Isolation And Loneliness In Munch’s Painting The Death Of Marat II And Faulkner’s Short Story A Rose For Emily

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“An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why.” William Faulkner talks about demons in the previous quotation, specifically the demons of an artist. Artist and/or writers are often faced with the biggest demon of all- isolation. Can isolation and loneliness be reflected among artists pieces of work? In both “A Rose for Emily” written by William Faulkner himself, and in “ The Death of Marat II”, painted by Edvard Munch, the audience can pick up on the artists loneliness and unhappiness by the colors and different devices each artist uses. The theme that is presented through these compositions is apparent if one knows the artists background and history. Their personal lives play a major role that reflects in their work. Although Munch’s painting “The Death of Marat II” and Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” are of separate categories, there is a connection between them, isolation and loneliness being the theme among them.

What is isolation exactly? Isolation is “the state of being in a place or situation that is separate from others, the condition of being isolated, or the act of separating something from other things.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). According to Collins Dictionary, another denotation of the word “isolation” could be “a lack of contact between persons, groups, or whole societies; the failure of an individual to maintain contact with others or genuine communication where interaction with others persists”. These definitions play out in both of the artists’ lives, which then translate into their art work.

William Faulkner is the author of “A Rose for Emily”. In his earlier pieces of work, he mainly wrote poetry (William Faulkner Biography). Poetry is often looked at as a form of artwork in itself. Through symbolism, colors, mood, tone, and many more elements, poems are formed. In Faulkner’s, “ A Rose for Emily”, the audience can see a clear picture of what is going on and all the symbolism behind each bit of the story. What really helped Faulkner into creating this great imagery is his actual artistic skills. Both his mother and grandmother were said to be painters, photographers, and diligent readers. They “taught him the beauty of line and color” (William Faulkner Biography). This will play a very important role in his writing.

Faulkner’s relationship with his Grandmother and Mother was said to be stable, unlike his relationship with his father. “His relationship with his father was inconstant, and according to one author, he sought out other ‘father-substitutes’ (Great Authors: William Faulkner). This was one of the relationships that has lead him to create the character for Emily’s father, an admirable man. This wasn’t the only inadequate relationship in Faulkner’s life. Although his relationship with Estelle Oldham was healthy, things didn’t turn out too well. As the two were dating, another man proposed to her, she was forced to accept it by her parent and she left Faulkner. (Great Authors: William Faulkner). At this point, Faulkner started to drink heavily. After a few months, Estelle divorced her first husband and married Faulkner. “But their marriage was far from happy: she tried to kill herself during their honeymoon. Like him, she had an alcohol problem.” (Great Authors: William Faulkner). This caused him to be isolated from everyone. This is what might have fueled him to write “A Rose for Emily”, where the main character, Emily, is assumed to have killed her lover and then went into “hiding”. Almost the same as Estelle did to Faulkner, only in a symbolic way. She killed his will to live and be happy, therefore Faulkner went into isolation.

Faulkner starts out with color imagery/ symbolism to set the mood and tone of the story.

“It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street. But garages and cotton gins had encroached and obliterated even the august names of that neighborhood; only Miss Emily’s house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores.” (William Faulkner)

The white house described is symbolic of Mrs. Emily’s past, when she wasn’t mentally ill. As time passes, and his father dies, it is when the house becomes dull and starts decaying. (Maria Magher). As the story goes on, Faulkner continues to describe the house in a very descriptive way going from the house being vibrant and fresh, with clean, white walls, which symbolizes Emily’s vibrant and fresh youth, and her pureness as the white walls to the house becoming dirty, smelly and foul as Emily is growing older and her spirit more deranged. (Maria Magher) The mood of the short story also becomes very deranged and suspenseful.

The audience can infer from the following sentence that after her father’s death, she went crazy because he was all she ever knew, he would keep her isolated from the world, and when she finally got out, she couldn’t handle it, “We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.” (William Faulkner). Because of her isolation, Emily “descends into madness, not only killing her fiance, but also sleeping with his corpse until her death.” (Maria Magher)

Isolation is directly linked to Emily becoming mentally ill, which then leads her to kill her lover and herself. Studies conducted by scientist have shown that “Loneliness is a common emotion when someone feels alone and when that becomes persistent it causes accelerated aging with multiple health consequences, including conditions that lead to death.” (Gary J. Kennedy).

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Similar to Emily, the artist, Edvard Munch was also deranged, which was caused by isolation and loneliness from a young age.

“He sometimes defended his isolation as necessary to produce his work. At other times, he implied it was needed to maintain his sanity. “The second half of my life has been a battle just to keep myself upright.” (Arthur Lubow)

When he was a child, both his mother and sister died of tuberculosis. He was left with only his father and brother. His father suffered from mental illness and raised his kids with “ the fears of deep seated issues” (Edvard Munch), which refers to a religious context due to the fact that his father was a very religious man. Munch’s style of painting, symbolic and deep, arose from his upbringing and his views on life in general.

