Borges’ “The House of Asterion” and Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” provide rich grounds for comparison and contrast. Irrespective of the fact that they are written from different points of view or unfold within different periods, both explore the theme of isolation and alienation which result from the protagonists’ conviction in their own superiority, on the one hand, and which have been imposed upon them by their own different-ness, on the other. Even though both Miss Emily and Asterion believe that they are in voluntary isolation from their social surroundings and have rescinded contact with others because of their superior status, a critical reading of both stories indicates that they have been marginalized by their surroundings.
“A Rose for Emily,” may be interpreted as a narrative about the Old South, a South which has been battered and defeated by the North and by abolition. It is, however, a South which stubbornly and quite illogically insists on clinging to its former glories and, indeed, one which refuses to accept the passage of time, and thus, is left behind. The South is Miss Emily, personified in her refusal to pay taxes and her failure to acknowledge the new reality which surrounds her, culminating in her dismissive treatment of the town’s authorities and her rejection of the very concept of the mailbox/postal services. The South is also the decaying mansion; the mansion which is falling into disrepair but, despite the ravages of time, maintains its haughty, superior demeanor. Last, but not least, the South is Miss Emily’s “negro” servant; the man who silently goes about his duties, keeps Miss Emily’s darkest secrets and when she dies, disappears. The implication here is that the past, as represented in this story, is personified in Miss Emily and her servant and symbolized in the house. She is, as the unnamed narrator insists, “tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town.” She is not, at any time, part of her surroundings and at one with the present, implying the imposition of isolation upon her.
In his symbolization of the South as the old, isolated and alienated woman and her `coquettishly decaying’ mansion, Faulkner depicts the old South as, not only dying and decaying but, as a horrific and horrifying anomaly to the present and to the norm. Within the context of the stated, Miss Emily is akin to the un-dead, or death in living. This impression is solidified by the later horrifying revelation, not only of how she murdered Homer Barron but of how she slept with his decaying corpse, then grotesque skeleton. In the days following her death, the `mourners’ open a room which had been supposedly sealed for years to discover, not only the skeletal remains of the murdered Homer Barrett, but evidence that Miss Emily had inhabited this room with the dead. As the narrator says, on the “second pillow was the indentation of a head. One of us lifted something from it, and leaning forward, that faint and invisible dust dry and acrid in the nostrils, we saw a long strand of iron-gray hair.” Horrifying as that image may be, its plot value lies less in its shock-effect than in the fact that it stands out as a powerful symbol of the perversity of allowing the past to subsume the present. As such, “A Rose for Emily,” withstand interpretations as a story whose main theme is the extent to which the rejection of the present and the assumption of superiority leads to loneliness and isolation.
Unlike “A Rose for Emily,” Borges’ “The House of Asterion” is written in the first-person, from the protagonist’s point of view. Throughout the story, Asterion maintains that his isolation is self-imposed, that he has voluntarily shunned the outside world. This, however, is quite far from the truth. Certainly, as he insists, the house is unlocked and there are no locks and bolts keeping him in but, his isolation is still involuntary and imposed upon him by the very nature of who he is. As with Miss Emily, his assumption of superiority leads him to reject association with others and, importantly, as the son of a queen, he is set apart from others by his royal blood and, thus, avoided. Added to that, as a Minotaur, he is perceived of as dangerous, bloody and monstrous and, hence, few if any, associate with him. Indeed, the fact that his isolation is as involuntary as was Miss Emily’s is evident in the failure of the “other Asterion” to visit him.
Loneliness and isolation in Borges’ story is as involuntary as it was in “A Rose for Miss Emily.” Both protagonists are seemingly incapable of living in the present and with the living and, yet, they appear to crave company. Hence, Miss Emily’s companion is Barrett’s corpse and Asterion’s companions are the men which he killed, the nine men he kills every nine years and places them in different rooms in his house. Within the context of the stated, it is evident that Asterion, like Miss Emily, craves company but as he cannot connect with the living, seeks companionship from among the dead.
In closing, both stories draw their plot from the themes of loneliness and isolation. Both protagonists are the partial architects of their own loneliness and misery because their conviction in their own superiority prevents them from associating with others. Nevertheless, they are not the sole architects of the stated since their difference from the majority and the fact that they are little other than social anomalies leads their society to shun association with them.