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Friday, 23 May 2014 14:35

The Character Of Emily In “A Rose For Emily” By William Faulkner. Featured

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 The Character Of Emily In “A Rose For Emily” By William Faulkner.

 A Rose for Emily was the first Faulkner’s short story to be   published in a nationally recognized magazine. It appeared in the April issue of the Forum, in 1930.  The story is built around Miss Emily Grierson, an elderly woman who lived the last 10 years of her life as a recluse. The story is told from a first person plural point and indication that the narrator is speaking from the collective perspective of the town. The story opens with Miss Emily funeral which is attended by the entire village.

The description of the funeral reveals the curiosity of the community to know the life of Miss Emily who had lived a mysterious life. As the narrator put it “the men through the sort of respectful fondness for a fallen headstone, the women typically out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, as though seeing it they would bring light a hidden secret of her personality.” True to their suspicion, the dead, decayed Skelton of a construction man, believed to be his lover, is found in her secret room. Through the story, the narrator gives a lot of information about the personal life of Miss Emily which reveals the mental health of her family, her restrictive father, the stench that came from the house years ago and her romance with the construction Yankee (Homer Baron), who she later killed.

 Miss Emily

The story reveals Miss Emily as a subject of sexual repression and stultifying gender roles. Emily is driven to insanity and murder by her family and social dynamics. The narration the story leaves many questions than answers on the character of Emily. The audience is left to wonder is she a widow who devours her unsuspecting lover, a desperate spinster who kills to possess, is she some denied natural outlets for her emotions or is she a victim of time, community, her father or her own repressed sexuality. The revelation of the character and life of Miss Emily makes the short story a horror and an allegory at the same time.The family of Grierson had a streak of general insanity and pride.

 Emily’s father was a selfish and dominating man who believed that there was no single man who was worth courting her daughter Emily.  Therefore, he discouraged all Emily’s suitors and drove them away leaving Emily alone and desperate.  By the time he died, Emily was still unmarried, lonely and in need of affection (Fargnoli N & Golay M, 2008).  As the narrator depicts it, the community was somehow happy that the death of Emily’s father had set her free.  However, Emily was hesitant in burying her father. This act is somehow symbolic of Emily’s and society hesitance to leave the past and embrace modernity and the extent to which the influence of the repressive father had affected Emily’s life. Her strong affection for the construction Yankee can be linked to her obsession to the father figure and the domineering characteristics of her father.

 The strong masculine nature and whip-welding skills of Homer are a resemblance of the iron-hand of her father. Therefore, by killing Homer, it can be said that Emily was holding back the repressive characteristics of her father and maintaining status quo. The act also marked the transformation of Emily from a slender, virtuous, virgin girl to a pale suffering woman. The description of Homer represents the new-born culture and class which was more adventurous and lacking in morals (Terry Heller, 1972). Homer had the typical characteristics of the industrial time that represented the bourgeois morals, which could not be compatible with Emily’s old morals.

 Therefore, their relationship represented a class and their differences were not concealable.  After killing Homer, Emily’s picture framed in her upstairs window becomes an inversion of her beautiful and youthful portrait. “The window that and been dark was lightened, Emily sat in it, the light at the back her.’ Emily became the dark silhouette in the dominant foreground.  Since the nightshirts were white, Homer, wearing his nightshirt, was an inversion of the pure virginity to a decaying corpses hovering in the background.  The description of Emily hair by the community illustrates her guilty of killing Homer and the suffering rapidly transformed her.

She is depicted as a woman who throughout her life has been cared for by her father who by no means gave her the autonomy to become her own person. He is a prevailing patriarch who robbed Emily part of her female reality that can only be satisfied through marriage. Emily became used to such kind of life and greatly dependent of her father’s spirituality.  Therefore, when her father passed on, she was incapable of surviving, courteously on her own. She resulted into a life of seclusion refusing to adapt to the changing environment around her.  Despite his demise, Emily’s father continued to be significant in her life. The portrait of her father is mentioned often in the story symbolizing his continued presence in her life.Her repressed adult life did not leave room for her to grow and blossom like a rose (Qun, 2007). She lived a pale and shade-less life.

As the narrator put it “ a thin, acrid pall as of the tomb seemed to lie everywhere upon this room decked and furnished as for a bridal: upon the valance curtains of faded rose color, upon the rose-shaded lights……” As a result of this faded life, she was blind of the changing environment around her (Volpe L, 2004).The relationship between Emily and her family and the entire community also influenced the character of Emily.   The events at her funeral reveal important clues and attitudes of the community toward Emily’s family. Community members did not come to the funeral to mourn or grief the passing of one of their beloved member of the community.

They are driven by curiosity and respect for the defunct institution. Despite their curiosity, it is evident that the community respected her as a pillar of the community, and there is no evidence that they hated or disgusted her. The description of her house depicts defiance to change. It is “stubborn and coquettish.” It is surrounded by commercial quarters, and it is a victim of time. People regard it because of the nostalgic feeling it gives.  According to Anderson (2007), Miss Emily is a symbol of death-in-life and thus the South’s refusal to let die the myth of the Lost Cause. Looking in the old age “like a body long submerged in motionless water,” Miss Emily is a veritable monument to the Old South. 

  Her house’s “stubborn and coquettish decay” serves as a reminder of a way of life that is dead but unburied. When her father dies, she at first denies it, a presage of her later inability to let Homer Barron, even after his death.In conclusion, despite the groom picture of Miss Emily created by her killing of Homer Barron, she is also a victim of repressed sexuality, male dominance and a representative of the conflict between the past and present. She is held up by past morals, which imprison her to act in unreasonable ways.


Anderson D.J (2007). Student companion to William Faulkner. Greenwood Publishing group. New York, USA.

Fargnoli N & Golay M (2008). Critical companion to William Faulkner. Infobase Publishing. New York, USA.

Terry Heller (1972). The Telltale Hair: A Critical Study of William Faulkner's "A Rose for Emily." Retrieved from http://www.public.coe.edu/ on 11/30/2013.

Volpe L (2004). A reader’s guide to William Faulkner: The short stories. Syracuse University Press. New York, USA.

Xie Qun (2007). Analysis of the changing portrait  in “Arose for Emily.” Canadian Social Science. Vol. 3 issue 2; pg 11


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