Matthew Hochstetler 2011 Essay Writing December 5, 2011

An interpretation of A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

While William Faulkner s A Rose for Emily is the account of certain morbidly interesting events in the life and death of Miss Emily Grierson, it is more importantly about the way she is watched and perceived by the townspeople of Jefferson. Miss Emily Grierson s house is like a pedestal or stage upon which she moves about over the audience of the town she seems to have little interest in. With the town as a backdrop and the life and death of the last surviving member of an august family as the focal point, Faulkner is in a good position to contextualize truly human elements of his dear South that reflect universal characteristics in mankind at large. The story s narration is a key factor in seeing what Faulkner wants to say, especially since it is not completely clear who the narrator is. It is clear that the narrator is at least a contemporary of the events and is very often an eyewitness to the accounts that are described. He1 most definitely sees himself as a member of the community when he says that our whole town went to her funeral And he establishes himself as Jefferson s representative in expressing expectation, the one we believed would marry her, presuppositions, We had long thought of them as a tableau, and memory, We remembered all the young men her father Yet while deeply connected to the town spirit the narrator is one step removed from it. The use of we seems to bring the reader directly into the story as though also part of the whole but we is readily interchanged with they and the town creating more of a distance in certain events. This removed first-person we helps to create an atmosphere where not only Mississippians or Southerners can place themselves into the story but anyone can understand and view Emily from the Jefferson community s point of view. Through the narrator Faulkner describes many aspects of Jefferson life that could be understood as the story s focus. He spends some time describing the ruinous economic condition in which Emily Grierson s estate is in, explaining that when her father died the house was all that was left to her, reflecting the changing economic conditions in the South that came with emancipation and the industrial encroachment of garages and cotton gins. He shows racial prejudice, especially in the older generation, when Judge Stevens refers to
It could be argued that the narrator is one of the female citizens of Jefferson but he will be used to refer to a genderless narrator.
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But marriage in the traditional sense is not what Emily appeared to be doing. During this same period she also buys arsenic which the town fears she will use to kill herself. 365 66 . family and clan necessarily led to community she is left alone after he died. and a look at her mental state and how she can relate to the dead corpse could be an interesting psychology experiment. and who seems so little in touch with reality that she eventually kills her lover. She meets no small resistance in her attempt to have some sort of relationship with Homer. a sort of hereditary obligation a woman who isolates herself from them. robbed of the opportunity by her father. Emily seems to feel like something is in place again. and any more that she could have had was withheld by him. they are best seen together as the environment in which a town accepts as a tradition. as Williamson puts it. a duty. This could have been some indication of some madness in her but the town accepts it as something she had to do. None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily so the house was all that was left to her. that Emily s cousins from Alabama are called in to intervene. and a care. With Homer. a day laborer. The defining point in Emily s life seems to be when her father dies. Emily s connection to the old Southern upper class can provide insight into its corruptions and suppression. a Northerner. in a fallen state. That is why when Homer Barron and Emily are seen together the town is glad that Miss Emily would have an interest. She denies that he is dead for three days and believes it so convincingly that there is no trace of grief on her face. In the story. Marriage was the wide gate through which boys and girls became adults and entered society 2 and Emily was never able to do this. what everyone wants. She re-appears to the town like a girl and innocent after her father s death as though to emphasize what she has not achieved. Joel Williamson describes this mindset to require of the men to be protectors both physically and materially of their ladies and of the women to be pious and pure. He himself claims that he [is] not a marrying man. making the town really glad. having been left with nothing. In the context of Southern culture. family and marriage were of great importance to both men and women socially as well as financially. So she clings to him to avoid the truth of her condition. domestic and submissive. Even when the older people believe Homer Barron to be entirely below her position. During their stay it appears wedding arrangements are made. And since. and the ladies of the town seem to think their connection so disgraceful.Emily s black manservant as that nigger of hers and when the town sees Homer Barron s niggers and mules and machinery. possibly because it is not progressing toward marriage. the wedding preparations and the buying of the arsenic are separated by the story of 2 Williamson. He was all that she had. and begin to say Poor Emily. she carried her head high enough demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson. However interesting all these points may be in themselves.

