Thursday, June 16, 2011

“A Rose for Emily”

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“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner was set in the post Civil War era, in Jefferson, Mississippi, the heart of the South. The time setting is important to this story, because it helps us understand the story’s characters better. The story begins when Miss Emily Grierson dies and the whole town goes to her funeral, mostly out of curiosity, but also out of a “respectful affection for a fallen monument.” She was a “monument” of Southern aristocracy, an ideal of past values, but fallen because she herself was susceptible to death. Faulkner shows us here that by clinging to the past and adhering to social roles, we imprison rather than liberate ourselves.

Miss Emily’s father was a hard man who did not believe any man was good enough for his daughter or the Grierson family. The town viewed the young Miss Emily as a “slender figure in white”, representing the vulnerable virgin, being submissive as a good Southern daughter would be. In contrast, they viewed her father as a “spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip”, thus representing a dark, menacing figure assuming the front, dominant position. His back to her suggests a disregard for her, probably because she was a woman, and a control over her life. “Clutching a horsewhip” suggests that he is ready to fend off or defend his daughter’s virtue from any unsuitable man who did not meet his standards. Unfortunately, his standards were unattainable, and Miss Emily remains a spinster.

The only person Miss Emily had was her father, and when he died, her inability to let go was apparent in the fact that she kept telling everyone that her father was not dead, and it took three days to get her to release the body for burial. He had abandoned her, leaving her nothing more than the house; and although he had left her a pauper, she never really recognized this fact. Her grip on reality (the present) was already beginning to slip away.

Not long after her father’s death, Miss Emily met Homer Barron. He was a construction worker, a class beneath the noble Griersons. He was also a Yankee, a fact that cannot be ignored. This story takes place shortly after the Civil War, and their relationship represented the unnatural union between the North and the South, in the eyes of Southern aristocracy, so the minister’s wife sent word to her family in Alabama to come and basically secure her virtue, as well as the noble Grierson name. However, shortly after her cousins leave, Homer returns to Jefferson. Miss Emily had done the unthinkable for a woman of her stature. She had purchased expensive, very personal items for Homer, a man beneath her, as though she was secretly planning to marry him.

William Faulkner uses the technique of foreshadowing in Parts II and III of his story. Miss Emily goes to the pharmacy and demands poison. After a little reluctance, the pharmacist relented and gave her the arsenic without finding out what she needed it for, which was the law. This is one example where we see that not only Miss Emily, but the townspeople as well, view her as “above the law.” In Part II, we are given a hint as to the depth of her insanity. Members of the town (representative of the younger, more modern generation) start complaining about a smell around her house. When they approach Judge Stevens (representative of the more traditional generation), he responded, “Dammit, sir, will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?”, so the townspeople decided to take care of the matter discreetly by pouring lime around her property.

At the end of this story, the townspeople go into the house and discover, without much surprise, the corpse of Homer Barron in a rose colored room that looks much like a bridal suite. Miss Emily had lived many years with the domineering father, who in the end had abandoned her in death. Homer Barron was the only other person in her life that represented security or love. When Homer informed her that he was not the marrying type, Miss Emily, threatened with desertion and disgrace, murdered him. Keeping his body in the “bridal” suite, she was able to maintain the fantasy of the past. Miss Emily could no longer live in the present; alone, disgraced and poor.

Miss Emily clung to the past like it was a lifeline. Her father and Homer Barron were the only two significant people in her life. Her father made sure that she understood her place in society and that no one, but him, was good enough for a woman of her stature. When her father deserted her by death, she replaced him with Homer Barron, who was another domineering presence. When Homer wanted to leave, Miss Emily made sure that she would never be abandoned again. She was not allowed to keep her father’s body, because the townspeople knew he was dead, but she was able to create a substitute body for his by murdering Homer. This allowed her to lose the last semblance of her sanity and to lock herself away from all change inherent with the passage of time.

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