beside with, “ I want arsenic,” (28) Emily tells the druggist in Faulkner’s story. That she is about to commit murder is only implied, and the truth is seen towards the end of the narrative.
Experts have subcategorized the paraphilia according to where it falls on that spectrum. "Necrophilic fantasies" of corpses, never acted upon, still fall within the scope of necrophilia and some authors have categorized this as a "neurotic equivalent" to necrophilia. “ 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-gray hair.” (31) In this quote, the readers can deduce that, at the very least, Emily had lain beside the dead body of Homer Barron.
"Pseudonecrophilia" describes isolated incidents where the sexual contact with the corpse may happen without pre-existing fantasies or desire to have sexual contact with the body. Even in its truest form, necrophilia can be quite varied, ranging from simply being in the presence of a corpse to kissing, fondling or performing sexual intercourse or cunnilingus on the body. The presence of other paraphilias or personality disorders, however, can manifest in more grotesque or sadistic elements such as mutilation of the corpse, drinking the blood or urine, or homicide ("necrophilic homicide" or "necrosadism").
The latter is the most disturbing end of the spectrum. Although assumed rare, many have argued that necrophilia may be more prevalent than statistics imply, given that the act would be carried out in secret with a victim unable to complain and given the length of time which the paraphilia has been recognized. But if Emily had used arsenic to poison and murder Homer, then she could not have been capable of performing an act of necrophilic homicide, for, how many times can you poison an already deceased and poisoned man?
Although the act of murder itself may generate the subsequent sexual frenzy, research has determined an alarming rate of homicide in order to obtain a body for subsequent sexual violation. Rosman and Resnick int their study, “Necrophilia: An analysis of 122 cases involving necrophilic acts and fantasies” found that 42% of their study sample of necrophiles had murdered in order to obtain a body.
Researchers have determined, however, that sadism itself is not usually an intrinsic characteristic of true necrophilia. (74) In all cases, there is undoubtedly sexual preference for a corpse rather than a living woman. And this is what makes William Faulkner’s Emily, unique. In the plot is a reversal of the symptoms manifest that is “usual” in the cases of necrophilia. Emily, is a woman, who preferred the company and sexual “comfort” of a dead man.
When no other act of cruelty - cutting into pieces etc., - is practiced on the corpse, it is probable that the lifeless condition itself, forms the stimulus for the perverse individual. Homer Barron, as implied in the story, was maybe going to flee Emily, hence she resorted to murder by poison, “ When she had first begun to be seen with Homer Barron, we had said, “ She will marry him.” Then we said, “ She will persuade him yet,” 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. (29)
Kraft-Ebing states in his, “Psychopathia sexualis” It is possible that the corpse - a human form absolutely without will - satisfies an abnormal desire, in that the object of desire is seen to be capable of absolute subjugation, without possibility of resistance (89).
What happened after the incident of the poisoning can only be guessed at, but in this telling of the life of Emily Grierson there is proof, that Emily as able to “persuade” –“ her” Homer Barron, only that he was not someone hard to persuade, he was already dead, after all, “ The violence of breaking down the door seemed to fill this room with pervading dust.
A thin, acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere upon this room decked and furnished as for a bridal: upon the valance curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose-shaded lights, upon the dressing table, upon the delicate array of crystal and the man’s toilet things backed with tarnished silver, silver so tarnished that the monogram was obscured. Among them lay a tie, as if they had just been removed, which, lifted, left upon the surface a pale crescent in the dust.” (30)
Most individuals have been reported to be heterosexual. This was not a sick and twisted scenario meant to be feasted on by literary critics who work with queer gender theory, Emily was not gay, Homer could have been, but, “ Upon a chair hung the suit, carefully folded; beneath it the two mute shoes and the discarded socks. The man himself lay in bed. (30)” --yes, Homer was a man, he was Emily’s man.
As with the other paraphilias, necrophilia often occurs in conjunction with other paraphilias. Again, readers can only make intelligent inferences as to how, just exactly, did the things of Homer( made of silver ) get to become so tarnished, if by air corrosion alone? Could it be that at some point or the other, Emily infused them with fluids from her body, through acts that are too “ horrifying” to speak of in this paper, but you get the picture.
The individual should be assessed for associated psychopathology and treated accordingly. Treatment for necrophilia would be similar to that prescribed for most paraphilias: cognitive therapy, use of sex-drive reducing medications, assistance with improving social and sexual relations, etc. Sadly, Emily could not have been treated, she had chosen to isolation after her crime, “ Now and then, we would see her at a window for a moment, as the men did that night when they sprinkled lime , but for almost six months, she did not appear on the streets. (29) For that time on her front door remained closed, save for a period of six and seven years, when she was about forty, during which she gave lessons in china painting (29).
In conclusions then, there really is enough evidence in the text that Emily Grierson [ of William Faulkner ] had managed to make herself the necrophilic lover of Mr. Homer Barron. And so , the world can only offer, “ a rose” for Emily, for she can no longer answer for her gruesome acts, not that she ever could.
Cole, Isaac, ed. “ The Life and Works of Herodotus.” New Land Press: London, 1990.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama Interactive Edition. Eds. Kennedy, X.J and Gioia Dana. United States: Pearson Longman. 2005. 29 – 36.
Krafft-Ebing, R. von. “ Psychopathia sexualis.”New York: Stein & Day, 1986, (Original work published in 1886)
Rosman, J. & Resnick, P. “Necrophilia: An analysis of 122 cases involving necrophilic acts and fantasies”. Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law,1989.
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