‘A Rose for Emily’, by William Faulkner in 1930, is a story of a pauper, white dowager Miss Emily Grierson who lives a lonely life in a small town and kills her lover, hiding the body in her rambling house (Faulkner). The story begins with her death and explores her life from her middle age to her death. Emily has cloistered herself in her large house with only a Negro who serves as her cook and gardener and does not show herself after a broken affair with Homer Barron, the foreman of a Negro work gang that is paving the sidewalk. People are eager to see and speak with her, but, she prefers seclusion and is very cold to visitors, even the council members who send notices, asking her to pay her taxes. Emily represent the old Southerner culture, who have a deep disdain for other people and who do not mix. She has even broken off with her relatives in Alabama. In the last scene, people come to her house to give her a burial and break open the door to the top floor, to find the rotting skeleton of Horatio (). This paper examines the literary device, the house of Emily and the manner in which drives the narrative.
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The house where Emily resides evokes powerful emotions and narratives, bringing out images of a dark, forbidding, reminiscent of a gothic horror story. After her father’s death, Emily has gone out very occasionally and has not allowed anyone inside since 10 years. The house becomes the focus of people who want to see the state of the house and Emily. When she dies, Faulkner narrates “… the women mostly out of curiosity to see the inside of her house, which no one save an old manservant…had seen in the last ten years” (143). The house stands for the old Southerner style with cupolas and spires, scrolled balconies in the heavy style of the seventies. The street was once the select address with many rich business people and ranch owners building their houses. However of late, the street has been turned into a business place with a number of cotton gins, gasoline pumps, and seedy establishments. In short, the street has now been taken over by the modern generation people who do not hold the old reputations with high esteem (Curry 397). In a way, the house represents the downfall of Southerner aristocrats who were long dead and “ those august names where they lay in the cedar bemused cemetery among the ranked and anonymous graves of Union and Confederate soldiers who fell at the battle of Jefferson” (144).
About 10 years before her death, she gave China painting classes to children of her social peers and people would get to see inside of her house. Later she stopped the classes and barred people from entering. When the Board of Aldermen called upon her to serve notice for tax dues, they saw a musty, dust filled place, with cracked leather chair, reeking of disuse (Happel 400). The long period of inactivity had made her fat and obese “she looked like a body long submerged in water and of a pallid hue” (145). It appears that her countenance reflected the musty and wasted house. Later in the story, there is a narration of a rotting stench coming from the house. The reader can later conjecture that it was the smell of the decaying Horatio, who is poisoned by Arsenic that Emily purchases. The house now assumes a sinister character that hides her secret and the place and Emily are closely linked. The story would not be possible without the setting that the house provides and it drives the narrative (Happel 402).
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Elements of a gothic horror are evident when four men break into the musty house, looking for the source of the smell, spreading lime all over to mask the smell. Her attachment to her dead father is evident when she refuses to allow his body to be taken away and buried. It is clear that for Emily, the house represents her innate self, and she is not ready to part even with the bodies of her father and her suitor, preferring to place them inside (Skinner 47). The narration of her death is poignant of the loneliness she faced. “She fell ill and died in a downstairs room, in a heavy walnut bed with a curtain, her grey hair propped on a pillow, yellow and moldy with age and lack of sunlight” (150). The house is her sole companion even in death and she dies in it embrace, lonely women, and who missed out on life.
- Curry, Renee. “Gender and Authorial Limitation in Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily.” Mississippi Quarterly, 47, 2: 391-402, 1994.
- Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily“. NY: Cengage Learning. 2016.
- Happel, Norman. “William Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily,”. Die Neueren Sprachen, 9: 396-404, 1962.
- Skinner, John. “A Rose for Emily”: Against Interpretation”. The Journal of Narrative Technique, 15(1):42-51, 1985