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491 Roundtable on “Miss Emily After Dark” Works Cited Faulkner, William. 1932. Light in August. New York: Vintage, 1990. —. “A Rose for Emily.” Collected Stories of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1950. 119-30. Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. Columbia UP, 1982. The Functions of Ambiguity: A Response to “Miss Emily After Dark” Thomas Bonner, Jr. Xavier University of Louisiana, Emeritus FROM THE START OF HIS ARTICLE, THOMAS ARGIRO ACKNOWLEDGES THE presence of spaces in the narrative with applications of terms like “undecidability,” “dubious meaning,” and “failed closure”; in addition he cites Michael Zeitlin’s description of the story: “affective ambivalence andepistemologicaluncertainty.”Accordingly,ArgiroemphasizesEmily Grierson’smystery:“Thetale’simpenetrableplot,uniquefigurationsand double-voiced metanarrative ‘we’ subvert any definitive closure on Emily’s improbable life.” My own reading of “A Rose for Emily” comes close to this approach, for in the literary short story especially, ambiguity has a role that closely parallels its use in poetry and makes the story as written more of a prompt for the readers’ imaginations and experiences in their contacts with characters and conflicts, and yet, almost like rules in a game, the language and vocabulary of the narrative sets some boundaries for its reading. Ernest Hemingway’s illustration, in the 1958 Paris Review interview, of the text of a short story as being the small part of the iceberg above the water with its substance largely below seems relevant to this reading. After establishing his basic perspective regarding the openness allowed by the story, Argiro proceeds through a series of readings of its problematic or ambivalent elements, many of which, he acknowledges, have been previously addressed. Several critics have referred to “A Rose for Emily” as a metanarrative, as does Argiro, and the story does have elements that conform to the uses of this postmodern critical term. It is a story about a story, but it does not have the self-conscious emphasis on narratology that one finds in either Absalom, Absalom! or in As I Lay Dying with their overtly 492 Mississippi Quarterly differing narrative points of view. Perhaps metanarrative suggests the duality of narratives: is the story about Emily or is it about the townspeople? Although Argiro describes the beginning of the story with this term, it seems more like the epic feature in medias res, but one term does not necessarily negate the other, as beginning in this manner signals the story’s broken chronology. There seems something conventional in the handling of the narrative, and yet as Faulkner does in Light in August, he tests the limits of the convention. Argiro also creates a question by describing Emily’s life as “improbable,” the general definitions of which range from “unlikely to take place or be true” to “having a probability too low to inspire belief.” There seems to be no narrow definition that would suggest another dimension for the reader. And so is Emily’s life improbable? Her being “isolated” from her community and, in fact, her family places her within a large group of literary characters created by many writers, including Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Harper Lee, and Carson McCullers. Of particular note is Robert Browning’s poem “Porphyria’s Lover,” in which the lover strangles Porphyria with her own hair as they embrace and kiss (interesting how in Faulkner’s story and in Browning’s poem, hair, color, and behavior are elements—porphyria, the purple hue associated with a physical and mental disorder). In life older communities with layered generations tend to produce residents with intense eccentricities, often leading to some form of isolation. The South has been known as a place where migrations have been minimal by comparison with the New York to Chicago regions, and it is here and in a small town where Faulkner places Emily. Faulkner’s other spinsters and spinster-like characters indicate that he had an acquaintance with single women of some age. Emily’s birth in 1852, as Brooks and others have noted (382-84),places her in the generations of Mississippians with the loss of men and the higher presence of women in the post Civil War period. My own experience in old neighborhoods...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 491-499
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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