The Love that Kills
In literature there are certain popular themes that permeate through the stories. In both short stories, “A Rose For Emily” by William Faulkner and “Killings” by Andre Dubus the theme is how love translates into murder. The protagonist loves so deeply and so much that their emotions force them to kill the ones they love or someone who has hurt the one they love
In “A Rose for Emily” death is the main theme of the short story. Faulkner begins the first line of the story with the death of Emily, “When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral”(p. 71). He then proceeds to tell about her life and the murder she committed in the name of love. Emily has an intimate relationship with a Northerner named Homer Barron. It is implied by the author and the townspeople that Homer is going to leave Emily. Emily goes to the drug store to obtain poison; the reader is not informed what she wants the poison for though it is a foreshadowing of later events. “I want some poison, she said to the druggistÃ¢Â?Â¦I want the best you have. I don’t care what kind”(p.74). Homer is seen going into Emily’s house on page 75 and he wasn’t seen again. “And that was the last we saw of Homer Barron.” It is not until the last page of the story when the townspeople enter the house that we find out that Homer is lying dead in the upstairs bedroom.
Reading this story with a feminist perspective one could extract two completely different feminist perspectives. The first would be saluting Emily for taking actions into her own hands and being a strong woman who decided her own fate. The second opposing view would chastise Emily for being weak and keeping a man who obviously did not want to be with her.
The reader feels empathy for Emily because she kills Homer because she is scared he is going to leave her. She is so insecure and unstable that she cannot deal with the possibility of him leaving her so she resorts to the only method that she knows which is to kill him and make him hers forever. She killed him out of love, which is evident by her housing the body in her home for years. If she did not care about him then she would have discarded the body, but instead she kept the corpse as a sign of her eternal love and her victory over him.
Emily did a similar thing when her father died. She kept his body in the house as if it were a normal thing to do. She could not part with the body until the townspeople intervene and try and remove the body,
Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to dispose of the body. Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down, and they buried her father quickly (Faulkner 73).
It seems that love and death are intricately woven together. She believes that killing is a way to show how much you love someone and ironically refuses for death to interfere with her capacity to love. Death does not separate her from her loved ones; we see this when she refuses to have her father’s body removed from the house and at the end of the story when she has been sleeping with Homer’s dead body. Emily kills as a result of her intense love; in this next story the protagonist kills because he loves.
Another similar story in plot and theme is Andre Dubus’s “Killings” where a vengeful father kills the man who murdered his son. Richard Strout kills Frank Fowler for having a relationship with his soon to be ex-wife, Maryann. Strout’s reason for killing Frank was, “He was making it with my wife”(p 86).
Dubus begins the story with a funeral scene exactly like Faulkner.
On the August morning when Matt Fowler buried his youngest son, Frank, who had lived for twenty-one years, eight months, and four days, Matt’s older son, Steve, turned to him as the family left the grave and walked between their friends, and said: ‘I should kill him’ (Dubus 80).
Differently than Faulkner, Dubus mentions the thought of murder at the very beginning of the story. The reader thus expects a murder similarly to the protagonists who anticipate and plan the murder from the beginning of the stories. The theme of death and murder is introduced in the beginning of the stories and is a harbinger of what is to come. When the authors begin the stories with funeral scenes it is anticipated that the rest of the story will follow the tone set in the beginning. When the authors introduce death within the first few lines of the story it shocks the reader but also immerses them in the situation and is a signal of what they are to expect in the story.
The remainder of the story is how Matt Fowler is planning to avenge his son’s murderer, Richard Strout. The murder of Frank Fowler is told in pieces throughout the story, so that there are four stories intertwined, the old murder, the planning of the new murder, the life of Richard Strout, and the soon to be murder.
Just like Emily, murder for Matt Fowler is a certainty. Fowler cannot let Richard Strout continue to walk the streets after he killed his son. He cannot let Strout go through the judicial process for a few reasons. Reading the story with gender criticism in mind, one could say that Mr. Fowler must avenge his son’s death to show his masculinity and his ability to get even with Strout. In the story, Fowler never admits that he wants Strout dead for his own reasons, instead he puts the blame on his wife, saying that his wife cannot handle seeing Strout everyday in town. “Ruth sees him. She sees him too much. She was at Sunnyhurst today getting cigarettes and aspirin, and there he was. She can’t even go out for cigarettes and aspirin. It’s killing her”(Dubus 80). If he admits that it is him who wants Strout dead then he could be accused of being weak. When he puts the blame on his wife and then kill Strout for the sake of his wife, makes Fowler a hero. Mr. Fowler takes the typical masculine role and assigns the defenseless feminine role to his wife. An example of Fowler casting his wife as a weak female is on page 81 when Mr. Fowler says, “Ruth would shoot him herself, if she thought she could hit him.” He questions her ability to kill Strout, because it is him who wants to do it, he takes her out of the competition by undermining her ability to complete the task, because as a strong man it is his responsibility.
