Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” is a short story that holds the readers’ attention even though it tells of a rather boring tale of a woman who lives in a small town. The narrator effectively describes the characters in such a way that the readers clearly visualize them in their minds’ eyes.
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Emily is a white girl from an aristocratic family in the south, the Griersons. The story chronicles Emily’s life from her girlhood, when her parents selfishly prohibited her from dating men, as it seems all men were beneath them. “The Griersons held themselves a little too high for what they really were. None of the young men were quite good for Miss Emily and such.” Being so, Miss Emily has grown to believe that she occupies a special position in society, even to her old age when she refused to pay her taxes, having been privileged by a former Mayor who owed the Griersons favors.
The narrator depicted a small town where the ladies had nothing better to do than gossip about the high and mighty Grierson family. They were like vultures, who, in their minds, keenly follow the drama that happens behind doors. Miss Emily has always been an enigma they desperately want to demystify one of these days.
Miss Emily’s tragic fate and deep sorrow get felt throughout the story that the readers get to sympathize with her character….only to be shocked at the end. Her assumed insanity was to be expected after all the things she has endured – the loss of a mother while growing up, the death of a father, the sudden loss of a charming way of living….but not to the extent of murdering her lover and sleeping with his corpse until the day of her death.
The protagonist is born to wealth, yet had no mother to guide her in her growth. She was reared to think she was better than others, being a Grierson – “She carried her head high enough—even when we believed that she was fallen. It was as if she demanded more than ever the recognition of her dignity as the last Grierson as if it had wanted that touch of earthiness to reaffirm her imperviousness.” Miss Emily lived a pathetic, lonely, and empty life. To the end, she clutched to her last hope of feeling real love. When Homer Barron was assumed to reject her in marriage, it was suggested that Miss Emily poisoned him with arsenic so he would not have a choice in the matter- “The body had apparently once lain in the attitude of an embrace, but now the long sleep that outlasts love, that conquers even the grimace of love, had cuckolded him.”.
Miss Emily, although reared in luxury, was not adequately trained to adapt to the culture she belongs to. Her elitist upbringing created an imaginary wall between her family and the real world. She is not adept at mingling with the masses (except for her lovers) and following their rhythm. She was not even trained to keep her own house in order…. how much more her own life?
Her psychological coping mechanism for all the tragedies that happen in her life is that of denial. She exhibited a clear denial of changes that happen around her – believing that her father was still alive when in fact he has been dead for three days, denial that she needed to pay her taxes, insisting that Colonel Sartoris, dead for a decade, granted her family that privilege of non-payment of taxes. She denied that Homer Barron was not the marrying type that she made efforts to make it appear that they were to be wed. It seemed that she chose to believe what was safe and comfortable for her.
Indeed, Miss Emily Grierson’s character was not the usual normal protagonist, however, she does not fail to make readers relate to her life’s struggles one way or another.
Faulkner, W., Collected Stories. New York: Random House, 1950.