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Faulkner’s first published and is one of his most widely read stories. First appearing in The Forum in April 1930 (Brooks 7), “A Rose for Emily” is a horror story regarded as one of the most “gothic” Faulkner ever had written (Brooks 51). It is the story of a woman, Emily Grierson, whose life is recalled by an anonymous narrator who represents the attitudes and ideas of the community. When suppressed by her father until his death, she takes up with a Northern laborer, Homer Barron. When she is faced with desertion from her love, she turned to murdering him by poison. It was later discovered after Emily’s own death that Homer’s rotting corpse was in a loving embrace from forty years before after the door was forced open in the upstairs bedroom with an iron gray hair lying on the pillow beside him. By examining Emily’s relationship with her father, her place in the community, and her problem with distinguishing the present from the past, a lot is revealed about the character of Miss Emily in the story. The Grierson family had a streak of general insanity along with an insane pride. Miss Emily’s father, a selfish and dominating man, thought that none of the young men who came courting her were good enough for their name. So he discouraged them – really drove them away – and when he finally died, his daughter was still unmarried and with little more left to her than the house itself. In a way, the narrator says, “People were glad. At last they could pity Miss Emily. Being alone, and a pauper, she had become humanized” (Faulkner 244). Now she would know like other people, what it felt like to count pennies.
Miss Emily’s relation to the small community is of great significance in the story. inescapable. even a parable (Brooks 41). She had become part of the history of the town. Everyone had looked up the Grierson’s in the small community of Jefferson. is accentuated by the community. the town prefers that she remain intact within her old house. but honorable time. Jefferson is smugly pleased at possessing a symbol of a long gone. The tragedy in the story was shown in Emily’s inability to escape the influence of her repressive father (Hamblin 32). The feelings of the community towards Miss Emily are very complicated. a fable. impervious. and perverse” (247).Some have found in Homer. “dear. He is clearly the spokesman for the community and his story is about what Miss Emily’s life and death meant to the community (Brooks 32). and a care” (Faulkner 242). when Miss Emily dies. she becomes their “fallen monument” (Page 100). This situation. They held their heads high – some of the townspeople felt too high. his strong masculine presence and whip-welding skills are an interesting resemblance to Emily’s domineering father. Emily’s suitor. It comes close to being called a legend. Miss Emily is denied normal participation in the life of the community because she represents a traditional aristocracy of a higher social class than most people. They see Emily’s crime as a second attempt to keep a father figure from deserting her. For in the community’s eyes. an idol. a landmark. a duty. Miss Emily is “a tradition. The narrator in the story plays an important role also. She was kind of a monument. Mississippi. tranquil. which denies Miss Emily a normal life by regarding her as their symbol of the past. her story is no mere case history. The nameless narrator uses phrases such as “We . created by her heredity.
and her insistence to meeting life solely on her own terms. “After a week or two. “We knew”. The narrator is careful to note that they “waited . The smell gives the narrator an opportunity to tell the readers that it was about this time that “people had begun to feel really sorry for her. Then. ended in a horrifying deformation of her own psyche. clearly though Homer Barron had not married her. But Miss Emily’s absolute defiance of what others think. a gentleman of the old South wouldn’t tell her to her face that she smelled bad so he arranged a private clean-up done at night with men throwing lime at the cellar openings of her house. ignoring custom tradition and law. the smell died away” (Faulkner 244). The townspeople believed that she meant to kill herself after the disappearance of her beloved Homer. and it seemed like he had left town for good. in 1894.” (244) When Miss Emily purchased the arsenic at the drugstore. and so forth. The narrator moves smoothly from the mention of Miss Emily’s funeral at the beginning of the story to when.believed”. But she does not kill herself. the news spread rapidly throughout the town. or “I know. for an aristocratic lady would prefer death to dishonor. Colonel Sartoris had used a flimsy reason to remit her taxes. instead of “I believed”. The community learns how horrifying only after her funeral when an exploration of the upper rooms of the house is undertaken. he moves to the new generation of aldermen expecting Miss Emily to pay her taxes like everyone else.” He was speaking consciously for the community. Miss Emily’s proud independence and disregard for bureaucratic regulation brought about a certain admiration from the community itself. and then he jumps back thirty years to when the awful smell came strongly from Miss Emily’s house and Judge Stevens.
