Emily's Redemption

“On the outside, I was a good guy. I had to go to prison to become a criminal.” That is probably one of the best and most famous movie lines. It comes from the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, in which a man gets wrongfully convicted of murder and eventually breaks out of prison. It shares a lot in common with William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily,” wherein Emily murders the first man she falls in love with due to an overprotective father and community. The stories themselves are very different in terms of what actually happens, but looking past that one can see many subtle similarities. “A Rose for Emily” and The Shawshank Redemption use similar points of view, settings, and characters to get across their underlying theme: seclusion breeds a criminal.

The points of view in “A Rose for Emily” and The Shawshank Redemption help one to understand the main characters better, thus better conveying the theme the two tales share. “A Rose for Emily” is told by what appears to be one member of a community speaking on behalf of the entire town, whereas The Shawshank Redemption is told by Red, a prisoner, speaking on behalf of all the prisoners. This point of view for both stories allows for a better division between the main characters, Emily and Andy, and the rest of their community. Being told their respective stories in this way, one gets the sense that Emily and Andy are both outcasts. This feeling is even more apparent in Emily's case, as the entire town never invites her to any kind of social event or even so much as visits her from time to time. Her isolation is made apparent before she dies, when the narrator says, “We did not even know she was sick; we had long since given up trying to get any information from the Negro”(34). It can be assumed then that Homer, Emily’s one-and-only boyfriend, is the only one to have any close contact with Emily. However, he tries to leave, but Emily still wants his company. It is not quite the same in Andy's case, as he does make friends with some of the prisoners, but the isolation is the same. After all, he really is innocent of any wrongdoing on the outside. Granted, when he brings this up, he is made fun of when Red tells him, “Don't you know? We're all innocent in here.” Plus, in Andy's case, the Warden hires him to do the taxes and exploit a loophole so that he can illegally make more money. This further isolates him from the rest of the prisoners. Finally, Emily murders Homer and Andy breaks out of Shawshank prison. However, the fact that seclusion breeds a criminal is shown in many other ways as well in the two works.

The settings in Faulkner's story and the movie also help portray the theme that isolation creates a criminal. The most obvious comparison would be Emily's home with Shawshank prison, as they are both the locations where the main characters find themselves secluded. Emily never leaves the house, which is apparent at the end of the story when Faulkner writes about Emily looking “bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and that of pallid hue,” and sounding “dry and cold” (30). The only one around for her to talk to was Tobe, her servant, because nobody would visit her. The same could be said for Andy. Initially prison is a shock for him, and this helps to show his isolation not only from society but from his previous life. Outside, he is a good man, an honest worker; but once prison isolates him, he decides to break out. Up until his prison sentence, he has no plans for becoming a criminal. It is the prison that does it to him. Aside from the locations themselves, Emily and Andy both get protected by those around them, furthering their seclusion. The townspeople are so afraid of being rude to Emily, as was the norm in her day, they leave her alone. For example, when the smell occurs, one man has the notion just to tell her, but that is met with Judge Stevens’ response: “Dammit sir . . .  will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?”(31). If they had just given her that human contact, perhaps she might not have murdered a man. As for Andy, the prison ends up becoming his home and his work. He has friends who protect him; they even give him the tools he uses to tunnel out of the prison. Without those people, Andy would have remained in Shawshank for the rest of his life. However, the similarities between the two stories do not end there.

“A Rose for Emily” and The Shawshank Redemption both have characters that share similar attitudes, beliefs, and changes. For example, both of the narrators have this attitude about their respective main characters that they need to protect them, but in doing so they isolate them. For Emily, it is the southern way of chivalry, as made apparent by the four men sneaking around “like burglars, sniffing along the base of the brickwork at the cellar openings while one of them . . . sprinkled lime there, and in all the outbuildings”(31). For Andy, it is more of an assimilation into the prison crowd. Andy becomes a criminal because he is isolated from the noncriminal society, as is made apparent with the famous line previously mentioned. Emily becomes a criminal because society isolates her from them. And it is not until this isolation that Emily and Andy become criminals.

“A Rose for Emily” and The Shawshank Redemption have the underlying theme that seclusion breeds criminals; they make that apparent by using similar points of view, settings, and characters. Despite having very different lengths and extremely different plots, these stories manage to convey that message very well. And it is a very true message; studies do indeed show that people who live without normal human interaction can become mentally and socially deviant. So the next time that creepy neighbor across the street is out, talk to her. Otherwise, the police might just find a dead body in her bed next to a strand of her gray hair.  

Carl Edward Mitchell III

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