Great writing does not necessarily make a great work of literature. More often than not, there has to be something special about a writer’s work of art. This could be also considered their trademarks, signatures that had set them on canonical status. Shakespeare has his soliloquies, Hawthorne attacks the Puritans, Hemmingway uses symbols, Borges possesses fondness for infinity, and the list goes on.
However, there could be some similarities between these literary signatures of writers. It is important to take note that having similarities does not render a writer less special than others.
What is remarkable about the works sharing similarities in their trademarks is that they all express a common concern—concerns that could be considered as major issues in the society. The selected works had all talked about women and social status.
The literary works that this paper would feature are Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark”, Flannery O’Connor’s “A Goodman Is Hard To Find”, William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily”, and James Joyce’s “The Dead.
Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” had shown us how the male-dominated society perceives women. In the narrative, there was a beautiful woman named Georgiana. She was almost perfect, however, her most visible flaw was her hand-shaped birthmark on her cheek—thus the title. She was married to a scientist named Aylmer who is not pleased with Georgiana’s birthmark. Since he was a scientist, Aylmer conducted a procedure to supposedly fix his wife’s face. As a consequence of the Aylmer’s discontent, Georgiana died while under operation.
Hawthorne story tells us that women are commonly judged according to their physical appearance and not according to the beauty of their intellect and character. Moreover, the story suggested to us that the pride of the male specie is on of the main reason for the oppression of women in the society. It is very likely that Aylmer had treated his beautiful wife as a mere accessory to display to the public. As we could observe in the history of societies, husbands are judged according to their wives, and vice-versa.
In William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily”, women are presented in a rather disturbing manner. The story is basically about a former aristocrat woman who had kept the corpse of her beloved in her bedroom. That is not to mention that she is the one who killed her beloved and she had slept with the dead corpse—“slept”, with all the connotations of the word.
Faulkner has this talent to disturb people with seemingly harmless countryside scenarios. But what is remarkable about this particular work is the depiction of how a woman could love a man. A woman’s version of love is a topic that is rarely touched throughout the long history of literature. “A Rose For Emily” tells us that a woman could love unconditionally even if their love is unrequited.
Moreover, “A Rose For Emily” touches the topic of social status. In the story, Emily came from a family of aristocrat status. The object of her affection, Homer Barron, came from a common family. The difference in their social status had somehow prevented them from getting married. In addition to that, it is Emily’s social status that had made the townspeople treat her differently.
On a different tone, Flannery O’Connor’s “A Goodman Is Hard To Find” had depicted women and social status on a less favorable stance. The protagonist of the story was an annoying grandmother. The family in the story wanted to go to Florida, but the grandmother insisted that they go to Tennessee.
The grandmother cited the news that there was a roaming criminal along the way to Florida just to scare off the family. On their way to Florida, the grandmother’s words became true that she and the family had actually encountered the criminal. As a ploy to save herself, the grandmother constantly tells the criminal sarcastic remarks like “you are a nice person.”
With regards to social status, the criminal was aware that the grandmother was just pretending to treat him as a nice person. The criminal already knows what to expect from the society with regards to place of criminals within the social thread. The criminal knows that people like him would always be discriminated by people.
It is almost the same case for James Joyce’s “The Dead.” The author had reiterated the notion that women are good at telling lies. The disturbing ending of the narrative tells the readers that Gretta, the wife of the protagonist (Gabriel), was deeply in love with someone who already died. The conflict was she was already married with an insecure man. The ending of the story shows us how Gretta’s action of not telling her husband her past had such a tragic impact on his insecurities.
On the note of social status, Gabriel’s insecurities were highlighted during the gathering, where most of the plot had developed. His insecurities were most rooted from his social status. When he was interacting with people of higher social status, he would be insecure of his intellect, language, and physical appearance. There is a subtle hint in the story that social status has some effects on a person’s confidence.
All in all, the recurring themes of women and social status could be roughly considered as clichés. However, it is important to take into consideration that these issues should not be forgotten. It is just remarkable for these great writers to reiterate these issues that the society is seemingly eluding.
Moreover, the recurrence of these themes tells us that the issues of women and social status are still unresolved by the society. Perhaps if people would read these stories, the society could come up with solutions to the problems at hand.
If I were made to choose a favorite among the feature stories, I would have to choose Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily.” Aside from its innovative use of point of view through the townspeople, the story touches themes that are both close to heart, like love, and socially relevant like social status.
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. An Introduction to Literature. Ed. Joseph Terry.
New York: Longman, 2001
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birthmark”. Demas, C. Various, Mjf. Great American Short
Stories: From Hawthorne to Hemingway. Spark Educational Publishing: USA,
Joyce, James. Dubliners. Penguin Books: England, 1993
O’Connor, Flannery. A Good Man is Hard to Find. NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1993