At first, "Compassion and Forgiveness" might not be apparent in this story. The story can seem downright cruel, the characters wholly unsympathetic, and the plot gross.
But when we begin to see the magnitude of the tragedy, and its impact on multiple generations, we understand the story is a call for understanding. The story seems to argue that forgiveness, compassion, and understanding can only come by facing the facts of the past and the present, which are tangled up together in an tight knot. Faulkner is both mercilessly subtle, and painfully blunt in this story, but we can feel the spirit of compassion rushing through.
Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness
Do the townspeople pity Emily? Is this pity the same thing as compassion? If so, how can pity and compassion the same?
Does the town treat Emily compassionately? Can you give any examples?
Would it have been more compassionate to leave Emily alone with her crime the way the town does in the story, or to let her be processed by the system?
If it is true that Emily murdered Homer Barron, can we still feel compassionate for her? Explain. Do you feel compassion for Homer?
Can we forgive Emily's father for what he did to her? Why or why not?
Is there anything shown in the novel that you find unforgivable? If so, what? If not, explain?
Chew on This
By showing us that Emily is insane, Faulkner gives us space to feel compassion for her, and to forgive her for her crime.
True compassion for criminals involves allowing them to face their crimes and their punishments on the legal record – that the town failed to allow Emily this process shows their lack of true compassion for her.