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In William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily”, the use of gothic elements help to set the proper atmosphere needed to convince the reader that the story is possible. With the gothic writing style, the writer captures the decay of society, life, and love in the post Civil War South, and the horrors that human beings are capable of committing against themselves and one another. The mystery of the story is set off perfectly by the style in which it is written. In any other writing style it would not be believable that the crimes of Emily would be unknown. It would just be a story about a crazy woman who kills her lover. But within the gothic genre the gruesome details of such crimes are wholly believable and the crime itself seems justifiable if not romantic. In any other genre this crime and the actions carried out after it would be nothing less than horrifying.


The atmosphere of the story is presented to the reader within the second paragraph. “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.” (p. 75 line ) The words used for the description of a dilapidated house alone are enough to bring the imagination into play, visions of rambling houses once beautiful and proud falling into irreversible disrepair among the streets of such cities as New Orleans, draw the reader into the story from the beginning and set the mood. The language even spreads to such a seemingly small matter of Emily’s handwriting, “paper of an archaic shape, in a thin, flowing calligraphy in faded ink,” (p. 75 line 0). Such descriptive language is typical of gothic literature and sets the atmosphere of the idea in stone.


The plot of the story is enhanced and forwarded by the atmosphere. If the atmosphere were of any other type, the plot would not be believable. If the atmosphere was not gothic, the reader would be able to deduce that Emily had killed Homer as soon as she bought the arsenic. This would have completely ruined the surprise ending that is completely vital to the plot. In gothic literature the reader is sucked into a story, completely open to believing anything. Atmosphere is needed for a plot, but plot is not needed for atmosphere.


The atmosphere of the story is heightened by the sense of mystery surrounding Emily and her house. No one knows why Emily will not leave her house, and why only her servant goes in and out. This riddle makes you wonder what is going on inside the house, it makes the reader yearn to know what is in Emily’s world. The air of mystery continues with the smell. (p. 76 & 77) No one really knows what the smell is, and the narrative tells the reader only what the townsfolk know. It is only at the very end of the story that the reader realizes just what the smell is from. These elements build the atmosphere of intrigue and horror.


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Love, death and decay are what gothic literature center around. These essential elements build the atmosphere to a fever pitch towards the end of the story. When Emily finally dies, the house is opened. Emily had been in love with Homer, but he was going to desert her. Instead of allowing him to walk out on her, when she was so far above his station in society, she kills him. She knew he was her last chance and she was lonely. When the revelation of his death and her, for lack of a better word, necrophiliac tendencies the reader is shocked and disgusted along with the rest of the town. The atmosphere of the entire story builds up to this point and explodes like a bomb in the readers face.


Without the use of the gothic style “A Rose for Emily” would not have been nearly as suspenseful or enjoyable. The proper atmosphere is essential to a good story, and to have that atmosphere it has to be written in the appropriate style. “A Rose for Emily” evokes the decaying and dissolute days of the post Civil War South and the realization of the atrocities that can be performed in the name of love and honor. William Faulkner’s use of language and imagery creates the perfect atmosphere for a story like this and they made it an enjoyable story for those who have an imagination that never stops.





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