| Faulkner's short story about Miss Emily Grierson has captivated and disturbed readers for three-quarters of a century. The story concerns the plight of a southern aristocratic woman and her long descent into poverty and isolation. Although slyly, even wickedly, humorous, its ending truly shocks. But don't be too quick to judge Miss Emily: perhaps she deserves our sympathy: Faulkner himself thought so. Read the selection.*
About the Author
Faulkner's most famous work, The Sound and the Fury (title from Shakespeare's Macbeth), uses stream-of-consciousness, a then innovative literary technique. This was novel that brought him public notice, but not until a good 10 years after publication. As I Lay Dying, another ground-breaking work, uses shifting narrative voices, even that of a dead woman, to tell the story of a southern family.
A 1949 Nobel prize winner, Faulkner memorialized southern life, writing about Oxford, Miss., the actual locale of his Yoknatapawpha County, the mythical setting for nearly all his works. Characters appear and reappear in his novels and short stories, creating a rich, complex web of relationships. He did time as a Hollywood screenwriter (along with F. Scott Fitzgerald); his most famous screenplay is Raymond Chandler's 1946 The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
* (From Melbourne High School in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.)
Today's readers are offended by Faulkner's use of the N word when referring to Miss Emily's black servant. There are three factors to take into account when considering the use of racist language.
- The story takes place during the Jim Crow era when the term was commonly used; thus, Faulkner would have achieved a more authentic (and racist) narrative voice—which in this story is the collective "we" of the community.
- In many of his works, African-Americans stand as a central moral force among his characters.
- Faulkner used his Nobel-Prize-winner status to become an outspoken champion for integration and civil rights.