William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is perhaps his most famous and most anthologized short story. From the moment it was first published in 1930, this story has been analyzed and criticized by both published critics and the causal reader.
The well known Literary critic and author Harold Bloom suggest that the story is so captivating because of Faulkner’s use of literary techniques such as “sophisticated structure, with compelling characterization, and plot” (14). Through his creative ability to use such techniques he is able to weave an intriguing story full of symbolism, contrasts, and moral worth.The story is brief, yet it covers almost seventy five years in the life of a spinster named Emily Grierson. Faulkner develops the character Miss Emily and the events in her life to not only tell a rich and shocking story, but to also portray his view on the South’s plight after the Civil War.
Miss Emily becomes the canvas in which he paints the customs and traditions of the Old South or antebellum era. The story “A Rose For Emily” becomes symbolic of the plight of the South as it struggles to face change with Miss Emily becoming the tragic heroin of the Old South.Growing up in Mississippi in the late Nineteenth Century and the early part of the Twentieth Century, young William Faulkner witnessed first hand the struggles his beloved South endured through their slow progression of rebuilding. These experiences helped to develop Faulkner’s writing style. “Faulkner deals almost exclusively with the Southern scene (with) the Civil War...
… always behind his work” (Warren 1310. His works however are not so much historical in nature but more like folk lore.
This way Faulkner is not constrained to keep details accurate, instead he manipulate the story to share his on views leading the reader to conclude morals or lessons from his experience. Faulkner writes often and “sympathetically of the older order of the antebellum society. It was a society that valued honor, (and) was capable of heroic action” (Brooks 145) both traits Faulkner admired. These sympathetic views are revealed in the story “A Rose for Emily” with Miss Emily becoming a monument for the Antebellum South. A Rose for Emily” is a story about Emily Grierson who kills her Yankee boyfriend Homer Barron and lives with his body in her bedroom for over forty years. However, the story is not really about Miss Emily’s actions, but more about the “society that made her” (Dilworth 254).
Miss Emily grew up as part of an aristocratic Southern family, with an overpowering father who refused to allow her to be courted by the young men of the town. It is Emily’s father who first elevated her to idol status by keeping her segregated from her peers.Critic Jack Scherting describes Emily’s father as “an imperious man, proud of his Southern heritage and of his family’s status in Jefferson” (400). However, after her father’s death, the town continues to idolize Miss Emily as a monument of their by gone era. The narrator states this fact at the very beginning of the story when he says “alive, Miss Emily had been
a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (Faulkner 29).
Miss Emily was a tradition; she represented the old South and their past.The narrator discloses this fact early in his tale in essence giving the reader a possible explanation to her later actions. Miss Emily is called an idol twice by the narrator which is a “good metaphor because, like an idol she was revered,” (Dilworth 255) just as the South revered their antebellum ways. During the Post Civil War period the Southerners were being forced to change their way of life, to become more like the industrialized North.
As the town begins to change, Miss Emily continues to live much as she did prior to the war and this seems to satisfy both.Her father left her broke, yet she never worked outside of the home, she continued to have a black servant, and Miss Emily always looked prim and proper with an air of aloofness. The town’s folk held Miss Emily to a different standard because they revered her so. She is even compared to an angel, almost Godlike. Miss Emily is allowed to live by old standards and is not expected to change.
She is perceived as a genteel Southern lady who should not be bothered with everyday problems.This is evident when Colonel Sortoris fabricates a story about why she did not owe taxes, the narrator says “only a man of Colonel Sortoris generation and thought could have invented it, and only a woman could have believed it”(Faulkner 29). Also when neighbors complain of the smell around Miss Emily’s house Judge Stevens states “will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad” (Faulkner 31). Miss Emily’s status allows her certain privileges in the town. When the next generation town folk attempt to collect the taxes, Emily refuses to pay and the town allows it.Miss Emily refuses to state the purpose for her wanting to buy the arsenic, yet the pharmacist still gives her the poison.
When free mail service came to Jefferson, Miss Emily refused to allow mail service and the house numbers be placed on her house. Miss Emily refuses to follow the law, and she is allowed to rebel against change. The town allows her not to conform because they need her “to preserve the value of their old South” (Dilworth252). Emily Grierson becomes the tragic heroin of “A Rose for Emily”. Her status as the town’s idol or monument of their past, comes with a hefty price.
Emily is forced into “a life of solitude owing to denial of natural sexual affection” (Dilworth 254). The town expects Emily to behave in a certain manner, to uphold their view of her. When Emily finds love, the town intervenes because “of course a Grierson would not think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer” (Faulkner 32). Both the town and Miss Emily need each other; the town needs her to remain the same because she represents their past, and Miss Emily needs the town because they allow her to keep her outdated beliefs.Homer however, is a threat to the
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