In in “A Rose for Emily”. Faulkner’s commentary
In primitive cultures, the primary source of threat to human beings is Nature. But in economically-advanced countries, it is not nature, but other human beings who make us feel threatened most of the time. One might say that people are often de-humanized. To de-humanize is to remove or deny human qualities, characteristics, or attributes of a person or group of people.Using reader response criticism, a reader can analyze that in the short stories “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway and “Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield one will find three examples of de-humanization taking place using the aspects of gender, social class and mental health as examples.
To begin with, dehumanization by gender is apparent in “A Rose for Emily”. Faulkner’s commentary on the role of women in society is clear; he believes that women are inferior to men, almost as second class citizens.For example, the story begins with Faulkner saying, “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument, the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house…” (115). Faulkner makes his beliefs about the role of gender clear by saying that men attended Miss Emily’s funeral with honor and respect whereas women attend the funeral out of curiosity to see her house, which paints the women as less honorable than the men.In “Hills Like White Elephants”, Hemingway uses gender to dehumanize the girl in the story by giving her the name “Jig” as the American’s pet name for her. “Jig” being the name of a dance so that we see her as a form of entertainment for the American. The reader is never given her real name.
Also in this same story the American tells the girl not to worry, insinuating that because he’s a man he knows that everything will be alright. In “Miss Brill” gender is used to dehumanize when she talks about the two people that shared her “special” seat: “a fine old man and a big old woman…” (138).One might argue that both of these people are being dehumanized, he as “fine” because he’s a man and she as “big and old” because she is a woman. Faulkner’s commentary on social class is apparent in the story A Rose for Emily. “Alive, Miss Emily had been a tradition, a duty and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town…” (116). The community in this story holds Miss Emily as a sort of monument to the old south. She is expected to hold a certain place in society as her lineage dictates.
Further, social class plays an important role in this same story, as Faulkner’s use of the character Tobe highlights the role of race in the setting of “A Rose for Emily”. Tobe is disrespected and dehumanized throughout the story. For example, Judge Stevens refers to him as, “…that nigger of hers…” (117). This shows the dehumanization of blacks in that timeframe because Tobe’s identity is taken from him by all but Miss Emily when they don’t call him by name.It degrades Tobe to be called nigger, the townspeople don’t even give him the essential courtesy of respecting his name. Miss Emily is even judged for having a romance with the less affluent Homer Barron.
He is dehumanized because he is a day laborer and not part of the upper social classes. In “Miss Brill” social class is highlighted when a young couple come and sit at the other end of her bench and they are described as “beautifully dressed…” and the hero and heroine…. just arrived from his father’s yacht” (140).From this description one might deduce that they are rich, and not poor because of the beautiful clothes and a reference to the yacht. With these descriptions, they become, somehow, above Miss Brill. In all three of these stories the characters are dehumanized because of mental issues.
In “Hills Like White Elephants”, the American persists at the end of the story because he is not sure of Jigs intentions or her mental state. Near the end he orders a drink by himself and observes the other people “waiting reasonably for the train” (81).This leads the reader to think that the girl is being unreasonable about the decision that needs to be made. He is trying to convince and emotional and irrational young girl to do the best thing for her. He wants her to make the decision based on rationality and not let her emotions run away.
In the story about Miss Brill Mansfield uses dehumanization to create a portrait of a sad, delusional old woman who sees the world around her not as it really is but as she wants it to be or used to be.She imagines herself a useful part of the world, only to find out that it is only a fantasy, a picturesque seen of self-delusion. In Faulkner’s story, he uses madness to dehumanize Miss Emily. She is described throughout as a sad, recluse of a woman, who has let her house go and for three days after her father died she told the ladies that called that her father was not dead.
There are a few comments throughout that tell us that the entire town was beginning to think Miss Emily was crazy. “We did not say that she was crazy then” (118).Until we arrive at the end and Miss Emily’s death, and everyone finds out that Miss Emily is indeed mad as she had killed her boyfriend and left his rotting corpse in an upstairs bedroom for all these years. In conclusion, dehumanization by gender, social class, and mental health all play prominent roles in each of these stories.
By reading these stories, a reader can learn about social inequality and a few different ways in which society dehumanizes others and makes them feel not deserving of moral consideration.