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A Psychological Perspective Of Emily Grierson

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1919 words Published: 11th May 2017

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Psychological criticism attempts to analyze suppressed fears and desires within the unconscious of the author, characters, or readers of a chosen text. Freud’s theories of the divided selves of the psyche is generally applies in nature, as examining motivations and fears. Within the workings of the unconscious, Freud examines three separate dimensions: id, ego, and superego. The id is unconscious realm in which primitive instincts and desires are stored. The ego is the conscious realm where desires are harness, function of the ego to control the impulses of the unconscious and the essence of personality. Finally, the superego is the last dimension of the psyche to develop, and this realm is what houses the behaviors defined by social norms and functions; thus, the superego is the lawmaker within the mind. The psychological perspective of Emily Grierson relies within the driving motivations of the character, which is develop, nurtured from a young age, and relies heavily on issues of gender. Many of Freud’s writings investigate the nature of sex, and often involve a discussion of human genitalia and sexual gratification (Sagan 4). Within the development of young girls, Freud discusses a phenomenon known as the Electra complex, which is the feminine counterpart to his theory of the oedipal complex. In the early phases of physical development, a young girl will turn away from the affections of her mother as result of her “penis envy” towards her father (Freud 253). With jealous intentions, the girl wishes to possess a penis of her own, an object that her mother has apparently failed to furnish. Ultimately, the “young female will engender sexual and sexual driven desires towards her father, wishing to possess a penis of her own” (Marcks 2).

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In relation to “A Rose for Emily,” questioning Emily’s motivation for murder is necessary, because such motivation may ultimately lie within the realm of her dominant id. Emily’s childlike needs to possess a man, might exist as result of her own appeal with her father, who is a clearly forceful entity within her life. Freudian analysis of both sexual symbolism and the nature of Emily’s behavior will certainly point to the Electra complex. Due to the order of events, while being transmitted from narrator to reader, Emily’s superego is first present, while the narrator expresses ideas of tradition and the need to uphold the sentiments of the community. At seventy-four years old, Emily has carried a long history of her alienating involvement with the people of Jefferson County. Her father had attained a high social position, and Emily maintained her dominant stature as a woman of wealth, even in the face of fallen status: “[s]he carried her head high enough-even when [the townspeople] believed she was fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson” (Faulkner 93). In other words, Emily’s attempt to maintain dignity and an air of respect resides in the function of the superego, while she developed sense of rules and the appropriate behavior in society. However, her actions certainly defy the basis of moral action, and psychologists might argue that Emily is capable of serious repression.

A possible, but likely flawed explanation for Emily’s murder of Homer Barron as discovered within the realm of her superego. According to the narrator, Emily’s affair with Homer is no less than a complete scandal: “[b]ut there [was] still others, who said that even grief could not cause a real lady to forget noblesse oblige-without calling it noblesse oblige” (Faulkner 93). When Emily fails to marry Homer, as society hoped, the town people became a little disappointed, because the town had “learned that Miss Emily had been to the jeweler’s and ordered a man’s toilet set in silver, with the letters H.B. on each piece. Two days later [the townspeople] learned that she had bought a complete outfit of men’s clothing, including a nightshirt,” and therefore, the people thought that they were “married” (Faulkner 94). Furthermore, after Emily bought the rat poison, the townspeople figured that “[s]he will kill herself” and [they] said it would be the best thing (Faulkner 94). Perhaps, Emily’s superego is such a powerful force within her psyche, that she is compelled to kill Homer as a means to end rumors and suspicions. In the end, she is able to posses him physically, but also to put an end to the whispering. Nevertheless, selfish desire to maintain the companionship of a suitor drives Emily’s actions, as the fault lies within the ego’s inability to control the impulses of the terrible and reigning id. Throughout the story, the narrator provides clues that point to the pressing decline of Emily’s mental and physical state. For instance, when her father dies, Emily is unable to relinquish his corpse after his expiration: “Miss Emily met [the town women] at the door, dressed as usual with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead” (Faulkner 93). Her inability to accept her father’s passing is a direct result of her isolation from the community and her father’s possessive attitude towards his daughter. By definition, isolation is, “understanding something that should be upsetting, but failing to react to it” (Marcks 1). Clearly, her relationship with her father has made a substantial impact on her psyche, and the impulses of her id to possess him wholly contribute to her dementia. Freud describes the Electra complex as a female in a state of jealousy, who will attempt to control a penis that she does not have physically due to the nature of her gender. In an advanced psychotic, Emily has been unable to transcend this developmental barrier, and in a mental state controlled by the impulses from her aggressive id, she kills Homer as a means to possess a penis of her own. After her father’s body forcibly disconnected from the home, Emily left alone. In her desperation, she is successful in killing Homer without suspicion, and is thus able to keep him with her free from fear of abandonment. In other words, her strange attachment to her father has compelled her to seek other means for control of the masculine sex. Her id has taken such fierce control of her being that she is able to redirect all feelings of guilt and remorse, by denying impulse from either ego or superego.