“My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness, without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder… My sufferings are part of myself and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”(Edvard Munch)

He hasn’t only had a toxic relationship with his father, but also his “lover”, Tulla Larsen. Their relationship was on and off and wasn’t healthy for either of them. Tulla wanted to marry him, but he didn’t believe in marriage, he hated the idea of it. She wouldn’t give up though, she chased him all around Europe. This only added to his lack in a healthy mental state. This went on until one day when she surprised him at his house and begged him to marry her. He refused and she pulled out a gun and threatened to shoot herself, in an attempt to get the gun away from her, Munch shot off two of his fingers. After this incident, the relationship was over and Tulle married one of his colleges, which only added to to humiliation. (Arthur Lubow) Munch’s paintings consist of “darker facets of human psychology” (Edvard Munch). They are a reflection of what he sees, and his repressed thoughts and emotions. His specific painting “The Death of Marat II” is a direct product of the events that happened with Tulle. Munch played off of the original painting by Jacques-Louis David, which was originally a painting of the death of a famous French leader, Jean-Paul Marat. The scene that Munch painted was changed to showing Marat as his own face, and his hand bleeding in a bathtub, with Tulle, standing there naked looking pale and blurry, reflecting the events that happened with Tulle the day he shot himself. (Edvard Munch)

In most of Munch’s paintings there is much symbolism. But what specifically is symbolism and what is a symbolist painter? “The Symbolist painters believed that art should reflect an emotion or idea rather than represent the natural world in the objective. In painting, Symbolism represents a synthesis of form and feeling, of reality and the artist’s inner subjectivity.” (Edvard Munch)

His painting mainly focused on internal views of objects. Much of Munch’s works illustrated life and death scenes, love and terror, and “the feeling of loneliness”. He represented this in forms of color, line, and shape. “These emotions were depicted by the contrasting lines, the darker colors, blocks of color, somber tones, and a concise and exaggerated form, which depicted the darker side of the art which he was designing” (Edvard Munch).

His use of color in the painting “The Death of Marat II” is almost anti-irrational – “as if Munch is cocking a snook at the power of human reason to make sense of our terrible, howling complexities.” (Michael Glover). The whole painting seems like it is coming at you all at once, with all the vivid colors- the “colors that live a remarkable life of their own after they have been applied”(Edvard Munch). Munch intended for his intense colors, and mysterious meanings behind the paintings to serve as universal symbols of significance. His paintings, although reflecting his own personal experiences, “bear the power to express, and perhaps alleviate, any viewer’s own emotional or psychological condition.” (Justin Wolf). Munch not only used color to depict human psychological emotions, but also used a brush technique to blur or smear the painting to sort of hide what is really going on, and let the audience interpret it their own way. He paints with a wild whirling of brush strokes. This causes an emotional hurricane within the viewer. “Everything comes at us all at once, tipping and lurching, with great vividness and violence.” The marks of the brush are wildly apparent across the painted surface, like some “brutal ritual of scarification.” (Michael Glover)With the combination of the colors, brush strokes, and the overall idea behind the painting Munch seems like he is being haunted – “but the person doing the haunting, and the person who is being haunted, happen to be the very same man whose face he confronts in the mirror every wretched, workday morning.”(Michael Glover).

Both Emily in “A Rose for Emily” and Edvard, the artist of “The Death of Marat II” have had a traumatic experience as children. These traumatic experiences have caused them to go insane. They were both isolated from the world and because of that isolation, they were lonely. This deep loneliness can cause serious mental health problems, according to Dr. Patrick Allen. “Social isolation and loneliness have been associated with major negative health effects in study after study” he says.

There is another similarity in both the painting and the short story, both of these artists decided to make the women the murderers. In most of his work, Faulkner “ focuses almost exclusively on the female effect over a male experience” (Katie Kinkle). This shows that he sees women as the “problem” or “cause” of things that happen with men. Munch is not far off from Faulkner’s views. He was “afflicted with an obsessive fear of femmes fatales that seems excessive, even for that early era of the battle of the sexes.” (Dyneslines). There is clear evidence that both of these men did not view women as equals. They viewed them as “predators” or “the cause” of what men do. “An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why.” He doesn’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why.” (William Faulkner). Both of these artists are driven by the demon of their past. These demons have led them to create their life’s work. Both Munch and Faulkner use symbolic colors, devices, and styles of portraying their thoughts. Although they both have become very successful off of these pieces of art, is the isolation really worth it? Is the loneliness really worth it? Just by looking and reading their work, the audience can tell that they are not happy. The bottom line is, isolation from people such as friends, family, and community, can cause a person to go crazy.

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Isolation And Loneliness In Munch’s Painting The Death Of Marat II And Faulkner’s Short Story A Rose For Emily. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 19, 2024, from
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