William Cuthbert Falkner was born on 25th September, 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi, U.S. though he changed his name to William Faulkner for commercial purposes. His notable awards were a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949 and a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1963. He married Estelle Oldham in 1929 and they had two daughters; Alabama, who died soon after she was born (in 1931), and Jill (in 1933). He wrote novels, poetry and short stories.
Faulkner’s best short story of the 20th century “A Rose for Emily” was first published on the 30th April, in 1930 in a national magazine called Forum but later it was reprinted in the book “These 13” in 1931. The story is set after the American Civil War in the South of the U.S. where the concept of slavery is still present. Southern aristocracy , protects slavery because they need them to work in their cotton plantations. The most interesting literary device developed/used in “A Rose for Emily” is the protest of the Old South, symbolized by Emily, towards modernization, symbolized by the younger generations in Jefferson and Homer Barron, “a Northerner, a day laborer.” The Southern Gothic, a subgenre of Gothic fiction, was used by Faulkner in this work of art when he wrote about a disturbing character, (Emily Grierson), a decayed setting, (Emily’s house), grotesque, strange and mysterious situations (Homer Barron’s death/murder) and sinister events such as Emily’s isolation and her committing a crime with arsenic.
The author’s death was not a crime, he fell from a horse and got critically injured. Some days later, he had a heart attack and died on 6th July, 1962 in Byhalia, Mississippi, U.S.
The narrator is the voice of the local society and uses the first-person plural pronoun ‘we’ that represents the point of view /opinions of part of Jefferson’s community. There is a distinction between ‘we’ and ‘they’, suggesting that ‘they’ represents the opinions of the other part of the society; the part that constantly judge and disapprove her behavior. As quoted “the Grierson held themselves a little too high for what they really were.” The narrator describes/depicts the Grierson’s as an aristocratic snobbish family belonging to a privileged upper-class who considers themselves the most able and the best people in town.
The narrator also criticizes Emily’s and her father’s behaviors as being arrogant and proud not letting her associate with the lower class men, “None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily and such.” the narrator’s opinion about Emily’s bearing changes when Emily’s father is dead and she is no longer a rich woman. Moreover, he/she feels pity for the woman and believes her to be an empathetic lady “she had become humanized” The narrator feels jubilant/joyous while Emily dates Homer, though he is not an aristocratic man. The narrator’s feelings do not change when he/she surmises the Grierson lady has married that common man. ‘ “They are married.” We were really glad.’ though “some of the ladies began to say that it was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people” In other words the narrator shifts his/her point of view throughout the whole story.
Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily” is divided in five sections written in retrospect, not following a chronological structure. The first and the last part deal with Emily’s death telling her life in Jefferson. The story begins in section one with Miss Emily Grierson’s funeral. As the local community considers her an icon of the old aristocratic society and as she has lived in isolation for a decade, the entire town goes to the funeral: some go to snoop around in her house but others go to show respect “for a fallen monument.” The author describes Mister Grierson as an overprotecting father who dispels/repel/banish Emily’s beaus/paramours/suitors. After Emily’s father death, Colonel Sartoris condones her from paying taxes. Years later, the new city representatives ask her to pay taxes though she refuses to do so, claiming “I have no taxes in Jefferson”
In section two, there is an incident in Emily’s house with an unpleasant odor. So, some neighbors complain to Judge Stevens. That bad smell is perceived two years after her father has died and soon after Homer, her fiancé, has disowned her. In order not to confront Miss Emily, some men go to her house at night and drop lime around it. When she denies her loss for three days, townspeople acknowledge she is slowly becoming mentally ill.
In section three, the author describes Homer Barron as a foreigner from the North and a lower class Yankee who courts Emily but is disinterested in marriage. The old town people do not approve the love affair between a common man and an Aristocratic Southern lady. Then, Emily goes to the druggist to buy rat poison but she does not tell what it is for; so, they assume it is for her to commit suicide.
In section four, the Minister’s wife asks Emily’s relatives in Alabama to interfere with that disgraceful love relationship. They move on to the Grierson’s house and Homer leaves town. Once they return to their home, the Yankee comes back to Jefferson and is again allowed to enter his beloved’s house. After that, he has not seen again and Emily appears six months later being overweight (a bit overweight/OBESE) and aged with iron-gray hair. She becomes even more isolated than before. In the story it is told that Miss Emily has bought “a man’s toilet set in silver, with the letters H.B. on each piece.” and “ she had bought a complete outfit of men’s clothing, including a nightshirt” As a consequence, people presuppose Homer and Emily have married.
Sometime earlier, when she is forty years old, she gives china-painting lessons but then people is no longer interested in such antiques skills so she does not open her door to people any more. The only person that is in contact with Emily till her death is Tobe, the Negro servant who does the chores in the house but does not speak with anybody, nor even Emily. “He talked to no one, probably not even to her, for his voice had grown harsh and rusty, as if from disuse.”
