Essay, Research Paper: Rose For Emily

Literature: William Faulkner

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After World War One, there were many changes occurring in the world. Man’s
inherent need to follow tradition was now being challenged by a continually
changing, modern world. The past and the present often conflicted. William
Faulkner, a southern born writer, based much of his novels and short stories on
this conflict. He aptly reflects the turmoil of the past and the present in, “
A Rose for Emily”. The conflict between the past and the present is symbolized
in the beginning of the story by this description, “ only now Miss Emily’s
house was left, lifting its stubborn and coquettish decay above the cotton
wagons and gasoline pumps-an eyesore among eyesores” (331). It is ironic that
the same description “ stubborn and coquettish decay” can be a description
for Miss Emily as well. And just like her house, which had once been white and
on a “ select street”, Miss Emily had been a slim young girl dressed in
white. But as the house fell into decay so had Miss Emily,” she looked
bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid
hue”(332). The town played a part in Miss Emily’s delusion. There were
numerous complaints of a foul stench permeating from her property. A younger
member of the Board of Aldermen suggested that Miss Emily be told to clean up
her property. But due to the old southern ideals of honor, duty and loyalty the
older, the more traditional members could not possibly confront her about this
matter. “Dammit sir”, Judge Stevens said,” will you accuse a lady to her
face of smelling bad”(333)? So in the midnight hour they chose to “ slunk
about the house” and apply lime to the infected areas. Then thirty years later
the Board of Aldermen allow themselves to be “vanquished” by Miss Emily as
they attempted to collect the delinquent taxes owed the town. The druggist also
permits her to purchase arsenic without following protocol. By law Miss Emily
was required to tell the druggist what she plan to do with the arsenic. She did
not. Ray B.West Jr., taught at the University of Montana and the University of
Kansas. He was also the editor of,” Rocky Mountain Stories and “ The Art of
Modern Fiction”. He wrote an analysis on, “ A Rose for Emily”, titled “
Atmosphere and Theme in “ A Rose for Emily” in 1949. He states, “ It is
the Past pitted against the Present-the Past with its social decorum, the
Present with everything set down in “the books”. Emily dwells in the Past,
always a world of unreality to us of the Present.”(68). In his analysis, Mr.
West sees an atmosphere (time, place, and conditions) of unreality created by
the female character, Emily. And once this atmosphere of unreality is
established, the reader is being prepared for “ Emily’s unnatural act at the
end of the story”. This same atmosphere allows the reader to see Miss Emily as
a “ tragic figure” instead of an evil monster. Miss Emily hold on the past
had made her a victim of her own values. The relationship with Homer Barron is
also a conflict of the past and the present. Miss Emily, a Southern aristocrat,
is the ideal of past values and Homer, a northern laborer, is a part of the
ever-changing present. While Miss Emily is “ of moonlight and magnolias,
cotton fields, faithful old family servants and Mount Vernon mansions” a quote
by Joel Williamson, a historian of the south (Williamson 401). Homer is of
machinery, a hearty laugh and a man’s man. Miss Emily symbolizes the slow
moving pace of the old south while Homer symbolizes progress of the fast moving
pace of the new south. Even during their buggy rides Miss Emily sits with “
her head high”, representing the past and Homer sits with his “hat
cocked”, representing the present. Homer must have planned to leave Miss
Emily. When her father had died, she refused to acknowledge his death for three
days. Her father, who had been the mainstay of her life, had left her .The
father that turned away potential suitors because he felt that they were not
good enough for his daughter. I t was said that she had to “cling to that
which had robbed her”. Homer entered her life by courting her publicly, for
there not to be marriage, would have robbed her of her dignity and high standing
in the community. The ladies of the town had already felt that Miss Emily was
not setting a good example for the “young people”. The situation was
becoming a “disgrace to the town”. Homer could not be allowed to leave,
henceforth the arsenic. But this time, the town people would not be able to take
Homer from her, as they had with her father. Now the little room above the
stairs became the past for Miss Emily. In this room, Emily and Homer remained
together as though death had not separated them. Emily had conquered the
present; she was allowed to live her life in the past. The bridal room is the
color of roses and symbolizes the color of love. In the room “ the valence
curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose-shaded lights…and the man’s
toilet things backed with tarnish silver, silver so tarnished that the monogram
was obscured”(337). For a while Miss Emily was able to maintain her past in
this rose-colored bridal room, in her rose-tinted world. Miss Emily could not
fight time forever, because through death, her past was invaded by the present,
at last. After the burial of Miss Emily, the door of the little room was broken
down and the past was finally allowed to escape its tomb. “The man himself lay
in bed” (337). The corpse of Homer Barron was in the bridal bed, with the
remnants of his nightshirt laid about him. Beside him, a pillow with the “
indentation of a head” and a strand of gray hair told the macabre story. This
could have ended being a gothic, horror story but instead it shows a repressed,
overprotected woman denied a chance to live a normal life because of the times
(past). The present had tried to defeat her but only through death, did this
become possible. “ On the victor, Faulkner bestows a rose of tribute, a rose
for Miss Emily”(FIU 26).
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