Faulkner's A Rose for Emily
From the lack of critical commentary on Homer Barron's sexuality, we might conclude that scholars are ignoring a question often raised and vigorously answered by undergraduates, who can be homophobic or just fascinated with even mild sexual references in literature: Homer Barron, they insist, is homosexual. But now the scholars have spoken, apparently legitimizing the suspicion that "Miss Emily
's beau is gay" (Blythe 49).
To support this contention, Blythe and many students cite as a key piece of evidence the narrator's explanation of why Homer did not marry Emily:
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. (126)
The comment is not, of course, Faulkner
's, nor is it entirely a paraphrase of Homer's original comment, as Blythe suggests it is. The statement is the narrator's, and that part of the sentence most indicting--the part between the dashes--is spoken sugg estively, with a sly wink and a nudge of the elbow, in an attempt to disparage Homer's character. To believe that the narrator here reveals something true about Homer is to become exactly like the narrator and his society of gossipy, nosy neighbors.(n1)
That he and his community are consummate gossips is made clear by his confessions of having "learned" information and by his ability to relay supposedly accurate details about events he did not witness. He describes in exquisite detail, for example, th e visit of the deputation sent to collect Miss Emily's taxes:
[W]hen they sat down, a faint dust rose sluggishly about their thighs, spinning with slow motes in the single sun-ray.... Then they could hear the invisible watch ticking at the end of the gold chain. (120-121)
The reader must wonder how the narrator knows all this, unless he is one of the aldermen, talking about himself in the third person to hide his complicity. But if he is an alderman, how does he know so precisely what took place in the druggist's shop o r in Judge Stevens's office? The narrator may be any one of these people, but he cannot be all of them. He knows so much (if indeed he hasn't fabricated everything) because the details of Emily Grierson's life have been passed to him along a sloppy bucket-brigade of gossip, making him all the more unreliable and all the more suspect as he passes along to us the observations and suspicions of his fellow townspeople. Homer's visit occurred forty years before the narrator writes. Surely memory and imagination have helped to embellish the stories swept forward by curiosity and "affection." Because everything this narrator says is suspect, we are denied the luxury of knowing that Homer Barron is or was anything.
In fact, if Homer is gay and if the narrator knows it, why does he (the narrator) bother to hint around rather than simply come out with it? He cannot say because he does not know and because he wants the reader to join "us"--"our whole town," "the ris ing generation," with its garages and its paved roads and its noses in everyone else's business. At the moment that he chooses to hint at Homer's sexual preference, the narrator is so intoxicated with gossip and so comfortable under the protection of cons ensus that he begins to blabber.
So the next day we all said, "She will kill herself"; and we said it would be the best thing. When she had first begun to be seen with Homer Barron, we had said, "She will maw him." Then we said, "She will persuade him yet," because Homer himself had r emarked . . . that he was not the marrying kind. (126)
There is certainly nothing wrong in Homer's hesitancy to marry, and, on its own, that comment would give us no indication of Homer's sexual preference. It is in the interpolation ("He liked men") that the narrator tries to trap us into participating in the communal speculation that had begun in the early part of the previous century and that will continue into the next. The narrator wants us to agree with easy self-assuredness that Emily will, fortunately, kill herself or that Homer is ga y. Once we even consider the possibility, the narrator has us. The best we can do for ourselves is refuse to be part of it, remaining skeptical even to the point of disbelief.
"A Rose for Emily
" is about, among many other things, gossip, and Faulkner, through his narrator, tricks us into implicating ourselves as we gossip about his characters in a way that we usually reserve for neighbors--failing to truly understand them, revealing only our own phobias and fascinations. The narrator's comments are vitally important, but whether or not Homer is homosexual is, finally, unimportant, even if--and, perhaps, especially if--we all agree that he is. Perh aps we should approach "A Rose for Emily" by refusing to discuss the characters of Emily or Homer or Tobe, ignoring all temptation to discuss Oedipal complexes, sexual preferences, and scandal, and by leaving thes e characters alone--all of them except, of course, the narrator.
(n1.) Although there is no indication that the narrator is male, I have used the masculine pronoun simply to avoid more awkward constructions.
Blythe, Hal. "Faulkner's `A Rose for Emily.'" Explicator 47.2 (1989): 49-50.
Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily." Collected Stories of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1950. 119-130.
By JAMES M. WALLACE, King's College, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
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Source: Explicator, Winter92, Vol. 50 Issue 2, p105, 3p.
Item Number: 9208101832