Could a house be considered haunted just
by appearance alone; or could it just be an old gothic structure of the
southern past? Is it possible the answer to this question might lie with a peek
into the windows of the individuals living within the houses? Toni Morrison’s
novel Beloved and William Faulkner’s
short story “A Rose for Emily” illuminate the past family trauma weaved
together with the present. Beloved is
the story of a slave, named Sethe, who murders her baby girl, named Beloved, in
order to keep her away from slave catchers. As a result, Beloved’s ghost haunts
Sethe and Denver’s house. Similarly, Emily lives in an old decrepit southern
home. She has never been married and therefore remains a recluse in her own
home with a strong desire for a family and companionship. Raised in a socially
prominent southern family, Emily’s father, who was very strict and abusive,
controlled her constantly. Upon her father’s death, she remains alone without
anyone to replace the only family or companion she has ever known. Peeking into
both Sethe and Emily’s lives, they both struggled to live without the love of a
family as well as remaining in the past with no mental ability to move forward.
As a result, Sethe is
unwillingly haunted by her traumatic past, whereas Emily creates an eternal
haunting for herself. In both Toni Morrison’s Beloved and William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” Sethe’s and
Emily’s hope for a future with family or companionship are extinguished by
hauntings from the past, making their journeys forward futile.

The decaying nature of the houses in both
stories resemble the deteriorating relationships of Sethe’s and Emily’s
families. 124, Sethe’s house on Bluestone Road, was described as “spiteful” and
“full of a baby’s venom” (Morrison 1). Even from the first page of the novel, the
house is personified as a decaying character rather than a setting. Sethe suggests
that her and Denver “waged a perfunctory battle against the outrageous behavior
of that place” as if the house was a ghost itself (Morrison 4). Although Morrison
is most likely also referring to Beloved’s ghost, who is haunting 124, her
claim furthers the gothic aspect of the novel.  In addition to the supernatural aspects of the
house, each section of Beloved starts
with a personified description of Sethe’s house. These descriptions lead
readers to the assumption that the house’s moods follow the arc of Beloved’s presence
at 124. From the “spiteful” baby ghost; to the “loud” fighting between Sethe
and Beloved; to the “quiet” absence after Beloved leaves, each section reveals
the emotions between the characters. Also, Baby Suggs labels the house as
“suspended between the nastiness of life and the meanness of the dead”
(Morrison 4). In other words, this is referring to the harshness of slavery and
the supernatural motifs that occur throughout the novel. In connection to the
supernatural, Stamp Paid referred to 124 as being “loud” and says, “he heard
its voices from the road” (Morrison 201) The voices that are noticed by Stamp
Paid add to the creepiness and haunted aspect of the house, along with giving
readers a suspicion of the presence of a ghost. Unlike Sethe’s house, Emily’s
house is described as looking more gothic rather than haunted as in Sethe’s.
For most of the story Emily’s house is primarily seen from the outside by
people peering in through the windows. Her house was “set on what had once been
their most select street” (Faulkner 1) which indicates that it used to be in
near perfect condition. However, by the end of the story her house becomes
deteriorated, mirroring Emily’s emotional deterioration.  The readers see Emily’s deterioration melding
into delusion and eventually madness. In the end, Emily, like her house, has
become a “fallen monument” to the people of the town and the old Southern
lifestyle (Faulkner 1). As both houses are falling apart on the outside, the
inside traps the disintegrating families of Sethe and Emily.

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Although the outsides of both houses hint
at gothic and haunted aspects, taking a peek inside the houses provides more
context on how the small details inside the houses more accurately reflect the
familial problems. Emily’s house is described as “decorated with cupolas,
spires, and scrolled balconies” (Faulkner 1). Her house was left in an area of
decay as opposed to the areas around her house which had been moving into a
more industrialized town. This decay and dust that the house is left in symbolizes
the loneliness that Emily feels throughout the story. Additionally, when the
board of Aldermen called on her at her house for a meeting it had been eight to
ten years since anyone had entered the house. It was described as a “dim hall
with a stairway mounted into still more shadow” (Faulkner 1). “It smelled of
dust and disuse, a close dank smell” (Faulkner 1). This quote further shows the
solitude of Emily and her house. Additionally, her home was inaccessible from
the front and only her servant used the back door to go to the market, which
further shows the reclusiveness and solidarity of the house. Emily’s house, which
remains a memory of her past, eventually is evaded. The pungent smell is so
strong that townspeople have to break in and sprinkle lime, due to the reeking
smell of her father’s decomposing corpse. In comparison to the dust and odd
smells of Emily’s house, Sethe’s house has similar elements inside that reflect
her true feelings. “When Sethe locked the door, the
women inside were free at last to be what they liked, see whatever they saw and
say whatever was on their minds. Almost. Mixed in with the voices surrounding
the house, recognizable but undecipherable to Stamp Paid, were the thoughts of
the women of 124, unspeakable thoughts, unspoken” (Morrison 215). Even being
constantly surrounded by women, readers can tell that 124 isn’t perfectly
peaceful. Although the outsides of certain houses may be odd, the insides
provide a deeper story into what the real deal is.

