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William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is a 1930 short story published as one of the collections of its author, These Thirteen. The story revolves around the central character Emily, whom the author uses to fulfill his thematic purposes as an embodiment of the themes of traditional versus progress and patriarchy. Also, Emily’s gray hair and the Grierson’s house make the story a symbolic meditation of the post-civil war times. Emily Grierson and Homer Barron are the central characters that the author uses to vehicle his themes to his audience. William Faulkner successfully delivers his themes using symbolism and functional characterization.
The Theme of Tradition Versus Change
Faulkner packs his story with numerous themes, primarily themes of tradition versus change and patriarchy. The Emily Grierson character fulfills Faulkner’s thematic purpose of communicating the tussle between tradition and progress. The Grierson’s house was once an aristocratic glory-filled home but is now faded in its previous glory, even though Emily still holds it highly. The narrator presents Emily as a living monument of the past resistant to change. Emily refuses to “…fasten the metal numbers above her door…” according to the law, even when the whole town embraces this change (Faulkner, 2012). She represents the “old South” that is now gone, never to come back.
Further, her refusal to break the previous agreement of exclusion to tax with the new government indicates her struggle with accepting progress and change, hence clinging to her past life. This theme also speaks to the townspeople, divided between the old generation upholding the Old South precepts and the young generation who focus on progress. In other words, proper manners and practicality. The southern ascendancy postulates that aristocrat women be treated with gentility and etiquette, as Colonel Sartoris did by exempting Emily from tax. However, thirty years later, the Board of Alderman, a new generation of leadership, views no one as worthy of tax exemption. This story’s authorship packs it with a brawl of new versus old as a theme.
Theme of Patriarchy
The story also conveys the theme of patriarchy, portraying women as in need of men to secure a respectable position in society. Emily also fulfills this thematic purpose from her youthful times to her golden years. Emily’s life has men standing between her and her happiness, her father, Homer Barron, and the patriarchal leadership in her hometown, Jefferson. The townspeople viewed the Griersons as egotistic, carrying themselves as “high and mighty” (Faulkner, 2012). For instance, ego made Emily’s father reject Emily’s suitors rendering her a fallen monument for hitting thirty years while a spinster. Also, Homer does not marry her to restore her home’s glory, making her a murderer. Finally, the patriarchal leadership attempts to write off the previous tax exemption agreement Colonel Sartoris accorded her. The townspeople call her “fallen” for not getting married, a misfortune for women. In a nutshell, Falkner communicates patriarchy and its effect on women through Emily.
Emily Grierson’s House and Gray Hair
Emily Grierson’s house and gray hair are a few of the symbols evident in the story. The Grierson’s house remains as an insignia of the fading aristocracy of the South (Abdurrahman, 2016). The house’s architecture was famous in the late 1800s, which has changed by the authorship time of the story. The houses’ elite affluence faded despite its “…stubborn and coquettish decay…” (Faulkner, 2012). Similar to how the southern values were reluctant to change, so was Emily towards changing the house. However, the inevitable nature of change caught up with Emily, and the house people never entered was open to the townspeople during her funeral.
The mention of Emily’s and her servant Tobe’s hair color as gray after the disappearance of Barron drives the audience’s attention to the same. Like Grierson’s house, the iron-gray hair symbolizes the elapsing of time in the story (Abdurrahman, 2016). The townspeople gauge the time passed by looking at the grayness of her hair. Also, the graying of her hair to iron-gray symbolizes strengthening her iron will to live as she wants. That is, as she grows older, she disagrees with the leadership of Jefferson on taxes.
Emily Grierson and Homer Baron Character Analysis
The main characters in the story are Emily Grierson and Homer Barron, who help Falkner convey his themes. Emily has a hidden identity that the townspeople try to uncover with no success. As dark, shady, dusty, and shuttered the Grierson’s house is, so is the woman living in it. Her bizarre behavior strengthens the eccentric trait she bares, which is normal southerner-like behavior. Her controlling behavior is evident in her refusal to explain to the druggist for what use she buys the poison, her refusal to take up the metallic numbers, and eventual refusal to pay taxes.
Emily’s controlling behavior foreshadows and stamps her necrophilia trait literally and metaphorically. Necrophilia traits control and prefer entities with little to no resistance to their will, like dead bodies (Zhang & Liu, 2020). On the other side, Barron, as a northerner, embodies industrialization as he comes as a foreman with machinery to Jefferson. His “not marrying type” is a modern idea that allows him to charm women and not commit to one. Also, the scandalous nature of his relationship with Emily due to her elite status is a change typifying modernity in the uptight South.
The story has themes, symbols, and characters that ferry its plot forward. The themes of traditional versus change and patriarchy dominate the story, opening the audience to a typical Southern life during the reconstruction era. The Grierson’s house and Emily’s frequently referenced gray hair are examples of symbols Falkner uses in this piece. The character Emily represents is a necrophiliac resisting the changes bound to happen in the South. Homer represents modernity and industrialization sipped into the South during the post-civil war era.
- Abdurrahman, I. B. (2016). A Stylistic Analysis of Complexity in William Faulkner’s” A Rose for Emily.” Advances in Language and Literary Studies, 7(4), 220-230.
- Faulkner, W. (2012). A Rose for Emily and Other Stories. Random House Publishing Group.
- Zhang, P., & Liu, T. (2020). Narrative Time in Faulkner’s “a Rose for Emily.”