The issue of gender throughout the text also points to Emily’s id-driven desire to attain masculine status. Freudian images of sexuality are present, as his psychological analysis relies heavily on latent “symbols of sexual symbolism and genitalia” (Freud 235). One image of the penis is notable in Faulkner’s description of Emily’s father, a dominant male archetype: “her father a [straddles] silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip” (Faulkner 92). Freudian criticism says that the horsewhip is the image of the penis, as Emily’s father grips it to scare any of Emily’s potential suitors from entrance of the house. The sexual imagery is also present in the description of Homer Barron, “with his hat cocked and a cigar in his teeth, reins, and whip in a yellow glove” (Faulkner 93). He also flaunts his masculinity by means of sexual idolatry. Thus, by killing Homer and holding on to his remains, Emily is able to posses and controls the masculine gender.

Emily has an unbridled need to control others, and in her delusional mind, she assumes the masculine role. Faulkner adds to her physical description that her hair was, “rigorous iron gray, like the hair of an active man” (Faulkner 96). In the end, Emily is completely assumes primarily male characteristics. In addition, her declining physical state described as “bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water and of a pallid hue” (Faulkner 91). Obviously, her id has taken a strong hold over her remaining divided selves. To set eyes upon her, one would immediately get the feeling that Emily was not right in the head.

“The ego is housed by the preconscious and thinks rationally because it has the task of self preservation, and controls over instincts”; as time progresses, clear that Emily has little power to control her instincts (Marcks 2). The ego drives Emily throughout everyday social transactions, but ultimately this character driven by her id. Although she is certainly motivated towards self-preservation, murder is an act that originates from the fulfillment of primitive instincts. To live forty years after committing such a deed demands a psychological survival technique known as displacement, which is define as “[s]hifting an emotion from its real target to another one. Usually, a threatening, powerful target is exchanged for a safer one” (Marcks 1). To live with her gruesome deed, Emily’s ego must displace feelings of shame and remorse for feelings of belonging and togetherness. As evidence points out, Emily has been sleeping with the corpse of Homer long after her has expired. Emily does not accept the fact that he is festering corpse because her ego alone operates as a function of self-preservation. In all other circumstances Emily’s id steers her very being away from reality, while she must have ignored the smells of Homer’s rotting corpse, therefore Emily is certainly crazy.

“A Rose for Emily” is an intriguing story when observed from a psychological perspective. Naturally, while reading about the tragic circumstances in the life of an insane

character, impossible to develop empathy on behalf of Emily’s suffering. She is simply

too insane to recognize the tragedy within her own life. Gender issues continually arise throughout the story, and clearly, Emily has a strong need to possess a man. The only character that connects with her on a regular basis is Tobe, who also held within her grip, as he

stays faithfully by her side until her death. In the end, narrator/community is unable or unwilling to act on her behalf. Instead, she is a living freak show: something to be mock and observe with titillating curiosity. Faulkner is skillful in his use of both symbolism and plot in order to unfold the strange life of Emily Grierson. Like a skilled horror novelist, Faulkner leaves the audience shocked and a little repulse while the townspeople ascend the stairs, break down the door of the infamous wedding chamber to witness the ghastly scene:

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The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him. What was left of him, rotted beneath what was left of the nightshirt, had become inextricable from the bed in which he lay; and upon him and upon the pillow beside him lay that even coating of the patient and biding dust.

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, [the townspeople] saw a long strand of iron-gray hair. (Faulkner 96)


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