Writers have the unenviable task, duty even, to reflect the worlds—either those they have grown up in or worlds they have created, like Tolkein’s Middle Earth or C. S. Lewis’ Narnia, and bring to the reader’s awareness a certain truth about themselves or the world in general. As what happened in Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily and Bambara’s The Lesson it can be said that thy have also reflected the society that the authors wanted to be mirrored In William Faulkner’s Southern society where ancestors and names are more paramount than one’s own happiness, the rules are unseen and unspoken, for these rules are often masqueraded as social obligations.
Though deep in the throes of her freed womanhood with the death of her father, Miss Emily was still bound by the rules of her society: Of course, a Griersons would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer. But there were still others, older people, who said that even grief could not cause a real lady to forget noblesse oblige—without calling it noblesse oblige. They just said, “Poor Emily. Her kinsfolk should come to her” (Faulkner, 1930, p. 79) Miss Emily, the last of the Griersons, was not only seen to be in the company of the boisterous Barron—she seemed to be enjoying herself.
Human happiness, for its icon, was anathema and unforgivable, and this is the obligation not to fall for a Yankee, which Homer Barron obviously was. Actually, it seems that the obligation was not to fall in love at all and not to be human at all. For that, the last Griersons expected to carry on a tradition of Southern pride: Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris, the mayor—he who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron— remitted her taxes… (Faulkner, 1930, p.
79) Not that everything had to be stated so directly nor privately acknowledged, but it is enough that everything remains as is. A status quo maintained. One could only be bound by social obligations if one believes them real. History is abound with the stories and names of love and desire overcoming social and political common sense. Unfortunately, Emily Grierson had helped in building the prison by which she could not escape, or a prison she could not even allow herself to escape. In accepting that no one was good enough for her, in accepting the pride and privilege of her name, she bound herself to its rules.
Thus, the twist at the end of A Rose for Emily—silver grey hair from the head that had lain beside a corpse—is acceptable considering everything in the story. That staunch pride that would allow for murder but not for a socially unacceptable marriage. Why not just elope in the first place? However, there was no marriage or elopement: “Then we knew that this was to be expected too; as if that quality of her father which had thwarted her woman’s life so many times had been too virulent and too furious to die” (Faulkner, 1930, p.
79). Because the name and the rules have defined Emily Grierson her whole life, how can one turn back against one’s own self? If she is not Emily Grierson, then who is she? It is the same sense of self that defines the speaker in Toni Cade Bambara’s, The Lesson—the inner-city slum defined by its poverty, ignorance, and simmering anger. That the speaker is angry is evident: “Back in the days when everyone was old and stupid or young and foolish and me and Sugar were the only ones just right” (Bambara, 1972, p.
427). The hostility in telling the story becomes more self-evident with the deterioration in the speaker’s words: “So this one day Miss Moore rounds us all up at the mailbox and it’s puredee hot… And the starch in my pinafore scratching the shit outta me and I’m really hating this nappy-head bitch and her goddamn college degree” (Bambara, 1972, p. 427). Wherein Emily Grierson outwardly embraces her world, she, like the speaker, must have been fighting, rebelling inside against a world which could not be fought.
When one does not have the worlds to articulate one’s anger and sense of injustice, the words would come out broken and filthy. That afternoon’s lesson is lost with poverty and ignorance’s hostility towards self-awareness and social education. The pristine sidewalks of Fifth Avenue are an alien world. There are no words to describe the overwhelming sense of social injustice. One could just turn a blind eye and not acknowledge truth. Like people in abusive relationships, reality does not exist—because the truth is more unbearable to accept.
Sugar’s consciousness which has been awakened by toys which are worth more than her own family’s living expenses has to be thwarted: “I think,” say Sugar pushing me off her feet like she never done before cause I whip her ass in a minute, “that this is not much of a democracy if you ask me. Equal chance to pursue happiness means an equal crack at the dough, don’t it? ” Miss Moore is besides herself and I am disgusted with Sugar’s treachery. So I stand on her foot one more time to see if she’ll shove me. She shuts up, and Miss Moore looks at me, sorrowfully I’m thinkin.
And somethin weird is goin on, I can feel it in my chest. ” (Bambara, 1972, p. 427) There is that sense of futility, that even knowledge cannot break the chains of poverty, of the blackness of desperate poverty. One’s life is less than the worth of a toy, and one’s existence is but a dime in an unequal society. The speaker suppresses this knowledge because the oppression of society could not be overcome. Like someone whose dreams have been crushed, one becomes a petty tyrant who shall crush the dreams of others.
The petulant child who refuses to let other children enjoy the party, the speaker’s own anger is directed and will be directed towards those who will strive to change themselves—because she in unable to challenge the world that oppresses her, the society that had bound her to poverty based on the color of her skin. Societies broken by the weight of its oppressive rules or the oppression of its own people—these are the worlds inhabited by broken people made whole by words and writers who seek that their reader seek the truth of him- or herself.
In fragmented worlds by which truth can breakthrough, the reader can glimpse for one moment the shining gem of the diamond in the rough; a human truth can expose human lies.
References Bambara, T. C. (1972). The Lesson. Literature, Reading Fiction, Poetry, And Drama (p. 427– insert ending page here). Ed. Di Yanni, R. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007. Faulkner, W. (1930). A Rose for Emily. Literature, Reading Fiction, Poetry, And Drama (p. 79– insert ending page here). Ed. Di Yanni, R. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.