In “A Rose for Emily,” William Faulkner skillfully depicts the changes of Emily, who becomes a victim of the transitional period from the old pre-war society to the new post-war society. The author depicts the process of how an aristocratic lady becomes a killer. The story revolves around the life of a troubled and stubborn woman named Emily. After the death of her father and the disappearance of her lover, Emily becomes increasingly isolated from the society. She persistently lives in her self-made shell so that she can preserve her past and protect herself from the changes of society.
By using peculiar factors, overcast atmosphere, and the contrast of desolate and modern life, Faulkner exposes the isolation of a woman trapped in the past, her desire for a happy life, and the degradation of the South after the Civil War. In the story, Emily is cut off from social contact and courtship because her father has driven away any man trying to approach her. Therefore, when her father dies, there “was nothing left, [and] she would have to cling to that which had robbed her” (Faulkner 909).
Since then Emily lives in the 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,” and despite the encroachment of garages and cotton gins, “only Miss Emily’s house was left” (Faulkner 907). Emily’s loneliness stems from her father’s pride and dignity. However, after her father dies, instead of beginning her new life, Emily chooses to “cling” to her past.
Emily’s life of “solitude owing to denial of natural sexual affection” is not simply the “terrible price” of “idealization” (Dilworth 254). She preserves the house and lives in isolation to protect what, for her, has becomes the memory of her father and the old South; also, because of that immersion in the past, Emily becomes disconnected in the flow of the current world. The attempt to maintain and live in old memories shows that Emily cannot let go of the past that should be forgotten.
Although Emily lives an isolated life from community, she finds her own way to offset her lack of social communication. Emily’s desire to escape that loneliness is clearly seen in Emily’s behaviors in response to her beloved people’s deaths. Throughout the story, four deaths are described by Faulkner, and each has an important impact on Emily’s life and behavior. Because Emily has been living with father for over thirty years, she suffers a huge shock when her father dies by insisting that her father is not dead.
She told the neighbors that “her father was not dead” for three days and “broke down” when the minister disposed the body (Faulkner 909). Then she refuses to acknowledge the death of Colonel Sartoris and mentions him as he is alive even though he died ten years before. Emily brushes off the request of the Board of Aldermen’s deputation to pay her taxes simply because Colonel Sartoris granted her exempt. The death of Homer Barron changes Emily the most: “[s]he had grown fat and her hair was turned grey,” “her front door remained closed,” and she even lives with his corpse (Faulkner 911).
From denying of her father’s death to keeping and living with Homer’s body, Emily shows her desire to live with the people she loves. Emily’s creepy behaviors reveal her extreme desire to escape her loneliness and to seek happiness. Thomas Dilworth describes, “[s]uch behavior suggests in her a terrible loneliness and desperation for companionship” (Dilworth 253). The inconsistency in Emily’s behaviors – she isolates herself from society then she has a craving for companionship – indicates that she cannot find a way out of a deadlock.
The past that she cannot let go prevents her from fitting to the new antebellum society. Finally, Faulkner also reveals the decline of the South’s tradition. The old townspeople see Emily as “a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” while others see her as an “eyesore among eyesores” (Faulkner 907). However, together, they protect her as a symbol, a monument, and a way to remember the old South. The townspeople idealize Emily as the essential traditional values of the old South ant E t will fit their expectations. The profound reason of the killing of Homer is because the townspeople feel sorry for Emily. As the townspeople whisper about Emily’s affair with Homer, she has to choose her family’s pride or Homer. Finally, Emily kills Homer so that she can have him while her family’s pride is still preserved. Emily becomes the person who is blamed for the killing as Dilworth argues that “Emily is a scapegoat because she, or her madness, is made to carry all the blame of the killing and its long concealment” (253).
Moreover, the townspeople do not do anything when knowing Emily is going to kill herself or after realizing Emily has killed Homer. They let Emily do what she pleases and will not disturb her as long as she meets their expectations. In addition, the decline of the South aristocratic system is indicated by the deaths of Emily’s father, Colonel Sartoris, and, finally, the death of Emily which places an end to the old South’s tradition and values. “A Rose for Emily” is a good story by Faulkner.
In the story, Faulkner cleverly exposes the problems in the South after the Civil War through the story of the life of Emily Grierson. Faulkner deliberately reverses the order of timeline so that readers easily leave out details of the story; however, this “complicatedly disjunctive time scheme” makes the story more interesting by making the readers string all incidents in the story which seem almost unrelated to each other to find out the content of the story (Dilworth 252).
Revolving around the life of Emily, Faulkner’s story reveals the isolation of Emily, her desire to be happy, and the decline of the South. Living in the period of switching from the old to the new, Emily has become a typical victim of that society. Through the tragedy of Emily’s life, Faulkner also highlights the importance of the interaction between the old and the new so that one does not completely brush off the values of the past nor is lost in the new, modern life.