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A Rose for Emily
Transcript of A Rose for Emily
About the Author
Beginning in the 1920's and 1930's, new writers began a new literary movement that would be known as the “Southern Renaissance.” This movement reevaluated the history and culture of the Antebellum South. These men and women openly challenged southern pride by reminding others of the South’s military defeat and the Reconstruction period that followed; they vilified the South’s hyper conservative culture that placed more value on community over the individual as well as the South’s ever present racial issues.
This literary movement would go on to influence writers like Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor.
After the Reconstruction Era in the South, the former Confederacy began changing rapidly—economically and culturally. This period between 1877 and 1916 would become known as the “
” because Northern industry moved south and changed the agrarian lifestyle of the region. The introduction of Northern influence, coupled with the desire to forget the brutality the Civil War caused, allowed for the reevaluation of cultural norms as the middle class emerged and began to place more of an emphasis on individuality over the established hierarchy that preached only conformity to the community and the rules of the patriarch (male leader of household). The emergence of the middle class further weakened the importance of the Southern aristocracy as people no longer merely accepted the privileged nature of the elite within society because more people now had an equalizer to these privileges (money).
A Historical Analysis by Aiyana Arifi, Crissy Peters, Bryan Rojas, Ally Rybinski, & Elena Schreiner
by William Faulkner
“A Rose for Emily” was written by the American author William Faulkner and first published in an issue of
a national magazine
on April 30, 1930
The short story takes place in a fictional southern town known as Jefferson, Mississippi, and centers around the life of Miss Emily Grierson from the collective eyes of her southern community
It is an early form of the
—a subgenre of gothicism and dark romanticism that deals exclusively with the many forms of moral, philosophical, and even structural decay of the American South
Faulkner said the title was “an allegorical title; the meaning was, here was a woman who has had a tragedy and nothing could be done about it, and I pitied her and this was a salute... to a woman you would hand a rose.”
“A Rose for Emily” begins at the funeral of Miss Emily Grierson—the last member of a wealthy southern family.
She was a known recluse and did not leave her home often, so the town is excited to see what she did for all of the years unaccounted for.
After the death of her father, Colonel Sartoris— the mayor—rids her of any tax obligations under an informal agreement.
After a new mayor was elected men are sent to Miss Emily’s house to inform her that her previous agreement with Colonel Sartoris is no longer in effect.
A smell from Miss Emily’s house disturbs the townspeople into action.
After the death of her father, Miss Emily refuses to accept his death and is left to her own accord since most of her suitors had been scared off by her father before his passing.
A Yankee by the name of Homer Barron comes to town to pave sidewalks, and Miss Emily interacts with him.
A Rose for Emily
Given a choice between grief and nothing, I’d choose grief.
From the end of the Reconstruction Era until the 1920s, there was a literary phenomenon in the South characterized by a romantic idealization of the way things were that was known as the
“Lost Cause of the Confederacy.”
This literary movement romanticized the Antebellum South period and the Confederate States period, viewing Confederate war heros, southern men, the southern aristocracy, the southern class structure, the patriarchy, and the overall vilification of African-Americans (now freedman) and northern industrial might in a positive light.
However, this view of the South began to die out with the new generation of writers and artists that emerged in a period in which the Civil War and Slavery was considered "history."
An American writer and Nobel Prize Laureate known for his short stories, plays, novels, poems, screenplays, and essays that dealt with the American South
Raised in a southern community in Oxford, Mississippi
Exposed to the “Southern” way of life by Oxford’s elders and his family members; heard war stories (Civil War), tales about slavery, the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, and his great-grandfather (a Civil War hero)
Worked in a bookstore, a New Orleans newspaper, and briefly as a Hollywood scriptwriter before planting roots in Oxford to write novels and short stories
His writing dealt with the moral and philosophical dilemmas that plagued the post-Civil War South
Frequent themes in Faulkner’s writing include the distortion of time, personal downfall from the eyes of a collective, mental and physical decay, southern life and nobility, and racial prejudice
Considered an early pioneer of the Southern Literature that became common during the 1920s and 30s (Southern Renaissance), as well as the Southern Gothic
“A Rose for Emily” (1930)
Miss Emily purchases arsenic.
After Miss Emily purchases the arsenic, the town worries that she might commit suicide, but instead she is seen driving through town with Homer Barron.
After a talk with the minister, Emily’s cousins come to visit and it is presumed that she has married Barron.
Once the road is finished Barron leaves town only to return to Miss Emily shortly after, and is never seen again.
Miss Emily is not seen for a long time as well and the front door of her house is closed constantly.
The next time Miss Emily is seen her hair has grayed and she has grown fat and old.
In her fourties Miss Emily gives china-painting lessons to the daughters and granddaughters of Colonel Sartoris until the newer generation begin to lose interest.
The top floor of the house is closed off and eventually Miss Emily grows sick and dies in a room on the bottom floor of the house.
Tobe runs off after Miss Emily’s death.
After Miss Emily is buried they break down the door to the second floor to find the dead body of Homer Barron in bed with Emily’s hair on the pillow next to him.
- Literary analysts describe the historical approach to literature as one that “seeks to understand a literary work by investigating the social, cultural, and intellectual context that produced it—a context that necessarily include the artists biography and milieu” (X.J. Kennedy & Dana Gioia).
The central goal for a historical literary critic is to understand the influence of the piece as it relates to the era it was written in.
