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Humanizing Morally Reprehensible Characters: Finding Sympathy for Protagonists in “A Rose for Emily” and “The Country Husband”F Essay Sample

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Humanizing Morally Reprehensible Characters: Finding Sympathy for Protagonists in “A Rose for Emily” and “The Country Husband”F Essay Sample

Humanizing Morally Reprehensible Characters: Finding Sympathy for Protagonists in “A Rose for Emily” and “The Country Husband”
Typically, readers have a difficult time rooting for or even sympathizing with characters who engage in behavior which is considered deviant or morally wrong. Two writers who challenge readers to find fallible and immoral characters sympathetic are John Cheever and William Faulkner. In John Cheever’s, “The Country Husband”, the reader truly sympathizes for Francis Weed, an adulterer who feels neglected by his family and put off by the polite society of Shady Hill. Likewise, William Faulkner’s lead character in “A Rose for Emily”, Emily Grierson, becomes perhaps one of the most sympathetic characters in literature due to her tragic fate even though she murdered her lover in cold blood. This paper will evaluate the plot, characters, setting and symbols for “The Country Husband” and “A Rose for Emily”.

The plots for both “A Rose for Emily” and “The Country Husband” depict characters who are imprisoned by other people’s strict societal views. In “A Rose for Emily”, Emily is held captive by her father’s old Southern values, judging the suitors who came calling, “None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such” (Faulkner 393). Emily embraces this imprisonment, accepting these values as her own with Faulkner noting, “she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.” (393). As a result, she murders her Northern lover, Homer Barron, because their relationship fell outside of what was considered acceptable to her. Similarly, in John Cheever’s “The Country Husband”, Francis Weed is imprisoned by suburbia’s reframed view toward life. One merely goes through the motions of life, without making any waves; anything that contradicts this notion is simply not even allowed to enter the realm of reality.

This is apparent when Francis Weed tries to explain to anyone willing to listen that he was involved in a serious plane crash. Sadly, no one, not even his children, are willing to listen. This is noted with Cheever writing, “Daddy was in a plane crash this afternoon, Toby. Don’t you want to hear about it?” (482). The child refuses to answer, opting instead to seek solace with his mother. Francis begins to rejects this way of life by insulting the neighbor lady, starting an affair with the babysitter, and bad-mouthing the babysitter’s boyfriend as he looks for employment. As with Emily, Francis Weed finally accepts his imprisonment, seeking the help of a psychiatrist in order to help him adhere to societal values. “Francis finds some true consolation in the simple arithmetic involved and in the holy smell of new wood” (Cheever 496).

The main characters in both short stories, “A Rose for Emily” and “The Country Husband”, share similar traits. Both seem to know they do not truly fit into their respective societies. This is evident with the argument that ensues between Francis and his wife, with Julia noting “You must have understood when you settled here that you couldn’t expect to live like a bear in a cave.” (Cheever 492). His reaction is completely at odds with societal view; he lashes out at Julia and strikes her. It is only when Julia threatens to leave that Francis gives up and agrees to submit to society’s will. In “A Rose for Emily”, the rejection is rampant. Time and time again, Emily rejects modern society. This is evident by her refusal to pay the city tax, receive the ladies of the town after her father’s death, refusing to traverse the town streets and last, to put up numbers on her house or install a mailbox. The ultimate rejection is that of her lover, Homer Barron. Emily simply cannot bring herself to marry him thereby accepting him into her life so she murders him. It is this outcast characteristic that humanizes these characters which in turns makes them sympathetic.

The settings for each of these stories appear to be very different. “A Rose for Emily” takes place in the South in the late 1800s shortly after the Civil War. It spans a time period where change was evident, the traditional culture of the South had been decimated as a result of the war. Conversely, “The Country Husband” takes place in the suburbs called Shady Hill outside New York, probably around the 1950s or 1960s. Unlike the setting in “A Rose for Emily”, everything in Shady Hill is constant. Nothing is in flux and change is not something to be desired. This is observed with Francis noting, “The feeling of bleakness was intolerable, and he saw clearly that he had reached the point where he would have to make a choice.” (Cheever 495). Francis’ life is clearly in turmoil and he has a decision to make. He can either accept his ho-hum life or he has to break the chains that bind him and start afresh. He chooses to remain a prisoner.

The symbols in “The Country Husband” show that there is no room for rebellion in Shady Hill. This is evident with the erratic behavior of the neighbor dog, Jupiter. Full of life and mischievous, the dog gets into all sorts of trouble, from breaking up tennis matches to getting mixed up in the Sunday processional from church. Cheever notes, “Jupiter’s days are numbered. The Wrightsons’ German gardener or the Farquarsons’ cook would soon poison him.” (483). This shows that if you do not fit into the acceptable societal view, you will be eradicated from that society. The symbols in “A Rose for Emily” reflect the old and new modes of thought. The first symbol is that of the house, a symbol of the former glory times now and now the solitary monument of times gone by. Even Emily herself is a symbol with Faulkner describing her as a “fallen monument” and “a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (391). This imagery is juxtaposed against the modernity of thought with the post-war residents. They willingly accept sidewalks, mail boxes, and carpetbaggers from the North. This is in direct opposition to everything Emily believes. Like Francis Weed, Emily believes it is better to be a prisoner to the past than to become a willing participant to change and accept an unknown future.

Adulterers and murderers are vilified by society, even by today’s looser standards. Faulkner and Cheever took these two social outcasts, Francis Weed and Emily Grierson, and depicted them in a manner in which the reader took pity upon them. Perhaps it is because their lives mirror the rejection that everyone goes through at some point. It is the apparent rejection of Francis by his family and his society which allows the reader to pity him. Here is a man who desperately wants to be heard, to feel alive that he is willing to destroy the façade of his life in order to break free. In the end, he cannot bring himself to reject his current life and chooses to become a prisoner within the confines of society. With Emily, the reader is sympathetic to her plight not because she caused her own rejection but because she believed she had to remain in bondage even after the death of her controlling father. By remaining in bondage, she chooses to reject any form of happiness in favor of a life of solitude and misery. While their acts are reprehensible, the characters earned the pity of the reader because they were indeed tortured , people forever trapped in a life of misery and despair.

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