A Rose for Emily is a short story penned by William Faulkner. It was the first short story written by Faulkner published in national magazine in 1931. The story revolves around the tale of a woman and pays her tribute by giving her a rose. The story is an excellent example of strong fiction based story telling skills of Faulkner as it took place in his fictional city Jefferson of fictional country Yoknaparawpha (Kerr, p83). The story delicately knits the waves of past and present to form an intricate and attractive tale that basically aims to convey gratitude and empathy to a woman that encountered series of tragedies in her life and acted very strangely towards her life problems (Constance, p848).
The story has been told by an und narrator that uncovers the strange incidents of Emily life, her relationship with the people around her and the secret that she was hiding from people. The story describes different phases of her life in different parts. Each of the part focuses upon different time frame and different type of circumstances in the life of Emily. The story became very popular among the masses and critics were also inspired from the Faulkner style due to impressive description of several delicate issues and complexities of Emily life in very impressive manner.
In the story Faulkner reflects his observations and understanding about abnormal psychology and mysteries solved by the time. He illustrates the relationship between North and South and portrays Emily as tragic heroine. It could be seen as a gothic horror tale or an explanation about strong links between past and present that could influence the behaviours and acts of people in very strange manner (Constance, p848).
The intricate phenomenon of link between past and present has been explicitly defined in the story. In face the story is based upon the major theme of depiction of past strongly linked with the present. The dialogue of a major character in the story Gavin Stevens clearly tell about the main message of the story “The past is never dead. It not even past”. This idea has been depicted very beautifully and proficiently in the story because it describes the life of Emily spanning around 74 years and different parts of the story take the readers backward and forward while chasing the occurrences in Emily life during different phases (Celia, p2)
The description of different phases life of Emily linked with each other indicates that the memories pass from one generation to another and influence the present and future of the people by affecting their thinking and behaviours. For instance, when Emily started dating Homer Barron she was actually trying to feel free from the past control of her father and the traditions that always compel her to be a proper lady with values and norms (Clay, p43).
The story spans around 74 years during which the readers could experiences the socio-political changes in Post and Pre Civil War era. It also shows the time when American South was on its midpoint and struggling to seek better ways that could honour the goods of past. The Civil was also ended up the greatness of the Old South that is often depicted in many stories written by Faulkner. He writes on the lines that there are some realities and development that people found difficult to accept and “the reality and myth are difficult to separate” (Faulkner, p78).
The end of the Old South greatness was not easy to accept for many people who refused to accept the change in their position and conditions and it was really tough for them to realize the their old days were gone and the society was heading towards new era. These people tried to live in the golden memories of their past be cherishing their precious memories and strived to maintain the values and customers of South. Miss Emily was also among the people who were trying to live with the faded customs and rituals of the past. The folks of her town were also nostalgic and became contributor to the offence and silly acts committed by Emily (Celia, p2).
After the death of her father Emily was the last remaining member of the high ranking Grierson family of the town. She acted as the ambassador of the old days rather becoming part of the present and looking towards the future. The father of Emily spent her entire life struggling to maintain the reputation of his family by avoiding the situations and people that could scandalize the family and ruin their remaining reputation in front of people. Emily was also supposed to act in the same manner as her descendants and she also had to own the values and historical inherence of her family even at the cost of her wishes and freedom (Frederick, p2).
The story hints the insanity of Emily during different phases of her life. The first indicator occurred when her father was dead and she reacted in strange manner. When people came to her to offer condolence she didn’t expressed grieve and gloom rather she acted in a manner that nothing has really happened to her. She failed to accept that her father has gone and tries to keep his body with her. The reaction of people was even stranger that none of them questioned her about keeping the dead body of the father and they assumed that it was the right way of behaving at such occasion. No one tried to come close to her because the people saw her as a perfect immaculate person equipped with all the attributes of a heroic character like pride, independence and isolation.
The treatment of people made her even more isolated and she became unable to look towards the outside world. She started living an isolated life after the death of her father and broke all the connections with the outer world. She became totally unaware of the situation and development occurred in the town that is reflected through her reply to the city authorities in which she writes “See Colonel Sartoris, I have no taxes in Jefferson” (Faulkner, 79). It was almost ten years after the death of Colonel Sartoris when she wrote him the letter. It shows that she had no idea about the time and years passed by because she was living very strange and abnormal life (Celia, p2).
