A Rose For Emily: A Piece Of Southern Gothic Literature

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William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily” is a catalog of changes brought on by the American South in the 20th century. This Gothic Horror story focuses on Emily Grierson who is revered as the Pariah of the local town. The townspeople rarely ever make contact or see her, whispers becoming the only source of information of her character, making her seem like an urban legend. The short story touched on many different aspects of the changing south as more of the northern technologies began to slip in after the Civil War. Plantation owners struggled to adapt to the changes from the mindset of the Antebellum period but as generations continued to pass, modernity crept into the population. “A Rose For Emily,” tells the story of the conflict between the traditional southern world vs. the up and coming New South through how the characters, setting, and plot effect the Grierson’s, specifically Emily herself. Faulkner wrote Emily and her father both as symbols of the Old South and wanted to demonstrate the conflict between those in the south who were stuck in the past, and the influence of change that had arrived. 

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Mr. Grierson is established as a major figure inside of the town of Jefferson, the family name becoming one of high regard to the people. He also, unfortunately, had a great sense of superiority about him, especially towards women. His treatment towards Emily provides evidence of Mr. Grierson refusing to move on from the past and his inability to accept the future. Faulkner states that to Mr. Grierson, “None of the young men were quite good enough for Miss Emily” establishing that he has complete control over Emily, including who her own partner could be. Despite the clear unfairness of the situation, Emily is shown to accept her role in the household and bend to her father’s will. Even after her father’s death, she continues to keep his body with her rather than properly bury him. Since her father’s teachings were all she ever knew, she followed in his footsteps and remained static in time. Her family name and teachings that were passed down to Emily symbolically opposed the upcoming changes to the South. The Grierson house is a significant indicator of Emily’s inability to move forward and accept change. Mr. Grierson purchased the home at, what was at the time, the nicest neighbor in Jefferson. The street was well known by all the residents of the town and the house was almost seen as a modern-day castle as it is described as being 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” (Faulkner 1). 

After her father’s burial, Emily blocked herself inside of the prestigious home in order to wallow in the sentimental memories of Mr. Grierson. During this period, the condition of the home began to deteriorate alongside Emily’s mental and physical health. Even the interior of the house is said to have become “filled with dust and shadows” (Faulkner 6), representing the Grierson’s lack of progression in the New South. By the end of her life, at her weakest moments, the house became consumed by shadows, not letting in the light of the future. However, as the home stayed stagnant in time, the town of Jefferson began to move forward into the New South. Houses are replaced by cotton gins and car garages until only her house was left standing, showing the effects of industrialization. The Grierson house, that once was seen as an eloquent castle, now has become “an eyesore among eyesores” (Faulkner 1) among the new inventions rolling in. The change is shown to be a difficult task for Emily as she has become extremely stubborn through her father’s teachings. She also had grown up surrounded by southern farmers and old south teachings which only would bolster her strong confederate beliefs. When the newer generation moves into the town with taxes, Emily is shown to disregard the idea as they even “mailed her a tax notice. February came, and there was no reply” (Faulkner 1). 

The mayor then offers to call her or to send his car for her but instead received a letter written in an archaic fashion. She is seen to be clueless about the idea of taxes and states that, “Perhaps he considers himself the sheriff... I have no taxes in Jefferson” (Faulkner 2), implying that she still believes that she is above the rest of the town. Emily is in an environment that she no longer recognizes, and uses what she recognizes as a safety net. However, when Homer comes into her life, she gravitates and branches out from what her father attempted to keep her from for the first time. Homer represents everything that is nontraditional to Emily: he is homosexual, a construction worker, and he is somewhat of a bachelor. However, Homer’s presence also finalizes Emily’s mental downfall after they “break up” and she realizes that Homer had no intention of marrying her. Emily’s complete rejection of the world comes with the murder of Homer as he is poisoned by her. She then lays next to his decomposing corpse because, to her, this was the only way to freeze time and spend as much time with Homer that she wanted. Industrialization and the “new generation” of people inside of Jefferson all serve as a push for Emily’s complete denial of the future. William Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily” is packed full of character, plot, and setting symbolism. Every single aspect of the short story seems to point to the fact that Emily is stuck in the past, unable to accept the changing world outside of her window. The denial of change is what results in Emily’s mental breakdown and eventual demise inside of the only relic of the past she had left in her hometown. Faulker’s message revolves around the idea of clinging to the past can eventually result in a personal demise if America was not willing to adapt to change. 

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