“How often have you thought about that? Willis said. Every day since he got out”(Dubus 81). Matt must kill Strout for his own sake, for his wife who is tortured every time she sees him and for his son.
This is another character that the reader can sympathize with because he does it out of the pain and sadness he feels for the loss of his son. It would seem that murdering Strout would bring him some satisfaction and closure, but it is questionable whether or not it does. “His [Mr. Fowler’s] cheek touching her breast, he shuddered with a sob that he kept silent in his heart”(Dubus 92). Mr. Fowler appears to be as sad as he was before the killing, thus making the death of Strout meaningless.
Both characters kill out of love, which makes it somehow more humane then killing out of hatred. It makes the reader sympathize with the protagonist/murderers who show their love by murdering.
Another similarity in the stories is the careful plotting of the murders; Emily obtains poison to kill Homer and obviously thinks out the plan carefully, just like Matt who devised a perfect plan to kill Strout. Both characters, more so Matt seemed obsessed with the plan to kill. They plan it out meticulously. The planning seems almost more important than the actual killing.
Both Emily and Matt cannot own the murders that they have committed. Emily remains in her house with the dead body, no one knows of her actions until they enter her house years later and find Homer’s body. Matt and his wife decide that they cannot tell their other children, “We can’t tell the other kids, it’ll hurt them, thinking he got away. But we mustn’t”(Dubus 92). Matt realizes that he didn’t do the right thing and so he hides the truth. When he gets revenge on his son’s murderer I would think that he would want everyone to know and would suffer the legal consequences, but he does not. A disparity from Strout who was eager to own the death of Frank Strout and stand up for what he thought was the right thing to do. Emily and Matt regard the murders as a private triumph that they keep secret.
Emily’s reason for murder seemed more psychotic then Matt’s. Emily is a recluse who cannot deal with the thought of being abandoned so to make sure that she is not, she kills. Her reason is not only more deranged but the aftermath of the killing is strange and shows her inability to handle reality. Whatever the reasons for their actions, they are both murderers, but the reader feels empathy for them, which is a difficult emotion to feel for people who commit murder. Faulkner and Dubus want the reader to feel sympathy for these characters, because they explain the reasons for their actions in detail so that the reader has insight into their motives. Faulkner does not explain why Homer is leaving or let the reader get to know him so that we can feel sympathy for him when he is killed. Dubus gives insight to the reader about Strout but whenever he writes something sympathetic toward Richard it is followed by a statement of what a bad person Richard is or how he has hurt the Fowler’s, making the reader detest Richard.
He came home and did construction work for his father but refused his father’s offer to learn the business; his two older brothers had learned it, so that Strout and Sons trucks going about town, and signs on construction sites, now slashed wounds into Matt Fowler’s life (p 82).
When Dubus writes about Strout followed by negative information he is almost justifying Matt’s reasons for murder and condoning his actions.
A major difference in the stories is the points of view. In Faulkner’s story we don’t know what Emily is feeling or thinking, we see her actions from the point of view of the town’s people. In Dubus’s story we know everything Matt is feeling and thinking letting the reader have more insight into the plan and the reasoning. It is easier to feel sympathetic towards Matt when we know everything about him, it is harder to know what Emily is thinking when the reader is clearly left out of her thought process.
The love that Emily and Matt felt obviously influenced them to kill. It is implied in Killings that Matt Fowler is not a natural killer; he was pushed to murder when his sons life was taken. If Strout had not killed his son it is a fair assessment that this father, husband and businessman would not have committed murder. The evidence that supports his lack of killer instincts is when he lies to Strout before he kills him. He never told Strout that he was going to kill him because Strout deserved to die for killing his son; he made up an elaborate story so that Strout never knew what Fowler was planning. The fact that Matt withheld the truth shows a little humanity in a cruel situation. The reader is unaware whether or not Homer knows that Emily is going to kill him, though she goes about obtaining the poison in a very public way. While Matt seems nervous about murdering, Emily seems calm and resigned to what she is going to do. Emily appears to possess the ability to kill more than Matt does.
A Rose For Emily and Killing are similar in content and feeling, they are tales of love that are so strong and powerful they lead to murder. The characters might be different but the thread that bonds them is their power to love and their ability to kill for that love.
Dubus, Andre. “Killings.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Michael Meyer. 5th ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2000. 80-93.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose For Emily.” The Compact Bedford Introduction to Literature. Michael Meyer. 5th ed. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s Press, 2000. 71-78.