“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

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“A Rose for Emily” is a story by William Faulkner about Emily Grierson who is the protagonist of the story. The story that begins with the end of the protagonist’s life is told from the voice of unnamed narrators who represent the voice of the town. The effect using multiple narrators as a single voice shows that the narrator who is represented in first-person plural is the town’s consciousness. William Faulkner uses symbolism in the story from the title: Emily as a “monument,” the house, Emily’s rose, her hair, and even Homer Barron to express change and the passing of time (Faulkner 14). This helps in the development of the central theme which is change and decay in Miss Emily’s life, the house, and the town. Some of the symbols used in the story to represent the past and rejection to change are Miss Emily’s house and Emily’s life because they both reject updating. The purpose of this paper is to critically analyze the story “A Rose for Emily” by analyzing the development of the theme of change.

Emily is portrayed as a silent, lonely old lady who has been stuck in her timeframe. Having lost her father who did not allow her to marry, she is seen as a woman who never finds her ground. Her house, which was once on a select street in the town, has become a hideous looking home where no one wants to visit except the gardener. The home which was once seen as an elegant house with white scrolled balconies is now seen as a hideous home encroached with decay and dust. Through the voice of the narrator, Emily is portrayed as a lost soul who deserves gossip and pity from the people of her town. Although Emily is seen to fall in love with a young bachelor, Homer Barron and enjoying buggy rides together, things change quickly as she is less with him (23). The development of the story exemplifies change, the conflict between old and new, and tradition versus nontraditional.

From the description of Emily’s house, it can be seen that the story narrates about change. The house is described as a once luxurious and elegant select street but is now dusty and old. The once white and squarish big frame house is now seen by “an eyesore among eyesores”. This shows that the house has rejected change, has aged, and it stands for tradition. Therefore, it has remained the same and lost its glory instead of accepting rebuilding as Jefferson town. As the story unveils, Emily’s past is depicted in the light of fame and elegance. Her family is seen to have enjoyed the respect of the town such that in her reverence, people rise up when she walks into a room. However, change has occurred and the once elegant lady who attracted veneration, respect, and dignity has now become the pity of the town and its people (Mays 69).

Emily’s father who was her source of protection and shelter exonerates Emily from future tax payment by contributing money to the town. The theme of change and the conflict of old versus new becomes evident in the story when Emily is confronted to pay tax. However, she is grounded in the past and refuses to pay the tax. Although the authorities in Jefferson are new, Emily believes that owes Jefferson no taxes (Faulkner 27). Despite the change that is taking place in the town, she is held up in her past and all she knows and believes in is acting traditional. This is also seen when she murders her lover, Homer Baron to stop time and make him stay with her. She is thus not a loving but a selfish lady who is over possessive.

Conclusively, Emily is portrayed as a victim of change and society. She is victim both to her father’s demeanor and to social dictates. However, much of her suffering has been caused by her resistance to change. Emily is seen as a dependant lady who relies on a male figure for love, guidance, and protection. Due to her overdependence on her father, she denies that he is dead. On the other hand, Emily’s over possessive character can be associated with the aristocratic society she grew up in where they owned slaves (Mays 35). This can explain why she kills Barron, “her rose” to make him stay with her because she needed a male figure in her life. However, clinging to paternal figures and exerting power over death by trying to fuse death and life is portrayed as an instrument that destroys Emily more. This shows her resistance to change and the destruction it causes her as it kills her charm and the respectability of a once grand lady.

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  1. Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” Merrill Publishing Company, 2007.
  2. Mays, Kelly J. The Norton Introduction to Literature. W.W. Norton & Co., 2017.
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