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The character of Emily is an isolated, desperate relic of the South. For many years, Emily lived as a loner, having withdrawn from her family to live in seclusion. A Rose for Emily, a story by William Faulkner, revolves around the life of Emily, both her life and the community around her. Faulkner also captures the environment around her in his work. Most of those who lived in the town where Emily came from saw so little about her. Throughout the story, Faulkner depicts Emily as isolated from the community, and a desperate relic of the South as evident in the speculation by the town residents and everyone’s reaction towards her death.
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Emily’s father, Mr. Grierson, is responsible for her lonely life, having turned away men who showed interest in tying the knot with Emily. Years ago, Emily’s father fell out with some of her kin who lived in Alabama over an estate formerly owned by an old lady, Wyatt, who was known to be a crazy woman (Faulkner 4). As a result, the gruesome act by the old man caused quarrels and lack of communication between the two families. Turning away the possible suitors of his daughter, Grierson subjected his daughter to a great tragedy, a life of total loneliness and hopelessness, with no one to refer to as a friend. After the civil war, Mr. Grierson’s family fell into hard times. Mr. Grierson and his daughter Emily were the last two in their entire clan, living a life as if in the past. When Emily turned thirty years old, Mr. Grierson died, taking Emily by surprise (Serravalle de Sá et al. 3). Never did Emily’s father provide the reason why he could not let his daughter get romantically attached to younger men within the community or form the town. His actions played a huge role in shaping the gruesome personality of Emily. At one point in time, Mr. Grierson decided to have his daughter’s taxes remitted all at once, a decision that made Emily think and believe that she did not have to pay taxes to the city ever again.
Emily does not have a huge family. Apart from her father, the only know family that Emily has is her cousins, the family’s extended relatives who live in Alabama. At one point in time, Emily’s cousins from Alabama are called into Jefferson town to stop the looming affair between their cousin and a company contractor, Homer Barron. The relatives live far away from Emily, a clear indication that there is a dispute between Emily and her cousins. During the burial of her father, Emily’s relatives from Alabama did not attend the funeral (Serravalle de Sá et al. 2). However, when they finally showed up to stop the possible marriage between Emily and Homer Barron, a dispute erupted between Emily and her cousins from Alabama. This was followed by an incident where her cousins were sent back to their home in Alabama to provide space for Barron and Emily to get married.
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Most residents of Jefferson town have a negative attitude towards Emily. Most of them do not like the kind of lifestyle she lives, having lived in seclusion for an extended period. At one point in time, the towns’ people reported Emily to the mayor, Judge Stevens, that there was a pungent smell coming from her house. With the Judge Steven’s orders, four men crossed to Emily’s lawn after midnight, slunk about her house like burglars and sniffed along the base of the brickwork. The four men broke the cellar door open and sprinkled lime into the house and in all buildings outside Emily’s house (Serravalle de Sá et al. 3). Emily’s lonely life was triggered not only by her father’s selfish actions against her but also the attitude that the town’s attitude towards her.
Homer Barron, the Town’s Speculation about him and Emily’s Isolation from the Community
Homer Barron enters William Faulkner’s story as a foreman working for a road construction project carried out in Mississippi’s Jefferson town. According to Faulkner et al. (pg. 3), most people from the city of Jefferson recognizes Homer through his big, dark and ready man complexion, not forgetting his big voice and eyes that are described to be lighter than his face. Within a short period, everyone within the town of Jefferson knew Homer, partly because he hanged around with the nigger and the Negros and primarily because he was seen hanging around with Emily. Soon enough, people from the town speculated that Homer could marry Emily. At first, people from the city felt glad that Emily would have an interest in Homer. According to the ladies from the town, a Grierson like Emily would have a serious thought about a Northerner like Homer Barron, whom they described as a “day laborer.” On the other hand, the older people from Jefferson town believed that grief could not make a real lady to disremember noblesse oblige. Additionally, the town’s people pitied Emily and wished that her kinsfolk from Alabama could come and give her company. According to Perry, Emily’s decision to buy poison may have been triggered by a love affair between her and Homer (329). The isolation of Emily from her community is a big concern for the town’s people. After the death of her father, Emily kept so much to herself and had no friends and relatives to visit and talk to her. It is believed that even Tobe, Emily’s cook, and gardener, did not speak to Emily despite operating under the same roof. Most people from the town disapproves of Emily’s actions such as tax evasion and her purchase of poison, but without intervention.
Emily’s Death and Everyone’s Reaction
Emily’s death came after a prolonged period of sickness and seclusion in the house. Initially, people from the town speculated that she would use the poison she bought from a druggist. However, after a few years, the town’s people saw her with grey hair on her head, and on each passing day, her hair became greyer. After so many generations, she fell ill in her house which was filled with shadows and dust. No one from the town knew of her sickness since Tobe, the Negro who cooked for her, could not tell anyone from the city what was happening behind the closed doors of Emily’s house (Faulkner 6). Emily passed away in one of the downstairs rooms in her home on a walnut bed covered with a curtain. On her yellow pillow popped her gray head. Most people from the town thought that she might have died due to old age and lack of sunlight. Everyone from the city, including her cousins from Alabama, came to her burial the second day after her death. On the very day, Tobe vanished through the back door and was never seen again by anyone from Jefferson town.
Emily’s life of seclusion started when her father was still alive. Turning any potential suitor away, Emily’s father, Grierson, denied her the opportunity to interact with others in the society and from getting married during her heydays. The Grierson did not have a good relationship with their extended family from Alabama due to an issue between the two families over an estate owned by Wyatt. After a long period of loneliness, Emily finally finds love in Homer Barron who works as a foreman with a construction company in Jefferson town. They spend much time together, and the town’s people speculate that they will get married. Emily, however, continues to live in isolation until the time of her death when people from the town come to see her house and attend her funeral organized by her two cousins from Alabama.
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- Faulkner, William, Josef Schwarz, and Zdeněk Urbánek. A Rose for Emily. Paderborn, De: Verlag F. Schöningh, 1958.
- Perry, Menakhem. “Literary Dynamics: How The Order Of A Text Creates Its Meanings [With An analysis of Faulkner’s” A Rose for Emily”].” Poetics Today, vol.1, no,.1/2, 1979, p.35-361.
- Serravalle de Sá, Daniel and William, Faulkner. “A Rose for Emily.” The Forum, 1930.