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“A Rose For Emily” by William Faulkner

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The brilliantly written story “A Rose For Emily” by William Faulkner holds various themes and symbols that can be interpreted in several ways. This short story is about Emily Grierson’s life through the eyes of the townspeople in a small, old southern town. It starts with the odd relationship between Emily and her father before and after he dies then continues with how Emily slowly becomes isolated after poisoning her “yankee” fiancé Homer Barron and hiding his body for over 40 years in her own bed. William Faulkner uses many literary devices to develop several themes but is mainly based around how Miss Emily is metaphorically the part of the south that needs change or will have a terrible ending.

Through out the story Miss Emily Grierson is the only thing that doesn’t change. Being raised in this society has major effects on her life, driving her crazy which I think led to her cruel actions in her later life. Growing up, Miss Emily’s father played a major influence on her mentality, keeping her isolated from everyone else played a big role in her later life. After her father’s death, Miss Emily kept his corpse and denied that he was dead for three days. “We did not say she was crazy then. We believed she had to do that. We remembered all the young men her father had driven away, and we knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will.” (Paragraph 28) This quote shows that everyone knew her father influenced this mentality in Emily’s mind at an early period in life. Other pressures from society came from the point of view of the town ladies who I pictured as the constant gossipers of the town. The town ladies felt that Emily being a Grierson must have lost her “noblesse oblige” (31) or in other words honor and dignity because she liked Homer Barron who was a northerner and day laborer. When Miss Emily was out in public with Homer the town ladies saw it as a disgrace and a bad example for kids. The fact that Miss Emily was already so old and still not married didn’t help her situation either in the eyes of the town.

The south as a region was built around history and tradition, which also influenced Miss Emily’s actions. The old south judged everyone by his or her social class and rank. Everyone addressed Miss Emily as “Miss” along with the town mayor being addressed as “Colonel” this put them viewed as a higher class or a noble family even after their death or reputation around town. Their once, white, high-class estate was described as now decaying and “an eyesore among eyesores” (2). Faulkner also uses the house to symbolize Miss Emily metaphorically as decaying and left unchanged. Early in the story Faulkner describes Colonel Sartoris and his time period by mentioning the Colonel’s views on African American women being “no negro women should appear on the streets without an apron” (3) which really showed time had passed since Miss Emily was younger and that these views had changed around town all except for Miss Emily’s servant Tobe who Faulkner repeatedly refers to as “the negro”. Gender relation is also a main feature of the south. Judge Stevens refuses to ask Miss Emily about the horrible smell coming from her house because she is a lady. Miss Emily is faced with the pressures that she has to marry before a certain age, and has to marry someone that fits the southern towns standards, which Homer doesn’t match.

After all of these things that Miss Emily wont or can’t change its obvious through out the story that all she ever wanted was change. Miss Emily didn’t want to be lonely but at a young age her father kept her from any men and once he died she finally found Homer he wasn’t traditional southern husband material. The town knew Homer had came out to be homosexual and wasn’t fit to be a husband of anyone in town, and like Judge Stevens, they treated her as a lady instead of her own person. All these guidelines and standards kept Miss Emily caged and she was criticized for them. Eventually after all this pressure Miss Emily goes crazy. When Homer Barron decides he isn’t going to marry Miss Emily, she poisons him and keeps his corpse. Referring back to the previously cited quote Miss Emily “clings to that which has robbed her”. After complete denial from the living Miss Emily turns to complete isolation except for her relationship with the dead.

William Faulkner uses “A Rose For Emily” to display the south as traditional but changing for the better growth. Faulkner creates Miss Emily to symbolize a part of the south that remained unchanged and didn’t turn out like the rest, this lack of change is what drives Miss Emily crazy and leads her into killing her fiancé Homer Barron and attaches herself emotionally to the corpse. Faulkner’s main theme was to show that if the south didn’t clasp the social and historic change, then everything will decay and turn to death just like Miss Emily.

Works Cited

Kennedy, X. J., and Dana Gioia. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. Boston: Pearson, 2013. 31-37. Print.

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