William Faulkner is an author in the realm of women at the center of crisis. Crisis surrounds every bit of William Faulkner’s work, and in it, there is a symbol of a woman involved. William Faulkner’ short story “Dry September” presents the crisis that has engulfed the town Jefferson, on account of a woman who is rumored to have been insulted, raped, assaulted or even killed, but certainly on the onset, no one is sure about what exactly has happened to Miss Minnie Cooper (Faulkner, 1). Similarly, in William Faulkner’ short story “That Evening Sun”, another woman has brought a crisis upon the Quentin family, on account of an unexplained fear of the possibility of being attacked and killed by her former husband, Jesus, because she is pregnant with a white man’s child (Faulkner, 77). The same woman in a crisis situation is repeated in William Faulkner’ short story “A Rose for Emily” where Miss Emily Grierson has clearly and inevitably become what the town now considers as a “tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (Gardner, 204). In this respect, William Faulkner’s works are reminiscent of a society where the woman is either the constant target for oppression or the woman unjustifiably causes a major tension in the society (Krause, 342). However, the paramount theme in all of these works by William Faulkner is that a woman’s crisis is certainly and inevitably a community’s crisis, since a crisis does not touch on a woman and end at that (Andrews, 497). In William Faulkner’s world, a crisis that falls on a woman will likely touch both the concerned and the unconcerned.
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The “Dry September”, is a classic example of William Faulkner’s world where the crisis touching a woman will spread and affect both the concerned and those not related in any way to the crisis. The crisis facing the woman in this story, Miss Minnie Cooper, is in itself a crisis of some sort. It is not clear whether Miss Minnie Cooper has been insulted, assaulted, raped, verbally abused or murdered (Faulkner, 1). One thing that is clear though, is that a crisis has befallen the Jefferson town touching on a woman, especially a white woman, and for that reason, no one should sit idly and wait to confirm the rumor because anything touching on a white woman in the Jefferson town, whether truthful or rumored, is everybody’s crisis (Andrews, 497). In the barber shop, the argument has become too heated, because the white man client seems to be supporting the side of the Negro man who is rumored to have committed the unspecified crime to Miss Minnie Cooper and thus is required by the others to vacate and head back to the North where he came from (Faulkner, 2). In fact, in the Southern town of Jefferson, it has never been heard of a white man who would support the Negro’s side, in a case related to anything happening to a white woman, no matter the magnitude. Therefore, the clientele in the barber shop are actually flabbergasted by the white man; “Do you mean to tell me you are a white man and you’ll stand for it? You better go back North where you came from. The South don’t want your kind here” (Faulkner, 2). While the conversation over the relationship between the Negros and the Whites seem to be a little diversionary, it simply underlines the fact that what concerns a white woman is Jefferson is everybody’s business. It is for that reason that everyone is required to close down their business and go attend to the unspecified and rumored crisis, regardless of whether it turns out to be true or not. In fact, this is William Faulkner’s humorous way of emphasizing how a trivial and possibly inconsequential rumor can be magnified into a mountain of crisis, simply because it concerns a woman. It is even more comical how a trivial rumor has been turned into a whole town’s emergency and an act demanding urgency, for example with McLendon asking the people e found going about their business in the barber shop, “are you going to sit there?”, and when probed regarding whether the rumor is true, goes ahead to say, “Happen? What the hell difference does it make?” (Faulkner, 2).
Nevertheless, in William Faulkner’ short story “That Evening Sun”, a woman is at the center of the crisis, but this time it is a bit different. The town is Jefferson. The woman is beaten for real and even kicked in her mouth and has lost her teeth, but the white man who kicked her was only pulled back and Nancy, the woman at the center of the crisis, taken to jail (Faulkner, 78). The crisis surrounding Nancy has been caused by the fact that Mr. Stovall has refused to pay her for three times now. Later on, Nancy’s crisis accelerates and starts to affect the Quentin family, because Nancy has developed an unexplained phobia that her husband, Jesus, wants to kill her. Nancy is pregnant with a white man’s child and her husband has finally decided to separate with her, but Nancy gets even worried that Jesus intends to kill her. The phobia started as a little weird concern that the Quentin family did not take seriously, but it has now accelerated, because Nancy refuses to go home on her own, and has to have Mr. Quentin accompany her (Faulkner, 82). The phobia accelerates even more and Nancy now even refuses to go home, opting to spend her nights at the Quentin family (Faulkner, 87). Thus, Nancy’s crisis has effectively become the Quentin family’s crisis, which they inevitably have to live with.
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The woman’s a crisis situation is even more pronounced in William Faulkner’ short story “A Rose for Emily” where Miss Emily Grierson is not a concern for a family or a section of the town, but rather she has become a burden, a care, an obligation and a duty that the town has to live with after the death of her father (Gardner, 204). Miss Emily effuses to pay the tax due to the city council, and the city cannot even bring itself to make a demand from Miss Emily, since she is feared as equally as she is known in his town. Therefore, the fact that Miss Emily has lost his father has now become a burden and a crisis that the town must contend with. Therefore, Miss Emily effectively becomes the whole town’s grief. The fact that Miss Emily could not agree to a suitor who was below her perceive social status had also become the concern of the town, and when she finally was found to be going steady with Homer Barron, the town became even more concerned, because he was not the best of suitors Miss Emily had rejected before (Gardner, 207). In fact, Emily’s lack of a suitor had become a major concern for the town, that once she was perceived to be going steady with Homer Barron, the people in the town “were glad that Miss Emily would have an interest” (Gardner, 207). However, Miss Emily’s crisis for the town became even bigger in her death than when she was alive, because following her death, it was discovered that her suitor had been murdered in Emily’s bed, and her head indentation and long strand of hair testified her involvement in his death (Gardner, 211).
In conclusion, William Faulkner is an author in the realm of women at the center of crisis. The three of William Faulkner’s short stories, “A Rose for Emily”, “That Evening Sun” and “Dry September” all have women at the center of the crisis faced by the town or family. However, the major theme that cuts across all of the three short stories is that in William Faulkner’s short work, a woman’s crisis is not her own, but rather a woman’s crisis is certainly and inevitably a community’s crisis.
- Andrews, Karen M. “White Women’s Complicity and the Taboo: Faulkner’s Layered Critique of the `Miscegenation Complex’.” Women’s Studies, vol. 22, no. 4, Sept. 1993, p. 497.
- Faulkner, William. “That Evening Sun”. These 13: Stories. New York: J. Cape & H. Smith, 1931. 76-99. Print.
- Faulkner, William. Dry September. 1931. 1-8. Print.
- Gardner, Janet E. Literature: A Portable Anthology. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009. 204-211. Print.
- Krause, David H. “WILLIAM FAULKNER’s SHORT STORIES.” Studies in Short Fiction, vol. 23, no. 3, 1986, p.342.