Miss Emily Grierson
: a symbol of the remnant of the southern aristocracy; an eccentric (classic southern gothic archetype) victim of southern class structure; seen as a “monument” yet pitied by the townspeople
Miss Emily’s Father
: a symbol of the former Southern patriarchy and aristocracy; an overbearing father
: another victim of the remnants of the Southern class structure and racism; unable to be isolated from the notion of freedom despite being a freedman
: symbol of Northern influence moving into the South; victim of southern cultural norms (gets poisoned for “abandoning” a southern lady)
: a symbol of the former power of the Southern Aristocracy; his action of absolving Emily of her tax burden demonstrates how her aristocratic position in society entitles her to certain privileges
: a symbol of the new generation of southerners that do not necessarily place a lot of emphasize on privilege and custom
: the group of people that symbolize the crossroad between change and tradition of the small southern town; they preserve some of the traditions that they are familiar with but also accept the Northern influence
Rejection of Change
In “A Rose for Emily,” characters are forced into an era without the familiarity and social structure of the Antebellum South. With the ending of traditional class structures coupled with the devastation the Civil War and Reconstruction left behind, the southern town is left with the challenge of adapting to the new lifestyle and era. Additionally, The idea that southern pride was reprimanded by their own country left a void in the community values.
“The day after his death all the ladies prepared to call at the house and offer condolence and aid, as is our custom Miss Emily met them at the door, dressed as usual and with no trace of grief on her face. She told them that her father was not dead. She did that for three days, with the ministers calling on her, and the doctors, trying to persuade her to let them dispose of the body. Just as they were about to resort to law and force, she broke down, and they buried her father quickly.”
Miss Emily attempts to preserve her Southern background throughout the story, but suffers consequently. Emotionally, Miss Emily's loss of her father-the patriarchal presence that brought her both stability and familiarity-left her without a sense of order and "Southern Honor" because his dominating presence was no longer there. Socially, the community's acceptance of Northern influence following the Confederate defeat while, at the same time, the assurance that Miss Emily receives from Colonel Sartoris regarding her tax exemption is rebuked with the new leaders in place, further erodes her position in the Jefferson social hierarchy. Then, as a result of these massive emotional and social changes, Miss Emily’s mental and emotional state degrades with time as she uses the house as a physical barrier which she employs to separate herself from the unbearable truth of the changing class structures and customs.
“When the town got free postal delivery, Miss Emily alone refused to let them fasten the metal numbers above her door and attach a mailbox to it. She would not listen to them.”
Idealization of the Past
Throughout the short story, the narrator continues to hint at the “good ‘ol days.” For Emily, this is especially true as she simply cannot adapt to the life she has after her father’s death and the changing community. The entire story is actually fragmented into flashbacks to the past where Miss Emily is young and beautiful, whereas she is old, grey, and dead in the present.
“After her father's death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all.”
The Supremacy of Death
Emily is constantly tried to conquer death through denial. After her father’s death, she initially refuses to accept that he is dead and give up the body for burial. When Homer seems on the verge of leaving her, she is able to keep him close by killing him, attempting to merge life with death. However, he then becomes no more than a body, no longer capable of emotional intimacy, thereby contradicting her motives. Emily herself is referenced as having corpse-like features herself throughout the text; she is described as looking similar to a body left too long in water when introduced. In the end, she gives into death as well, and with her, the old way of life she had tried to keep alive.
“...very old men-some in their brushed confederate uniforms-on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom”
- the visual representation of the idle life of Miss Emily and her home, and her resistance to change. Dust is also the physical manifestation of the degree to which Miss Emily had become outdated and incompatible with the “New South”.
- foreshadows of the dead body held in Miss Emily’s home. This sensory and physical manifestation of how the inability to accept change has turned “good things”—which were once lively and good—into completely disgusting and decaying caricatures.
- Emily and the townspeople are purposefully isolated from one another throughout the story; Emily is often referred to in the same way a distant object is. This separation produces curiosity and rumors about Miss Emily and her life, influencing the viewpoint of all characters in the piece
- Emily is always under the intense and controlling gaze of of the narrator and the citizens of Jefferson. Emily is only ever seen from a distance and those who have actually spoken to her choose not to ever again (except for Homer Barron). The narrator actually refers to her as an object and “idol.” And only her true self is visible to the citizens after her death.
a photo of William Faulkner's
home in Oxford, Mississippi
Miss Emily’s House
- the physical manifestation of Miss Emily’s isolation; a remnant of the “Old South” that—like Emily—doesn't adapt to change and thus seems decaying and severely outdated.
- a symbol for the death of the aristocracy; the loss of privilege
- a symbol of change; a northern idea which is completely new to the south
Miss Emily’s Hair
- passage of time; changes throughout the short story; referred to as “a vigorous iron-gray”—an odd way of referring to grey hair; also speaks to the futility of trying to reject change
- A white powder that is good at covering the smell of decomposing bodies. It symbolizes the way that generation would rather try to cover something up rather than actually expose it for what it is out of avoiding embarrassment or basically bringing a name to themselves.
- In the Southern tradition of respecting family honor, Homer Barron would have been considered “a rat” for planning to break a promise of marriage to Emily. Which could also be the reason for the sign “For rats” underneath the poison sign. Arsenic is also used often as a murder weapon in fictional stories because it is colorless, odorless, and basically undetectable by the victim and Emily wants to make Homer Barron’s death virtually undetectable by everyone in the community.