Psychoanalytic Criticism Of Past Relationships In A Rose For Emily

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“A Rose For Emily” is a dramatic story written by William Faulkner and tells about the life of a woman named Emily Grierson. The story talks about all the terrible events that have occured in Emily's life and how it changed her. Her father had complete control over her life and when he died she was uncertain what to do. Eventually she met a man named Homer Barron but after leaving her once, she poisons him. However she kept his body in her bed and slept with it until she died. The story also shows Emily being unable to move on from her aristocratic lifestyle that her and her father were accustomed to throughout their lives. The story “A Rose For Emily” shows a possible negative response a person could have and examining “A Rose For Emily” using psychoanalytic criticism we can see how her past relationships and experiences have affected her negatively.

Emily's entire life can be considered abnormal by most standards. For instance, her father was the only prominent person in her life for the majority of the time. While this and in of itself would be strange, it was the fact that her father was abusive. Throughout all of her life her father had been very controlling. It is because of this she had little to no social experience until much later in life. But in the description of them together the people in the town mention seeing him with a horsewhip and Emily behind him. This could mean that he was also physically abusive as well. It was also believed that because of her aristocratic social status, that the majority of people who lived in the town thought that no one would ever be good enough for her. Then when her father had died, she had no idea what to do. This would have been the first time she would be in control of her life. But with little social skills and the trauma from the death of her father, she was completely lost.

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In the story Emily had displayed several actions and behaviors that can be interpreted as signs of mental illness. One sign showed an extreme case of denial. Denial is one of the most primitive defense mechanisms, it is when someone experiences a traumatic event and their way of coping is to simply act like it never happened. This occurred when she was dealing with the death of her father. The story explains that when people from the town had showed up in order to offer their condolences, she had denied that her father had died. This happened for three days until she finally broke down and let the town bury the body. The people in the town had also rationalized this by saying “we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her.”(Falkner 3) Other signs of regression is that they will not engage in everyday activities or even leave their bed. The townspeople had stated that after the death of her father, she was not seen for six months. Then after her father had passed the then current mayor Colonel Sartoris had created the tale that her father had paid a sum of money to the town and they preferred to pay it back by accepting her house from taxes. However when a new generation of city officials came to her several years later, she insisted that they go talk to Colonel Sartoris but had been dead for ten years. Another defensive mechanism that she displayed is regression. This is where a person's state of mind regreses to an earlier state of development rather than working through new environments in a more adaptive way. An example of this is when the town states that she had cut her hair in a way that had resembled a young girl. Another possible contribution to her illness is genetics. In the story it is stated several times that Emily's great aunt Wyatt had gone completely crazy. With this statement and the actions that her father had taken, this could show a mental illness that runs in the family. This when combined with the events from her life would most certainly cause some type of mental illness. However the most significant action she took was when she had poisoned Homer with arsenic. This occured after Homer had left town for a few days and then was seen returning to her house. It's possible that the event of Homer leaving had triggered the memory of her father leaving her. So when he returned she ensured that he would never leave her again. The most disturbing part of this was that not only did she kill him but she also had kept his corpse in a bed in her house until the day she died. While the extent of their relationship is unknown, the story heavily implies that she was at least sleeping in the same bed as him. This is shown by mentioning several times about her iron grey hair and the fact that there was a head indent with one of those said hairs next to Homer.

The actions that Emily took show the side effects of all the experiences and trauma in her life. For instance when her father died, her reactions indicate that she was unable to cope with her loss and tried to keep her only prominent relationship by being in denial. The way she lived her life after his death also shows that she was so used to the old ways of living that her father had taught her, she was unable to adapt to new situations and change with the times. Eventually she did create another meaningful relationship with Homer. However he did leave for a short while but when he returned he was seen going into her house and then he was said to never be seen in town again. It's likely that after almost losing Homer once that she couldn't accept it happening again. This is most likely the motive behind her killing him, to ensure that he would never leave her again.

Emily's life has no doubt been sad. Her uprising had left several effects on her mental health that had caused her unable to adapt to change and other various negative effects. She was entirely fixated on the past and trying to keep her life the same. She is unable to accept loss and can't properly handle relationships or the changes to her lifestyle. She is showing several signs of defensive mechanisms in response to the trauma that she has encountered in her life and she possibly has a history of mental illness in her family. After her father died and she finally became in control of her life, she spent the rest of it making sure nothing changed again. All of the things that have happened to her have almost certainly affected her.

Works Cited

  1. Faulkner, William. William Faulkner: A Rose for Emily. Merrill, 1970.
  2. Harris, Paul A. “In Search of Dead Time: Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.’” KronoScope, vol. 7, no. 2, Dec. 2007, pp. 169–183. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1163/156852407X249025.
  3. Arensberg, Mary, and Sara E. Schyfter. “Hairoglyphics in Faulkner's ‘A Rose for Emily’/Reading the Primal Trace.” Boundary 2, vol. 15, no. 1/2, 1986, pp. 123–134. JSTOR, Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.
  4. van Stralen, Hans, and A. M. Iken. “The Coveted Monument.” PsyArt, Jan. 2013, p. 4. EBSCOhost,
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Psychoanalytic Criticism Of Past Relationships In A Rose For Emily. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
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