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A Rose for Emily

Analysis of Faulkner's short story

Karrie Hensley

on 10 March 2015

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Transcript of A Rose for Emily

a few years after the Civil War is over in Jefferson, a town in Yoknapatawpha
County, Mississippi (fictional place). The action of the story is centered in Miss Emily's home and how the townspeople perceive her actions throughout her life.
Historical Context
Miss Emily poisons Homer Barron because she would not allow him to leave her. Symbolically we can see that if Miss Emily represents the South and Homer Baron represents the North, then the South defeats the North in Faulkner's story and maintains its traditions.

Although the townspeople are critical of Miss Emily's inability to adjust to life in the "new" South, they secretly enjoy the fact that she won't give up her traditional Southern ways as they have had to do in order to survive. They have to pay taxes, get their streets paved, and learn how to live without slavery, but Miss Emily refuses to do this and they secretly admire her for this determination.
Plot Summary
A townsperson recalls, through a series of flashbacks, Emily Grierson, whose father prevents her from marrying when she was younger out of snobbery and arrogance. After the South loses the Civil War and her father dies, Emily has difficulty adjusting to a less privileged lifestyle. Emily later is courted by a man the townspeople consider unacceptable because he's from the North. Eventually the man disappears from Emily and the town's life. Forty years later, at Emily's death, the townspeople discover that she poisoned this man and has slept next to his corpse.
Miss Emily as a SYMBOL
Emily Grierson is a character that represents the older traditional values of Southern society. She is treated with respect by the town even though she doesn't really deserve it and expects everyone to treat her as a superior person and protect her as a woman.
Key Events

Miss Emily refuses to pay taxes. She continues to believe that she does not have to pay, even when the alderman (politician) comes to her house and tries to explain that what Colonel Sartoris told her is no longer valid.
This represents her inability to change and to face reality.
A Rose for Emily
In the South after the civil war, many people had difficulty adjusting to life without slaves. Social rules and class structures changed drastically in many Southern towns. People that once held power and were considered "high class" found themselves without privileges or power.
Southern life before the civil war was simple, agricultural, and community oriented. However after the Civil War, the south had to adjust to a more industrial lifestyle that was more common in the North.
Without slavery, white Southerners turned to "sharecropping" which was another way they could exploit African Americans. Former plantation owners would rent land to poor ex-slaves and make them pay with part of their crops. Whites also controlled the purchasing of crops and paid black sharecroppers less making them dependent on their landlords. Many lived in worse conditions than they did as slaves.
Southern attitudes about African Americans did not change drastically after the Civil War. Southerns treated blacks with extreme prejudice and also treated white people from the north with suspicion and resentment because the north forced the south to change when they really didn't want to.
Speaker: a person who has lived in this town and knows all the people and social customs of the place.
"When Miss Emily Grierson died, our whole town went to her funeral: the men through a sort of
affection for a
fallen monument
, the women mostly out of
to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old manservant -- a combined gardener and cook -- had seen in at least ten years.

