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A Rose for Emily
William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” tells the story of a young woman who is violated
by her father’s strict mentality. After being the only man in her life Emily’s father died and she
found it difficult to let go. Emily was raised during the pre-civil war era. Like her father, Emily
possessed a stubborn outlook towards life, and refused to change. Emily could have been seen as
a representative of the old south. She represented the ideas and mores of a society that was
crushed by both the war and its eventual defeat. This story, on the exterior appears to be little
more than a horror story. However, it is clear that Faulkner intends to show much more than
that. He wants us to see how Emily, the representative of the old south, fought the advent of the
new society. Faulkner uses an unique structure to achieve his goal. As the book progressed there
was not a steady progression of time. He changed from past to present in order to illustrate the
idea of conflict between new and old.
Emily personified a way of living, a society, that was slowly being dismissed. Examples
of her clinging to the old ways of the south are found everywhere. One example can be found in
this short excerpt from the story. “On the first of the year they mailed her a tax notice. February
came and there was no reply. They wrote her a formal letter asking her to call at the sheriff’s
office at her convenience. A week later the mayor wrote her himself, offering to call or to send
his car for her, and received in reply a note on paper of an archaic shape, in a thin flowing
calligraphy in faded ink , to the effect that she no longer went out at all. The tax notice was also
enclosed, without comment,” (Faulkner, ). She thought she had no taxes because she never had
paid them before. However, after the souths defeat in the Civil War all southerners had to pay
taxes. She is unable and unwilling to allow change such as taxes to affect her. This stubborn
attitude came from her father’s strict teachings. Miss Emily had been through much and had
seen many generations of traditional southerners grow around her. Her more traditional
upbringing supported her strong Confederate beliefs. Homer on the other hand was quite the
opposite, “A Yankee–a big, dark, ready man, with a big voice and eyes lighter than his face,”
(Faulkner, ). Homer described himself as a man who couldn’t be tied down. This was to be a
terrible opposition for Miss Emily. She had not been allowed to marry while her father was
alive. Finally she was able to pursue a relationship, and took interest in Homer. However, she
was unable to have him for several reasons. One of them was the social implications her
marriage to Homer would have caused. Traditionally it was not acceptable for a woman of her
standing to marry a Yankee laborer. The women of the town stated, “At first we were glad Miss
Emily would have an interest , but then stated, Of course a Grierson would not think seriously
of a Northerner, a day laborer” (Faulkner, ).
Miss Emily refused to allow modern change into her desolate life once again. She refused
to let the newer generation fasten metal numbers above her door and attach a mailbox when
Jefferson got free mail service. This reflects Miss Emily’s unyielding persona caused by her
father’s treatment when she was young. This is also just another way she resists the flow of time
and society. “She died in one of the downstairs rooms, in a heavy walnut bed with a curtain, her
gray head propped on a pillow yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight,” (Faulkner, ).
Her death though not truly tragic, marked the death of an era. When Miss Emily died Jefferson
lost a monument of the Old South. “A small, fat, woman in black woman in black, with a thin
gold chain descending to her waist and vanishing into her belt,” (Faulkner, ). The hidden watch
is symbolic of how time or change has been hidden by Emily. “Only Miss Emily’s house was left,
lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton wagons and the gasoline pumps,”
(Faulkner, ). Her house represented the Old South, like Emily it stood alone to battle the
change. “When the Negro opened the blinds of one window, they could see that the leather was
cracked; and when they sat down, a faint dust rose sluggishly about their thighs, spinning with
slow motes in the single sun- ray,” (Faulkner, ). The house depicted an old worn out structure
from the past. This is directly related to the idea of the old south being no more than some relic
collecting dust and withering away.
Faulkner’s style is quite difficult because it isn’t written in chronological order. It begins
by telling about Emily’s past and her family history. This information helps us to understand her
future actions and opinions. The structure is fairly advanced, but soon leads to a greater
understanding of the passage because it sets the mood of that specific time. “And now Miss
Emily had gone to join the representatives of those august names where they lay in the
cedar-bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate
soldiers who fell at battle of Jefferson,” (Faulkner, ). She dies long after those soldiers yet is
added amongst their ranks. She was an anachronistic figure in the new south that formed after
the Civil War. A person thrown into a time that pushed her and her beliefs aside in order to
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