Emily was living a life that a normal person could never live but the town folks also didn’t realize that they should bring Emily near to life rather worshiping her and deeming all of acts right. Emily was seen a holy symbol of past and she lost her life as a normal human being due to this attitude of people around her. The town folks never realized that she was also a normal human being having same feeling and emotions and this lack of realization also prevent them from realizing that Emily was a criminal who committed planned murder (Frederick, p2).
The attitude of people towards Emily shows that people love to live in the past and they also want to have someone around them to remind them about their past. Not only life of Emily shows the connection between past and present but the behaviour of the town folks is also an important element that hints strong connections between past and present and the way people like someone around them as a symbol of their past. Emily was seen as a living legend by the people and rather behaving in normal manner they treated her as highly positioned lady that eventually became isolated and her life became an example of great tragedy.
Faulkner switches the chronological orders of the events of life of Emily to make the story more interesting and full of suspense. He gives several clues of things going inside Emily house but didn’t disclose all the things till the end to made climax of the story. For instance, he mentioned the time when terrible odour started coming out from the Emily house but people didn’t attempted to know the real cause behind the smell and sprinkled lime to extinguish that terrible smell. This attitude also indicates the psychology of people facing difficulty to accept the change in the situation. They don’t want to dig things deep to find anything beyond their expectations and want to keep them away from the trust that could break the images or conceptions of their past.
The story tells how the love for the South values made people blind and they worshiped Emily for being a symbol of their past. The town folks had no idea that their treatment will make Emily an abnormal person and a cool blooded murdered who spent years of her life sleeping beside a dead body and no one dare some to see inside her house and her life because they saw her at very high place and never associate any wrong thing with her. The attitude of the town folks reflect their blind love with their past that they always see their past full of golden and good memories and they never want to associate any negative thing with their past even if there is some truth behind it.
Faulkner has used the element of time in very proficient manner not only to enhance the detail of the setting but also to message of the story more strong and attractive. He talks about the people that want to live in their past and compromise their present for their wish. The story is a horrible example of worshiping wrong things because people act of worship of her not only made him isolated but also taught with other in wrong way. In sum, it is revealed from the story that of people do not learn to live in the present they have to bear negative consequences of their wrong thinking style.
It is very important to accept the realities of life and all the changes brought by the time. The people failed to look forward would never be able to spend normal lives and the people around them are also negatively affected from their approach towards life. Faulkner has explained this message very impressively in the story that past always stays in the memories of people but remembering past at the cost of present in always harmful for the people and must be avoided for the sake of a normal life.
The story conveys deep message about the important to perceiving things in their real places to avoid disappointments and tragedies in life. The tragic story of life of Emily is an example that talks about the strange response of people towards change and the negative effect of this approach. Faulkner presented this message by presenting over 70 years long tale of Emily in which he also reflects the end of greatness of South and difficulties of people in accepting this change. He shows that people often find it difficult to accept that their values and customs have become part of past and now they have to live according to the requirement of the new time. This failure creates the situations like presented in A Rose for Emily.
The heat touching story of tragic life of Emily shows the deep frustration and depression that a person has to encounter when people around him never try to understand the emotions and feeling and place him on a high place and expect him to act like a perfect person. These expectations often ruin the personalities of individuals and rather enjoying freedom of life they are obliged to act in certain manner that could not harm the reputation of their families and ancestors. Hence, change must be accepted and people always have to look forward towards life to spend the present in better way and expect flourishing future. The focus upon past not only ruins the present but the future is also faded when people failed to learn living in their present with realistic approach about memories of the past.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Shorter 5th ed. Ed. R.V.Cassill. New York: W.W. Norton & Comp., 1995.
Margaret Kerr, Elizabeth, and Kerr, Michael M. William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha: A Kind of Keystone in the Universe. Fordham University Press, 1985
Morton, Clay. “‘A Rose for Emily’: Oral Plot, Typographic Story”, Storytelling: A Critical Journal of Popular Narrative 5 (1), 2005
Pierce, Constance, “William Faulkner.” Critical Survey of Short Fiction Ed. Frank N. MaGill. 7 vols. Pasadena, California: Salem Press, 1993: 848-857.
Rodriquez, Celia. “An Analysis of ‘A Rose for Emily.'” 9 Sept. 1996. 17 Mar. 1998 http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/daniel/amlit/reader/South?radriquezerose.html
Them, Frederick. “A Rose for Emily: Confusion of Past and Present.” 2 Oct. 1995. 17 Mar.1998 http://sru.ocs.drexel.edu.undergrad/st93mey7/fred/rose.html