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A Rose for Emily Thorn

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A Close Reading of William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”

William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” portrays itself as sort of a gothic sort of story. The elements of a gothic novel are meant to fashion a sense of trepidation, obscurity and unknown, which are vital in creating compelling stories. It has its fill of suspense and madness throughout its entirety, resulting in fastidious conventions in its type of writing structure, characterization, point of view, theme, and setting. Gothic novels are also known to contain an element of romance, which are often exaggerated to the extremes.
I would say that the main point of view of this selected passage comes from an unknown narrator, told in the first person, who clearly is a resident of the town of Jefferson and knows the little-known life of the protagonist, Miss Emily. The “they” that is in the second sentence refers to the group of townsfolk who arrived at her house. The emotions of the crowd are a mixture of respectful condolences and curiosity. The men are present merely out of respect, giving off an air they only attend because it is an expected behavior and not because she was popular in the community. The women go out of curiosity to see the inside of the house. There certainly seems to be a general consensus among the group that she was living almost a secret life which was clearly meant to stay that way. The phrase “would have to be forced” makes it clear the group is anxious about finding out what has been kept from the outside world for so long, forty years according to the passage. Between the forty years between Homer Barron’s disappearance Miss Emily has very little interaction with the outside world save for “lessons in china painting” (232). Other than that small glimpse into her life, she remained a mystery.
Throughout the story the narrator exudes an air of sympathy towards Miss Emily. There is no apparent condemning of her actions from the narrator in relation to her obsession with Homer Barron. While she comes from a highly aristocratic background, she did not choose any men from the same level, whether it was due to her father or their status it’s hard to tell. What seems to galvanize the community is she chose a Yankee foreman, Homer, instead of a southern gentleman. Moving from admiring Miss Emily as a tribute to southern royalty in the beginning to taking a step back and pondering the dilemma of her infatuation with a Yankee, the narrator again pities her, this time when she refuses to accept the fact her father has died and does not bury him: "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" (320). Just using the word "cling" unintentionally prepares the readers for her clinging to Homer's dead body at the end. It’s ironic the narrator seems to respect Miss Emily’s disposition as old southern royalty while she tries to keep a barrier between herself and the seemingly crude and offensive world around her. Ultimately she takes desperation to a new level, necrophilia with lower-tier individual.
Beginning with the present condition of Miss Emily Grierson’s house as a decaying mansion, there is no indication of human entry for nearly a decade before her death. “An eyesore among eyesores” (229) is the portrayal the once “heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street” (229) used to be. It is easy to imagine the house had once been grand and the envy of everyone in the community. It is precisely that past grandness which has the monument still standing at the time presented in William Faulkner’s writings. No one in the community could really bear to have the house condemned because most residents remembered their awe of the home in its glory days. Inside, the house smelled of dust and had a closed, dank smell which paints the picture in which the home and its contents were well beyond their prime. “She looked bloated like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that palled hue” (229) is how Miss Emily is described, which when description describes how Miss Emily is in a similar condition. These images of decay and age have two meanings. While it is obvious that the home, its contents and Emily are nearing the end of their existence, it is also evident from knowing the themes of the writing of Faulkner that the author is using the house and Emily as a symbol for the death and decay of traditional “old south” values.
The connection between the “rose” and the rest of the story is consistent all through its entirety. A rose itself stands for life, beauty, love, passion, and even death. Miss Emily lived a life that involved much more death and denial than love or passion. The rose is a tribute to her life and death, at the same time serving to symbolize Homer’s death as well. In the end, Homer’s lifeless body was discovered in the parlor room for Miss Emily to cherish. The irony in this is that her life was not beautiful or glamorous in any sense of the words but a rose is one of nature’s most beautiful flowers. The room is described as having “rose-shaded lights” (233) and the curtains giving off a “faded rose color) (233). Anyone who has ever practiced the art of drying flowers know the whole point is to keep them forever, and perhaps in her distorted reality she wanted to keep Homer forever as one might keep a rose. It’s evident that she took good care of him, which is exemplified by her dressing him in nightclothes and laying him on the bed.
Though not a central theme, the theme of violence is scattered throughout the story. Passive aggressive violence presents itself when the townspeople are offended by the foul smell that seems to linger around Miss Emily’s house; rather than being up-front about the burden that was apparently plaguing the neighbors, they take matters into their own hands. Breaking and entering is hardly the courteous approach to solving a problem, but four men took it upon themselves to break into the basement cellar window and “sprinkled lime there, and in all the out-buildings” (230) to solve the problem. Though a different example, verbal violence is prevalent in some areas, such as when Miss Emily and others would gather around to watch Homer “cuss the niggers” (231) which shows the reader the lack of respect Homer has for his workers. Instead of treating them as decent human beings, he uses them purely for their physical labor abilities in the construction business and has no patience for breaks. Finally, the obvious example of violence lays in the fact Miss Emily eventually murders Homer, after attempting to court him unsuccessfully.
Her obsession with holding onto the past and avoiding change comes up several times in the story, in terms of her taxes, the societal pedestal she places herself upon, her father’s death and Homer’s abandonment. One could say she is a type of symbol of what the South endured following the Civil War. William Faulkner successfully displays his views of the differences between the North and the South with the characters of Miss Emily and Homer. Homer is seen as a character that easily adapts to any situation he is put in by the face that he travels around so much and made acquaintances wherever he landed; “Pretty soon he knew everybody in town. Whenever you heard a lot of laughing… Homer Barron would be in the center” (231). Miss Emily is a representation of the old South by her stubbornness to express being stuck on traditions and how she does not work or own money but gets everything from her status. Faulkner uses the fact by which the North is in favor of change and accepts new things easily to give Homer an attitude of readiness. As such, she refuses to let go of anything and everything. For most of her life Miss Emily was controlled by her father, by not allowing her to have a normal life and chasing off her hopes of love with a whip. In her own reality she may have felt being with Homer was her last chance of having the last piece of the puzzle in terms of creating her perfect world, and she made him fit at all costs. In short, Emily knows Homer is not the type of guy to abandon the rural lifestyle and settle down with one woman. Her inability to let go is the reason behind her murder of Homer. While Miss Emily tries to embrace the tradition and background of getting married, having a family and being in love, her aspirations are shot when Homer leaves. In the ways of the South she had been trained to not take a lover but to marry instead, yet if no one would marry her, how else would she make that marriage come true for herself? The decorum and rigid rules of the old traditions thwarted Emily and caused her to commit murder.
It does not occur to the reader until the final sentence of the passage that Miss Emily is finally revealed in whole. Being denied male companionship throughout her life by her father and eventually Homer, it becomes evident Miss Emily is so desperate for human love that she will go to any ends to reach her goal. She thus uses her status in society as an aristocrat to cover up the notion of murder. But instead of filling in the gap of love and camaraderie that another (living) person normally would fill, she essentially sentences herself to a life of total isolation. When she has no possibility of contact with the living, she turns to the dead, who she knows will never abandon or let her down. The ending is William Faulkner’s way of placing the characters back into the reality of what can happen when a person becomes so emotionally, physically, and psychologically isolated. The narrator chose to end with an air of crisis that’s effective in allowing the audience one last glimpse of what Miss Emily was like. The passage certainly takes place at the end of the story but it is also the moment of crisis which was brought on by previous altercations and actions by the characters, namely Miss Emily.

Works Cited
Faulkner, William. "A Rose for Emily." Close Reading: an Introduction to Literature. Boston: Longman, 2010. 228-33. Print.…...

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