One of the numerous, underappreciated advantages of being a teaching assistant or lecturer is the opportunity to teach anthologized stories over and over again to more or less recalcitrant freshmen.
Though surprises, good and bad, occur, one becomes pretty adept at anticipating students' reactions and deducing their readerly assumptions and habits.
Foremost among these-why would Homer take up with Emily if he were not interested in her romantically?
Did Emily provide a convenient cover for his unspeakable predilections, or was she a confidante, a fellow "queer" to whom Homer was drawn instinctively?
Does Emily kill Homer because she discovers the truth and feels betrayed, or to save her friend from a "barren" life marred by episodes of degenerate abandon?
Is she, in other words, like the old women in Arsenic and Old Lace, kindly poisoning hopelessly lonely men to put them out of their misery?
Given their distinct, apparently incompatible personalities, as well as the other impediments-social, cultural and practical-keeping them apart, it seems reasonable to suppose that their relationship may be founded upon an attraction or commonality not readily discernible.
Although the narrator supposes a sexual liaison between Homer and Emily-"'What else could . .'" (125)-his judgment, and those of the townspeople whose gossip he merely reports, has already proven to be unreliable; the revelation at the conclusion of the story, perhaps more surprising to the narrator than to meticulous readers, challenges us to reevaluate and question everything the narrator has told us to that point.
These same students might be heartened to learn that an obstinate allegiance to their own particular reading of the text, any text, is validated by the most voguish literary theory. If this is the case, then meaning is not something one discovers or extracts but, rather, something one confers or creates.
According to the new paradigm that obtains in the classroom-at least among the avant-garde--teachers should no longer assume the role of hierophant, the initiated priest practiced in the freemasonry of literary hermeneutics, while students, benighted acolytes, gape and scribble down our oracular pronouncements. This model supplants the old aristocratic ideal, where a powerful, privileged reader-the teacher-dispenses authorized readings, ex cathedra, to mute vassals.