Widely considered to be one of the most significant American writers of the 20th century, Faulkner concentrates on themes that are universal. His novels, The Sound and the Fury, Absalom! Absalom! are experiments with shifts in time and narrative. A Rose for Emily is the strange story of love, obsession, and death. The narrator speaks for the town of Jefferson in Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. The short story is a gruesome revelation after Emily’s funeral. Faulkner himself claims that it is a ghost’s story. Frank A Littler writes in Notes on Mississippi Writers, “A Rose for Emily” has been “read variously as a gothic horror tale, a study in abnormal psychology, an allegory of the relations between the North and South, a meditation on the nature of time, a tragedy with Emily as a sort of tragic heroic.” (Faulkner 2008).
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The narration of the story
The narrator, in order to produce the desired effects, uses two devices – flashback and foreshadowing, that utilize time. Flashbacks are used to present action that has not happened. The story told by the narrator is a series of non-sequential flashbacks. The narrator begins by describing the scene of Emily’s funeral and no soon does he flashback and forth through various events in the life and time of Emily Grierson and the town of Jefferson.
Each piece of the story is a recount by the narrator regardless of chronology. The description of Emily’s funeral is immediately followed by the incident where Col. Sartoris relieves her of taxes. Thus it’s quite evident that the narrator works in a hap-hazard manner as human memory does. The house which Emily has occupied all these years has turned into a mausoleum where Emily has stored her corpse and guarded over it for 40 years. In sec. 2 of the short story, Emily’s house stinks, yet she remains unruffled.
The story is narrated by an unnamed narrator in the 1st person collective. The narrator’s identity is never revealed throughout. He is clever humorous and sympathetic. He has successfully created a shocking climax that has left every reader feel pity for Emily and at the time arouse a certain eerie feeling.
The setting is Yoknapatawpha, Mississippi – Faulkner’s mythical county wherein Emily is trapped in Jefferson’s past. She turns out isolated and withdrawn and nevertheless becomes one among the living dead.
As regards the structure, Faulkner has exhibited his craftsmanship in revealing the history of Jefferson and linking it to the final scene which is powerful enough to evoke a sense of suspense and horror. The story is not told in a straightforward beginning–to–end fashion yet it is more entertaining and enlightening as it covers a considerable length of time.
The story could be seen as a psychological examination of character. Emily’s obsession with Homer and his denouement forces Emily to take the offensive by poisoning him so that he can’t abandon her. The discovery of a strand of her hair on the pillow next to the rotting corpse suggests that she slept with the cadaver, or even worse, had sex with it. Her repressive life has contributed to her psychological abnormality – necrophilia. Emily’s special confinement is a metaphor for her psychic confinement. Her identity is not determined by her but by the construct of her father’s mind. There is a strong Oedipal bonding with her strange father.
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A rose is a flower of tribute and a symbol of youth, beauty, and love. As one preserves a rose by pressing it within the pages of a book, so Emily has preserved her rose – her love, her youth, her happiness by decorating the room as a bridal chamber and keeping it that way with her lover there beside her forever. This is the significance of the title.
Delving into the possible themes, death lurks in the minds of the reader. Five actual deaths have been discussed. Literally and figuratively, this theme pervades the whole story. In section 1, the narrator recollects Emily’s funeral, the madness, and the death of old lady Wyatt, Emily’s great aunt. The discovery of a long strand of iron-grey hair lie on a pillow next to the corpse entombed in Emily’s boudoir suggests that she could be necrophilia. Yet another theme could be the decline of the old South, after Civil War. The dark secret might serve as a metaphor for the general decadence of the old South. As the town people view as “…and ideal in a niche …passed from generation to generation – dear, inescapable, impervious, tranquil, and perverse, the story could be a study of community versus isolation.
The central conflict of the story is that through insanity she triumphs over reality. If she had maintained her sanity, she would have been defeated by the pressures of society and life. Through insanity, one can gain an emotionally satisfying triumph over faith and reshaping reality forcing it to conform to the heart’s desire. Hence, the theme of conflict and resolution gains significance.
The symbol of the tableau where the sprawled figure of Emily’s father with a horsewhip in hand and sitting between her and the outside world represents the jealous concern of the honor and virginity of Southern white womanhood too good for most men.
There are beliefs that the story is an allegory of relations between North and South.
Homer is a Yankee and Emily kills him. There is little to sustain the allegory apart from the above evidence.
A Rose for Emily is a meditation on the nature of time as it covers three-quarters of a century and shows the elusive nature of time and memory. There is a conflict between time on a subjective experience and time is a powerful force to be reckoned with.
An overall analysis of the short story highlights various aspects of forms in literature the story is a peep into the framework of a single mind calculated and read by many.
Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. Introduction. 2008. Web.