rooted in a specific place. the way things concretely are. Emily. race. Faulkner is faithful to this idea even though the setting in Jefferson is fictional as Robert Drake points out: Faulkner s reporting is always rooted in a commitment to Mississipi and the people and places who make it up 6 But Emily and her town do not take their starting point in the concept of what is ideal. they begin with the reality of the way things are. concreteness and the imperfectability of man.3 Williamson points out that in the Southern world To not marry was to live one s life in an incomplete state. time. Glenn C. dead or alive. 5 The characters in A Rose for Emily live in this tension in the same way the Protestant Southerners do. not allowing an easy connection to be made to Emily s plot to use the arsenic to hold on to her lover. Roland as family. Faulkner describes in Emily a person who is rooted in a very specific place during a specific era with a distinct character and past. but a sense of place. and past. where heaven and Christlikeness (Biblical perfection) are something to be imitated but something not at all attainable. Both Emily and the spirit of the town hold on to idealism. after her sweetheart went away. as though she is less girlish and more a determined woman with her newly found position. concreteness. about the way things should be but are never removed from realism. as has been said. these are described by Charles P. and are most grotesque if they are not seen in light of her circumstances and the way the community sees her. more or less tangential to the social circle. 419 . quotes Flannery O Connor. in writing about the South s ontological splendor. This is what some theologians have called the tension of the now and the not yet. 164 5 Arbery. with a predisposition to madness from her great-aunt and a social order that thought without marriage suicide would be the best thing. Emily s actions with Homer Barron are difficult to understand. a sense of human dependence on the grace of God. and a knowledge that evil is not simply a problem to be solved. another Southern writer. but a mystery to be endured. His 3 4 Brooks. 153 Gerster. religion. takes matters into her own hands to establish her place in society. as saying the South has absorbed from the Scriptures a knowledge that evil is not simply a problem to be solved. Full quote: What has given the South her identity are those beliefs and qualities which she has absorbed from the Scriptures and from her own history of defeat and violation: a distrust of the abstract. She is distanced from the town each time her social order is jeopardized: After her father s death she went out very little. But what is it that drives this frame of mind in the first place? What has Faulkner said about Southern society that allows for this way of thinking? Faulkner emphasizes specific things that Southerners view as essential. Arbery. 4 Each of these things is touched on in A Rose for Emily. She does this with a tranquility and imperviousness that is seen when she orders the arsenic from the druggist. Faulkner shows this by making his characters concrete. and the imperfectability of man are highlighted. history. people hardly saw her at all. 6 Drake.how the town saw Emily and Homer s courtship. 41. and a sense of place. but a mystery to be endured.

Drake uses Brooks analysis to show that Emily is a tragic. impervious. wicked. .descriptions of Emily. Hulga s wooden leg becomes the subject of much attention in the story and O Connor explains later that without ceasing to appeal to [the average reader] and without making any statements of high intention. She was crazy. his eternal value. Faulkner brings out of the grotesque the human. This is the essence of A Rose for Emily. Her community does not see her as horrid. 5. 7 8 Arbery. and truths of the heart. or a murdering outcast. 42 http://www. but also dear. inescapable. and perverse. family. and her movements and actions. Emily does. Emily s concrete obsession with marriage and with her lover and the towns hopes for her are a witness to an idea that things are not quite right. her house. and the townspeople establish their being and make them real both physically and historically.nobelprize.html. and no matter how Emily tries to fall in line with what should be she witnesses to the imperfectability of man. and town. the men at least. Dec. 7 O Connor focuses on the things themselves and then draws lines to other levels of meaning as Arbery explains. after all. the shape of her body. let it think what it will not as a case study but as real person doing real things. In this sense A Rose for Emily could be compared to Flannery O Connor s Good Country People. 2011. When Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950 he said that his work brought into focus the struggle of the human spirit. and the town agrees with this in the chorus of narration. as people will. The details and the grotesque for Faulkner are a focus on the things themselves. They went to her funeral through a sort of respectful affection for a fallen monument.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1949/faulkner-speech. even heroic figure who does hold her lover and does impose her will on the community. tranquil. the way they should be. yes. by letting the wooden leg accumulate meaning. 8 and it is clear that this short story is no exception. before Emily does anything she exists: her father. her black eyes. this story does manage to operate at another level of experience.

429 30. 1964. and William B. 1989. 2011. Link. 1978. Williamson. Knopf. Louis I. Fourth Edition. Arthur S.html. In and Out of Yoknapatawpha. Modern Age. Brooks. Fall issue. Fall issue. Gerster. 1974. Joel. Drake. 41 50. 2011. Cleanth. Catton. 418 20. 1978. Myth and Southern History. . Ontological Splendor: Flannery O Connor in the Protestant South. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. New York: Alfred A.nobelprize. William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond. 1993. Bredvold. Oxford: Oxford University Press. The Intercollegiate Review. 5. vol 2. Dec. Robert. 1974. Glenn C. 1990. The World as Yoknapatawpha. William Faulkner and Southern History. http://www. Patrick and Nicholas Cords (eds).Bibliography Arbery. Modern Age. vol III. spring.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1949/faulkner-speech. American Epoch: A History of the United States Since 1900. New York. Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press. Nobel Prize in Literature: Faulkner s banquet speech.