The Southern Gothic Tale In A Rose For Emily

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A small rural town attempts to maintain their identity while attempting to adapt to their new way of life. A once beautiful, but now decrepit house, a reminder of the way things used to be, when their way of life was not considered evil, when owning another human being was considered the norm. In this house resides Miss Emily Grierson. Miss Grierson, a stubborn soul so resistant to change, she becomes the town’s primary source of gossip and conjecture. this Southern Gothic tale written by William Faulkner in 1930. A Rose for Emily written by William Faulkner, an anthology that takes place in both the past and present, creating a multifaceted story that blends together to create a unique and interesting read. In A Rose for Emily, like many other of Faulkner’s works, there are several themes to be interpreted from the story. 

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I found the focus of the story to be death, tradition versus change, and isolation. The theme of death can be seen immediately in the beginning of the story where Faulkner opens to the funeral of Miss Grierson. Whereas the whole town is present and recounting the strange behavior and odd mannerisms of the strange, isolated, and stubborn woman. During the story we see Faulkner recount the many interactions Miss Grierson has with her town and the people within. One of which Miss Grierson is arguing with the tax collector about whether she should pay taxes. During the interaction Miss Grierson is extremely adamant about how she should not pay taxes. Because that is the way things have always been. She goes on to demand the collector to “See Colonel Sartoris” (pg. 2, para 2) who had been dead for several years, if they had any dispute over it. This interaction shows Miss Grierson’s resistance to change as well as her isolation, as she did not accept the idea that Colonel Sartoris had been dead for some time. In another instance of refusal to accept change Miss Grierson upon learning that Homer was going to leave her, Miss Grierson goes the local druggist searching for Arsenic. She does not say what exactly it is for but we can infer from context and clues later in the story, she intended to poison Homer to prevent him from leaving. 

There are several instances of grotesque and dark imagery especially regarding death during the story. This emphasizes Faulkner’s style of Southern Gothicism and excellent use of imagery to create an environment for the reader to feel and experience. In one instance a narrator discusses in the beautiful but decaying house, the rotting corpse of Homer in Miss Grierson’s bed, even decayed, and desiccated, Miss Grierson still held onto the very idea that death was not real, or she would not accept the reality of death, reflected by her affinity for necrophilia. Faulkner like many other authors of Southern Gothicism Faulkner explores the ideas of mental illness, antisocial behavior, and the illusion of social grace and beauty. This can be seen in the portrayal of Miss Grierson’s home, a beautiful, lavishly decorated home on the outside but plagued by the smell of death and decay. Portraying the idea that underneath the social grace and beauty lies decay. The house is also used as a thematic device for the other themes as well. The beautiful home while the town is growing and changing around it stays very much the same, while slowly breaking down, and again decaying, just as the traditions of the South were slowly being antiquated and replaced by the more modern and liberal facets of Northern society. 

The symbolism does not end there, between every line and sentence a new interpretation can be found. Another great example is regarding Homer Barron. Homer was a foreman with bright shining eyes and a deep baritone voice, who migrated from the North quickly becomes the talk of the town. He exudes absolute confidence and charm; Homer takes a liking to Emily and takes her for weekend buggy rides much to the dismay of the town. This was because Emily was of a higher social standing, whereas Homer was seen as a poorer day laborer type. From my analysis this can be interpreted as the Homer, due to his machines, and free-spirited nature was seen as the modern industrialized North encroaching on the more traditional and regal ideals of the south thereby further reinforcing the idea of tradition versus change as a primary theme. 

The title A Rose for Emily can be interpreted as symbolism as well. From my interpretation the title can have many meanings, one of which in my analysis was the town’s treatment of Emily, at the end of the story the townspeople almost described how they knew there was a room that had not been seen in forty years, right around the time where Homer was not seen again. But in this room lie the macabre bridal suite created by Miss Grierson as a shrine or monument to her inability to change. In my opinion the town offered Miss Grierson a rose, by not looking further into the disappearance of Homer, as she was the victim of a tragedy, and imprisoning her would be double jeopardy as existence was punishment enough for her. In closing I must give credit where credit is due. Faulkner’s beautiful macabre recreation of the south and the struggles the people faced after having their way of life dramatically changed is a testament to his talents as a writer. There are so many different ways we can pick apart the story and develop our own meanings behind each line or word written; From the setting, to the cadence of the story itself A Rose for Emily, is inarguably a masterful work of fiction with so many different levels of interpretation. Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily will continue to be one of the great examples of Southern Gothic literature and will continue to be an anthologized tale of macabre beauty, mental illness, and the struggles faced by the rural south in the post-civil war United States. 

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