In this context her isolation. the law. It is as if the town recognized that she had earned a right to this extension of her hard-won and bitterly maintained privacy to wait until she was buried before going through her house. Emily was forced to become engaged in a defiance of time and reality. The past is represented in Emily herself. Tobe. and in Homer Barron. She refused to live in the real world. Emily is a source of mystery and intrigue for the community part due to the oddity of her behavior derived from her isolation and resistance to change. Colonel Sartoris. After three days and a lot of persuasion. The community respects her position while it also delights in her eccentricities and her fall from grace.until Miss Emily was decently in the ground before they opened” (247) the locked room and the intruders discovered what was left of her lover from over forty years before. When her father died she refused to admit he was dead. the post office. the old Negro servant. and even death itself. and in the Board of Aldermen who accepted the Colonel’s attitude toward Emily and rescinded her taxes. the vision of the “lady” as incorporated in the myths and the reality of the antebellum South. she finally allowed the body to be taken out of the house and buried. The present is depicted though the unnamed narrator. but there is also a curiosity brought about by her class. As a member of one of the oldest families in Jefferson. the new Board of Aldermen. Emily embodies. . The principle contrast in the story is between past and present time. her assumptions about the power of class. for the community. ignoring the tax office. and her increasingly bizarre behavior suggests the dangers of clinging too closely to the past and refusing to accept change.
“ I have no taxes in Jefferson” (243). Whenever the present lapped too high. “The stubborn and coquettish decay” of the mansions exterior. For to ignore the past is to be foolishly innocent. As Danforth Ross stated. and according to the “old” view. He had given her his word. and the persistent dust are some of the signs in the story of the ever presence of death (Page 102).Also.” Emily lived in the past. the dark shadows that pervaded its interior. when the new Board of Aldermen came to explain that she had to pay taxes on her property just like everyone else. she hurled back the waves. “Had Miss Emily lived alone for so long that she had not heard that he was dead? Or are the dead for her alive than the living?” (Brooks 9) Just as Emily refused to acknowledge the death of her father. protecting herself from a world that was too much for her. “a rose for Emily” – an accolade for her. Emily was living behind barricaded doors. She denied the authority of the tax notice sent to her and she told the men to see Colonel Sartoris. “She had become a tiny island of the past surrounded by the ocean of the present. . to ignore the present is to become monstrous and inhuman (West 73). she also refused to acknowledge the death of the Colonel. Miss Emily’s large Southern Victorian house also mirrored her resistance to change as it gradually came to stand alone among the utilitarian structures of industry and commerce that mark the neighborhood’s changing character. always a world of unreality to the people in the present (West 68).” (Ross 36). Hence. Colonel Sartoris had been dead for nearly ten years. Man must come to terms with the past and the present. Emily refused to admit she owed any taxes. the present with everything set down in “the books. Cleanth Brooks states. It was the past against the present – the past with its social decorum. “his word” knew no death.
she did not give in.Emily’s place in regard to the specific problem of time is shown in the scene where the old soldiers appear at her funeral. She was not to be scorned or pitied. divided from the present by a narrow bottleneck of the most recent decade of years. These acts were neither life giving or redeeming. Emily holds the second view. she was led into a life of frustration. but for her there is no bottleneck dividing her from the meadow of the past (West 70). isolation. She did not crumble under pressures exerted upon her. The second view is the world of tradition where the past is viewed as a large meadow where no winter ever quite touches. There we are told two different views of time. . and decay. The first being the world of the present in which time is viewed as a mechanical progression in which the past is seen as a diminishing road. She insisted on choosing a lover in spite of the criticism of the town. on the contrary. never to be ran across again. She led an idle and useless life. Her mania is a manifestation of her pride. her independence. She refused to be jilted. She was driven to criminal acts in desperate attempts to stimulate something of love’s fulfillment. and her iron will. perversion. Miss Emily Grierson is a victim of her own pride. In conclusion.
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