It was almost exactly 80 years ago that this story was published, on April 30th, 1931. It was actually a story I was supposed to read last week as part of my short story reading project (I’m a little behind). It’s a story whose reputation precedes it, and I was looking forward to reading my first William Faulkner in years. It left me melancholy and not a little confused.
It’s the story of the pitiable life – and death – of one Emily Grierson, a relic from a time gone by. A scion of a Southern family rich in aristocratic privilege, she seemed to never have had A Life of Her Own. Her treatment by town officials and other citizens was full of deference and laissez faire, perhaps adding to and fixing her future as a recluse and a woman out of time and place.
As a reader, I felt great sympathy for her, and feel the same for those people in society of any time and place like her. Perhaps as an illustration of Faulkner’s mastery, I was able to feel this sympathy in spite of not really knowing that much about her character. Was she crazy? I don’t know. Probably. Was she evil? I don’t know. Possibly. Is it her fault that she was probably crazy and possibly evil? I don’t think so.
A couple “literary coincidences” (borrowing this term from Darlyn at Your Move, Dickens) accompanied my reading of this tale. For one thing, it’s told out of order. It starts with her funeral but then hops around her prior life before finally alighting again after her death. This is remarkable to me, for at the same time, this week I’ve also been rereading Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five whose main character, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck in time” – a phenomenon which perhaps can best be explained by the Tralfamadorians, but essentially means switching to and fro between different moments of one’s lifetime (more on Slaughterhouse Five when I finish my reread).
The other coincidence is my recent reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, which also features a character who never leaves his house and is the inspiration for wild speculation and rumor amongst his fellow citizens. Can you say “Boo Radley?”
I don’t know what else to say about this story without giving away too much of the plot details – or the fate of Homer Barron. So… Just read it yourself! It’s only about eight pages long, and is available for free in many places on the Internet. Here for one.
Also, Faulkner himself once wrote about his intended meaning for the story. You can read his brief “explanation” at: http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/litweb05/workshops/fiction/faulkner5.asp
Have you read any Faulkner? Is this short story representative of his other work? What else of his would you recommend that I read?
Sent from my iPad