Essay, Research Paper: Rose For Emily

Literature: William Faulkner

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Only when the present has become the past can we reflect on what we could have
or should have done. Yet our society is so obsessed with keeping track of time
that we spend millions of dollars a year to keep a set of atomic clocks ticking
the time. These clocks are so accurate that they must be reset once a year to
correct for the earth's imperfect orbit. Our base-60 measure of time is an
abstract idea dating from the Babylonians. All this, and what most human minds
intrinsically understand about time is the past, present and future. I say most
minds, because not every mind does comprehend these abstract ideas. Many people
are able to survive in the present, but give little or no thought to the future,
and these people usually live in the past. Such a mind is the mind of Miss Emily
Grierson in William Faulkner's A Rose for Emily. Emily Grierson survives in the
present, but lives in the past. The morbid ending is foreshadowed by the story's
opening with Miss Emily Grierson's death and funeral. The bizarre outcome is
further emphasized throughout by the symbolism of the decaying house, which
parallels Miss Emily's physical deterioration and demonstrates her ultimate
mental disintegration. Her life, like the house which decays around her is a
direct result of living in the past. Part of living is death, and the future
conjures life, the past, and death. Emily's imbalance of past and present causes
her to confuse the living with the dead. Perhaps the most prominent example of
Emily's confusion is the carcass of Homer Barron lying in the honeymoon room of
Emily's house. This division is exemplified by the symbolic imagery of Faulkner.
The rose colored room, a color of life, is covered thickly with dust, a symbol
of death. Of course, this is not the first time we learn of Emily's confusion.
Previous to Barron's discovery, her father dies, and she denies that he is dead.
Faulkner gives the reader a taste of this confusion early on when Miss Emily
instructs the town tax-collectors to consult with Colonel Sartoris about her
taxes, though he had been dead for ten years. At this foreboding point in the
story, Emily seems to be a senile old maid; this could not be further from the
truth. The external characteristics of Miss Emily's house parallel her physical
appearance to show the transformation brought about by years of neglect. For
example, the house is located in what was once a prominent neighborhood that has
deteriorated. Originally white and decorated in "the heavily lightsome
style" of an earlier time, the house has become "an eyesore among
eyesores". Through lack of attention, the house has evolved from a
beautiful representative of quality to an ugly holdover from another era.
Similarly, Miss Emily has become an eyesore; for example, she is first described
as a "fallen monument", to suggest her former grandeur and her later
grotesqueness. Like the house, she has lost her beauty. Once she had been
"a slender figure in white"; later she is obese and "bloated,
like a body long submerged in motionless water with eyes lost in the fatty
ridges of her face". Both house and occupant have suffered the ravages of
time and neglect. The interior of the house also parallels Miss Emily's
increasing degeneration and the growing sense of sadness that accompanies such
decay. Initially, all that can be seen of the inside of the house is "a dim
hall from which a staircase mounted into still more shadow" with the house
smelling of "dust and disuse". The darkness and the smell of the house
connect with Miss Emily, "a small, fat woman in black" with a voice
that is "dry and cold" as if it were dark and dusty from disuse like
the house. The similarity between the inside of the house and Miss Emily extends
to the "tarnished gilt easel" with the portrait of her father and Miss
Emily "leaning on an ebony cane with a tarnished gold head". Inside
and out, both the building and the body in which Miss Emily live are in a state
of deterioration like tarnished metal. Finally, the townspeople's descriptions
of both house and occupant reveal a common intractable arrogance. At one point
the house is described as "stubborn" as if it were ignoring the
surrounding decay. Similarly, Miss Emily proudly overlooks the deterioration of
her once grand residence. This motif recurs as she denies her father's death,
refuses to discuss or pay taxes, ignores town gossip about her being a
"fallen woman," and does not tell the druggist why she is purchasing
arsenic. Both the house and Miss Emily become traps for that strongest
representative of the twentieth century, Homer Barron, laborer, outsider,
confirmed bachelor. Just as the house seems to reject progress and updating, so
does Miss Emily, until both of them become decaying anachronisms. Through
descriptions of the house that resemble descriptions of Miss Emily Grierson,
"A Rose for Emily" emphasizes the way that beauty and elegance can
become grotesquely distorted through neglect and lack of love. In this story,
the house deteriorates for forty years until it becomes ugly; Miss Emily's
physical and emotional condition dissipate in a similar manner.
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