Rose For Emily William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is the story of a woman’s reluctance towards change. The story encompasses the entire town’s unwillingness to change, while focusing on the protagonist, Emily Grierson. Faulkner uses symbols throughout the story to cloak an almost allegorical correlation to the reconstruction period of the South. Even though these symbols are open to interpretation, they are the heart and soul of the story. While the literal meaning of Faulkner’s story implies many different conclusions, it is primarily the psychological and symbolic aspects which give the story meaning. Exploring these aspects will shed light on Faulkner’s intention of “A Rose for Emily.” After Emily Grierson’s domineering father dies, she refuses to move on.
By defining “moving on” as letting go, we see that Emily is lodged in the past, unable to ameliorate as the rest of society does. Whenever anything drastic occurs, Emily becomes reclusive,”After her father’s death she went out very little.. after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all.” (428), the narrator explains. She had Tobe, her butler to interact with the world so that she didn’t have to face reality. Psychologically, this is very important in terms of how Emily views the world and why she commits murder.
If unable to change, one will die in time. Emily though was held to the code of “noblesse oblige” (430). This meant that even in dire need, Emily would never reveal her true feelings to the common folk of Jefferson. So she distorts time, refusing to accept the fact that her father was dead: The day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom. Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face.
She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to let them dispose of the body. Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down, and they buried her father quickly. (429) Emily now clear of her father’s “horsewhip” (429), was free to explore her sexuality. This newfound freedom led her to fancy a Yankee day laborer named Homer Barron.
Her father would never have approved of a commoner such as Homer as the townsfolk point out, “We remembered all the men her father had driven away” (429). Their relationship grew and the townspeople suspected that they would be married, as is the southern way. They were mildly surprise that they were not to be married attributing it to “that quality of her father which had thwarted her woman’s life so many times..” (432). Her father had doomed her life, stifling any chance for growth. Not all of the blame is to be placed on Emily’s father, rather, it should be spread among the people of the town, her father, and Emily herself.
This falling out with Homer is the turning point in the story. Instead of grieving as a normal person would, Miss Emily turns into a psychotic crazed lover. At this point in the story she ceases to only be called Miss Emily; and the town chooses to add poor Emily , as if a noble Grierson would need pity. Rather than sulk, Emily goes to the drugstore to buy poison, expectedly to kill herself. She displays her force as a Grierson to the unsure druggist when he asks why she requires poison, “Miss Emily just stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him eye to eye, until he looked away and went and got the arsenic and wrapped it up” (431).
She used her influence as a Grierson to get what she wanted, even though at this point, the Grierson name, through several humbling events, was losing its vigor. Still alive, Emily again chooses to live a hermit’s life, now that Homer is gone. She again takes refuge in her house which literally and figuratively is Miss Emily’s denial of reality and time. This is the initiation of her downfall and ultimatly her lonely death. She refused to be accepted as what she truley was, a commoner. “..She demanded nore than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson” (430).
Emily, in her home, which for her, was functioning as a temporal shelter, was impervious to the progression that was sweeping the rest of society. “Miss Emily alone refused to let them fasten the metal numbers above her door and attach a mailbox to it. She would not listen to them.” (432). Emily died alone, save for her “Negro man to wait on her” (432). The town had forgotten her, for she alone was in the past. Society typically doesn’t look back,it instead looks forward.
Miss Emily had long since faded into the past, where no one but scholars would think to look. However the town still respected Emily for what she was, a “monument” (426). The townfolk did attend the funeral, in most part “..out of curiousity to see the inside of her house..” (426). After the funeral, the townspeople investigated the house finding a room untouched for over 40 years. The house, like Emily, was stagnant and hadn’t succumbed to the evolution of time.
Homer Barron’s decayed body was found lying in bed. Next to Homer there was an “indentation of a head” (433), and on this pillow lay a “iron gray hair” that belonged to Miss Emily, who apparently was sleeping with the corpse for years. With Emly Grierson dead, the town no longer had a grasp for the traditional south. Who else would take on the responsibilty of noblisse oblige? In essense, the reconstruction was complete. Faulkner’s story has serious pyschologial ramifications.
In this context we see a young girl who is forever changed by her abusive father. She then manifests her desires on an unsuspecting northerner, who through his eyes, is doing nothing wrong. To Miss Emily desertion is a great sin and she will stop at nothing to retain Homer and her dignity. One could also surmise that she has indulged in necrophillia, as well. All because she is unwilling to recognize that things change over time.
The authors consistant use of symbols throughout the story are yet another facet of the magnificance of “A Rose for Emily”. For example, consider Faulkner’s extensive use of color in the story. It is not just for describing the setting and characters. It is actually used to illustrate certain qualities that the author has deemed meaningful. For instance, Emily’s house, which is now “an eyesore among eyesores” (427), represents the Old South.
It like Emily, was the only thing from a dying generation left; they both were a testemant to a bygone era. The house “had once been white” (427), just as Emil’y’s portrait showed her as a “slender figure in white”, and later the house, like Emily, deteriorates in to an eyesore. Faulkner’s description of Emily in the youthful portrait is a stark contrast to her in her later years, “..a small, fat women in black, with a thin gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt..She looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue” (428). Faulkner’s description can be absorbed in several different ways, but it is clear that the water stands for time and Emily has been stuck in time since her Homer’s that when digested as a whole paint a unsettling picture. Faulkner’s own distortion of time make reading “A Rose for Emily” almost as, according to the author, the old do, “..confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottle-neck of the most recent decade of years”(433). Throughout the story Faulkner gives the reader glimpses of Emily’s life, essentially giving us the opportunity to draw our own conclusions based on the evidence.
The conclusion I’ve drawn is that Faulkner’s intention of the story was to expose the falling of a once distinguished way of life. The author also raises the question of the role of women in Southern society. Yet another function of Faulkner’s work is to make the reader question the effects of life on all of us.