In the last section, the story is set back in the present time where the “nigger” opens the door to let the townspeople in and abandon the place to never returns. After Emily’s burial, they go upstairs into a room that has been closed for years, and realize that there has been a corpse on the bed for at least ten years. With great astonishment, they realize that there is “a long strand of iron-gray hair” besides the skeleton.
In the title of the story “A Rose for Emily” the rose is a symbol of pity/sadness toward that poor lady who has lived a tragic and lonely life with an overprotective father and then becoming mentally ill after his death. After reading the story the reader realizes that this kind of flower, the rose, is not mentioned. Moreover, William Faulkner, in 1966 at Nagano seminar, says that he uses the rose as an allegory and that he feels compassion for Emily’s sorrowful/tragic life; so, the only way to express sorrow to/for? her death is to hand a rose for her. In other words, the rose is the flower at Emily’s burial.
Readers learn about all the characters through the narrator’s eyes; there are multiple characters that are not worth to analyze. The most important ones are Emily Grierson, the main character, and Homer Barron, a secondary one. The narrator portrays her actions and attitudes but does not have access to their inner thoughts. She is described as an Aristocratic Southern lady who lives above the law in Jefferson. That is to say, she neither pays taxes nor gives an explanation for the use of the rat poison. She is so arrogant and proud of being a member of the high-class that does not mix with the townspeople; she isolates herself in her old mansion. She symbolizes the Old Southern ideas in favor of slavery that does not change even though people know that after the Civil War, slavery is not legal and slaves must be freed. As those ideas are static and immobile she is also seen as a monument, a tradition, and a duty. William Faulkner is against slavery; so, he uses Emily as a decaying symbol/opinion/ideal/notion that desperately tries to prevail/keep prevailing in modern times. Emily represents all the old south values that people admire widely; the past is ever-present in the changing society.
A secondary but not less important character is Homer Barren, he is part of Emily’s life while she is still young and then he disappears till the end of the story when his dead body is found in a bridal chamber on the second floor of her house. He is a Northern day laborer man who works in the construction area, joyful, and humorous. As the Yankee is below Emily’s social status/rank but also he is considered a poor man, he is disapproved by Jefferson’s old citizens. He represents the new ideas in favor of modernity but he also represents the Northern ideas against slavery. That could be one of the reasons why Emily murders him; she cannot tolerate to mingle her ideas with the modern ones. Modernity is also represented by the younger generations, the garages and the cotton gins, the free postal delivery and the mailbox, the demand of her paying the taxes, and the construction of the sidewalks in Jefferson.
The short story is set in Jefferson, a fictional town at the south of the U.S. It occurs after the Civil War in Emily’s old mansion. That old house was once white and beautiful but now is in decadence as well as the Old South social stratum and customs. The deteriorated house is a remainder of the past and a symbol of Emily’s segregation and closeness to the past, refusing the outside where the new generations and modern ideas subsist. As her house is out of place among all the modern buildings, her Old Aristocratic traditions are out of place in a different society.
The access to the deteriorated house and the access to the enigmatic woman are forbidden; so, the townspeople project their disapproving opinions into both of them. Only after Emily’s death they can enter the house and only after her death, the Negro can be free at last. The Grierson represents the Old South traditions that the older people try to maintain through the years preventing change/modernity to happen. Emily dies both literally and figuratively. Metaphorically, her death reflects the death of the Southern values, the death of the respect for Aristocracy by the new generations, despite all their attempts to prevail.
The short story “A Rose for Emily” is set historically after the American Civil War; at that time the South Aristocratic Societies are in favor of slavery despite it is already illegal and the Northern people do not agree with those traditions. The conflict between the old and the new is dealt throughout the story within a complex narrative full of detailed descriptions, such as the one of the old house among the garages, the cotton gins and the gasoline pumps. After reading those descriptions the confrontation/conflict is made visible for readers. The most interesting theme that occurs throughout the story is the fear of change. The author makes use of various literary devices to convey meaning, such as metaphors, symbols and a gothic style.
Some of them try to say that Emily isolates herself because she cannot bear the idea of living in a changing society with modern tradition so far from hers. She assassinates Homer, because he brings joy, happiness, humor; he represents change and modernity. Ironically, the past is fascinated/captivated/interested/seduced by the present like Emily is fascinated/captivated/interested/seduced by Homer. This short story exemplifies the idea that past is part of the present, which is why Faulkner’s narration shifts from present to past time. The southern society tries to honor their good values while the new generations try to finish them. Almost everything being considered, “A Rose for Emily” is William Faulkner’s literary masterpiece.