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"A Rose for Emily"

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Faulkner’s works reflect the southern white people’s obsession with the past: the decadence, family corruption, defeat and the loss of material things. In A Rose for Emily, Faulkner explores burden of the southern white people and how they remain haunted by the past ‘good times’ in the aftermath of the civil war (

Emily is the last shred of aristocracy in Jefferson. She is seen as a kind of ‘monument’ of an aristocracy that, truly speaking, is dead and will never return ( She remains haunted by the gone times. She still dreams of living ‘it’, that old southern life, and making ‘it’ to work in spite of the unaccommodating new world. She rebels against that new world through the ways that the system can let her get away with. Emily still wishes to marry a rich man like her father would have made sure of; or like her ‘aristocracy’ demands of her. When it turns out that she cannot have all that she wishes for, the adoration of the village as a representative of a world that still cares for such things as aristocracy, she gives up. Although she is literally alive, it can be said that Emily becomes buried alive in her home, as well as in herself. In other words, Emily still does not come to terms with the fact that times have changed. Her response to that change is simply refusing to witness it. She completely does not get to terms with the reality of the times.

Generally, Faulkner assigns Emily’s fate to that of all who refuse to accept change. The objects in her house are a crucial mirror on which Emily’s fate is reflected long before she literally dies.

The purpose of this paper is to look at how these objects help to reflect Emily’s refusal to live by the times and the consequential fate, and that of those who are like her.

Critical Analysis

This story is discernibly in line with the Gothic story as reflected in such things as a crumbling mansion, a hideous secret and a mysterious servant. The main theme of A Rose for Emily is that one who refuses to change must also love and live with death.

From the start of the story, it is obvious that Emily does not take to change quite easily. Emily’s refusal to acknowledge and accept change is suggested in a number of symbols and images of stasis. She refuses to let the villagers burry her father, because she believes he is still alive.

Faulkner captures minute details of not just Emily’s person, but also her surroundings. Faulkner describes Emily as looking bloated as if her body has long been submerged in still water.

Another of these most notable details is the grey strand of hair found next to Barron’s body upon her death. It gives the impression that Emily must have recently laid beside Homer’s dead body long after it had decayed. In fact, judging from the fact that the space on the pillow on which Barron’s body rests is indented, she probably lay beside the body many times before, even recently. The strand of hair makes Emily’s visit to the body of Barron relatively recent. This is so because Emily’s hair only recently turns grey, years after Homer’s death. Just like she clings to her conviction that Colonel Sartoris and her father are still alive, so does she seem to believe that Barron is still living and faithfully married her (

There’s also the symbol of her invisible watch. When the Board of Alderman members visit her over payment of taxes, they catch the sound of a ticking clock hidden somewhere in her clothing and her body. She seems to live by the count of a certain private and secret watch of her own. She seems to live in a time different from the one that the whole village lives in. This hidden clock stands for Emily’s perception of time. To her, it is simply an invisible, mysterious force. The fact that she has a clock means that she is conscious of time. Yet, the fact that she keeps it hidden has an ambiguous implication; one, that she is unwilling to keep it where she can see it; she simply does not want to be a witness to the moving hands of time; or, secondly, that it tells of a different time from the one that is ‘out there’, beyond her compound or her mind, the real world. Either way, the clock reflects Emily’s refusal to accept that time is changing. She hides herself from the ‘real’ one and keeps her own one, which she can control.

But the ticking off the clock also expresses the impotence of Emily’s efforts to control it, to refuse to live by its essence. By pushing the hands of time does not stop it from running. And as the clock ticks, it’s counting down Emily’s days, and everyone else’s. With every single tick, Emily’s chances of attaining the happiness that she is pursuing are dwindling. Refusing to witness it or attempting to control does not save her from that.

Her house is merely an extension of what she is in the way that it is stubborn in its coquettish decay. It stands among gasoline pumps and refuses, just like her owner, to be part of, and live by the rules of the new times. Against the rest of the houses in the Jefferson, Emily’s house is quite isolated- perhaps, since it belongs in ‘another’ world. And so is Emily. The home in which the corpse of Barron is rotting upstairs, is one in which she cannot invite people. Emily becomes isolated like her own house.  

Then there’s the stationery, also a symbol of time. The paper, on which Emily writes a letter to the town, is of archaic shape and the ink writings on it are faded. It is of course expected of Emily, who rarely writes letters. The stationery reflects the tensions and conflicts between the different times explored here: the past, the present and the prospective future.

There has also been a debate on whether Faulkner meant to explore the symbolic relationship between the south and the north in the aftermath of the Civil War and how both sides view time. Some critics have argued that A Rose for Emily is an allegory. That Barron is the ruthless and commercial north who invades the South, while Emily and her loyal ex-slave represent the south letting themselves be violated.

The South, for instance, just as reflected in Emily, refuses changes and not only losses its soul in the war, but must now live with the carefree North, death, running among them. Ray B. West, Jr feels that this implied North-South relationship is not just a take on the South’s perception of time, but also the North’s. He writes: “if the south sees time as a strong meadow that could stand winter, the north sees it merely as a ‘mathematical progression’” (The Explicator VII [No. 1] Oct. 1948: item 8).


But to be fairly forgiving to Emily, it is not fully her error that she has stuck with the old ways. She is just a victim of her father’s refusal to move on. It is said that her father stole away her youth from her. Grierson brought up her daughter in a strictly aristocratic manner, so that even though Emily loved society once, he made sure that that love would not exactly be manifested in her relationship with the people. Grierson believed so much in the Old South and the magnificence of it that he returned away all of Emily’s suitors just because they did not meet the standard of such old South. In the end, Emily dies a sad spinster. Besides the physical death, Emily had died in other ways: psychologically and socially, long before. Her death, in all its variants, is as a result of her father’s refusal to move on and believe that for him, and for his daughter, could curve out some life out of the new world ( 

Change is inevitable. The only way to deal with change is to accept it and make some living out of it. Refusing it, does not drive it away. Instead, it makes one realize his/her impotence against the world. When the efforts to control it fail, as did Emily’s, the result is so strong. Emily died for it.

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