It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street" (1020).
"Miss Emily had been a
and a
a sort of
hereditary obligation
upon the town, dating from the that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris the mayor -- he who fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron -- remitted her taxes, the dispensation dating from the death of her father on into perpetuity. Not that Miss Emily would have accepted charity. Colonel Sartoris
invented an involved tale
to the effect that Miss Emily's father had loaned money to the town, which the town, as a matter of business preferred this way of repaying" (1022).
Faulkner uses words like "tradition," "duty," and "obligation" to emphasize how the town treated Miss Emily and to focus our attention on her defining qualities as a character. She should have paid taxes like everyone else, but because the town felt obligated to take care of her, they "invented an involved tale" so that she wouldn't suspect them of giving her charity.
Father's Death-
When Miss Emily's father dies, she refuses to believe he's dead. She met mourners "with no trace of grief on her face" and "told them that her father was not dead."
This shows her inability to face reality and her dependance on her others.
Terrible Smell-
When there is a terrible smell coming from Miss Emily's home, the townspeople are embarrassed to force her to fix the problem because it would be bad manners to tell a lady that her house smells according to Southern tradition. So in the middle of the night a group of men go to her house and spread a powdery substance called LYE which destroys bad odors.
This shows how the town is reluctant to ignore their cultural beliefs. They don't want to force Miss Emily to change therefore they deal with the smell in secret and don't involve her at all.
Homer Barron-
Homer is a construction worker who comes to town to help build sidewalks in the town and he begins "courting" Miss Emily. Homer is from the north and the townspeople don't think that Miss Emily would really date a Northerner, but she seems truly interested in Homer since no one else has shown any interest in her. However after a short time together Homer disappears and the town assumes he ran off and left Miss Emily alone.
Homer's character is symbolic of Northern beliefs and behaviors. He is there to build sidewalks which are more technologically advanced than dirt roads and change the South's natural landscape from an agricultural to an urban look.
Miss Emily's Hair-
Miss Emily's hair can also be seen as a symbol of determination that is associated with the South. As Miss Emily got older the narrator tells us that,
"she had grown fat and her hair was turning gray" (1027).
The narrator mentions several times that her hair is actually IRON gray implying that she is strong and tough like iron is. In fact the last thing the narrator mentions in the story is that on the pillow in Miss Emily's bed there was
"a single strand of iron-gray hair" (1028)
next to the indent of Homer's skull.
This implies that Miss Emily slept in the bed next to Homer's corpse which indicates that she did love him and wanted to possess him so that he would never leave her.
by William Faulkner
Role of Women-
Miss Emily is at a double disadvantage because she is a woman. She has been taken care of by others all of her life. Her father refused to let her marry because he didn't feel anyone was worthy of her, and now that her Old Southern world has collapsed, she cannot find anyone, but Homer to take interest in her. Like the woman in "The Yellow Wallpaper" Miss Emily is trapped in her home (she rarely leaves it) and has no meaningful work to do. We might interpret this as the reason Miss Emily loses her sanity and poisons Homer in order to keep him with her.
The mood of this short story is dark, creepy, and overly GOTHIC in nature. Miss Emily's house is old and falling apart, it's covered in dust, and is in contrast with the town's progression into the future. The town has new sidewalks, new businesses, and new social attitudes that are different from Miss Emily's

traditional beliefs.
The story is told out of sequence through the use of flashbacks.
Sequence told in Story
1. Miss Emily dies and the town attends her funeral.
2. Miss Emily refuses to pay taxes
3. Townsmen come to Miss Emily's house and spread lye to get rid of a terrible smell (Homer's decomposing body)
4. Miss Emily's father dies and we find out that he wouldn't let her marry because no one was good enough for her.
5. Miss Emily meets Homer Baron
6. Miss Emily buys poison "for rats"
7. After Miss Emily dies the town finds Homer's skeleton in Miss Emily's bed with one strand of her iron gray hair.
Chronological Sequence
1. Miss Emily's father dies and we find out that he wouldn't let her marry because no one was good enough for her.
2. Miss Emily refuses to pay taxes
3. Miss Emily meets Homer Baron
4. Miss Emily buys poison "for rats"
5. Townsmen come to Miss Emily's house and spread lye to get rid of a terrible smell (Homer's decomposing body)
6. Miss Emily dies and the town attends her funeral
7. After Miss Emily dies the town finds Homer's skeleton in Miss Emily's bed with one strand of her iron gray hair.
It is important to note that if the story were told in the correct chronological sequence, we would immediately guess what happened to Homer and the story's suspense and mood would change.
Perhaps Faulkner is implying that the South had great difficulty adjusting to life after the Civil War and resented the North for forcing them to make such a drastic change. He may also be implying that although the South did eventually adjust and change their way of life, they never forgot how things were before the Civil War and secretly wish they could go back to this way of life.
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