center of a family is typically a home. However, for Sethe and Emily, the
houses in which their haunted pasts and family trauma take place make it
impossible to develop any sense of security or sense of self. In “A Rose for
Emily” it is noted that “a window that had been
dark was lighted and Miss Emily sat in it, the light behind her, and her
upright torso motionless as that of an idol” (Faulkner 2). The aspect of
someone looking through the windows and noticing this image adds to the creepiness
of the motionless torso mentioned and suggests to the reader she might be dead.
In addition, the townspeople “now and then would see her in one of the
downstairs windows…looking or not looking at them, they could never tell
which” (Faulkner 2). (analysis)
In comparison, Sethe states: “I was talking about time. It’s so hard for me to
believe in it. Some things go. Pass on. Some things just stay. I used to think
it was my rememory. You know. Some things you forget. Other things you never do”
(Morrison 43) This is the first significant moment in which Sethe uses the word
“rememory” to mean “memory.”  Additionally, Sethe’s “brain was not interested
in the future. Loaded with the past and hungry for more, it left her no room to
imagine, let alone plan for, the next day.” (Morrison 79) This quote about
Sethe’s thoughts even further examines the extent to which Sethe was immersed
in and obsessed with the past. Focusing on past events has not been beneficial
to either Sethe or Emily, therefore they should focus on the future and their
desire for companionship.

Both Sethe’s and Emily’s desires for family stem from
their traumatic pasts and haunted lives. Sethe was haunted by a need to have
family in a society that made it very difficult at that time due to slavery.
Her sons ran away from her out of fear that they too would be killed like Beloved.
However, she desperately searched for them, after their escape, wanting them
back home with her as her fear mounted that they might be caught. Sethe tried
to repress her past as a slave, having several happy days with Paul D. at the carnival,
holding her head high as neighbors passed by them with a nod or “hello” as if
they approved of her with Paul D. She must have felt accepted by her neighbors
and desperately wanted her days to move forward in this happy manner. There
were also a few days in her home where she talked about cooking for Paul D. to
make it more like a family home — dancing and singing and being happy about
having Beloved back in her environment. However, even in the end she could not
put slavery in her past depicted when Mr. Bodwin drove up to her house on a
wagon ready to help destroy Beloved. Sethe states that: “her past had been like
her present- intolerable” (Morrison 4). All she saw in her mentally disturbed
mind was someone ready to attack her and her family as slaves. Similarly, Emily’s
desperate need for family and companionship were derailed by her abusive father
who alienated her from any suitor who came to call on her. It appeared her
father did not believe anyone could measure up to his daughter. Therefore,
after her father’s death, more loneliness set in as there was no one to call on
her. Emily, like Sethe, also found some happy times when she met Homer who had
come down from the North to re-build sidewalks in the South. They courted each
other as she held her head high on Sundays when he picked her up in the
yellow-wheeled buggy. Trying to bring him into her home and make a life with
him was also extinguished because he did not feel the same about committing to
and marrying her. This was another attempt at dating, which her father had
spoiled many years ago.

Both Emily and Sethe were mentally
traumatized and unstable because of their strong desire for family but having
no role models to follow. They were both portrayed as lonely and reclusive and
at times their houses reflected those same emotions in their physical states.
Emily and Sethe could not mentally move themselves beyond the hauntings of
their respective pasts, and lived the remaining years prior to death isolated
and in a secluded state of mind. They both spent their final days dying in bed.
As a whole, slavery was a very depressing time in American history for many
people and the way society dictated how individuals should feel about family,
companionship, and moving forward in areas transitioning during a post-civil
war era which was uncomfortable as well as difficult for certain individuals. Ultimately,
Sethe and Emily had such strong desires for family life that Sethe killed a
child to keep Beloved from being taken as a slave whereas Emily kept her dead
father’s corpse as a need to keep him in her home.

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