One Last Hurrah: “A Rose for Emily”

I can’t bear to write a blog wrap up, so instead I’m going to sum up the last school year by blogging about William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.” I figure what’s a more appropriate wrap up than by looking at the first Faulkner work I ever read, way back in December, to see what I missed the first time around–and boy did I miss a lot. Now that a semi-professional Faulkner reader (not quite to the level of Volpe yet), it’s easy to see the parts of the story both in terms of plot and style that are quintessentially Faulkner–I sure do love his work.

“A Rose for Emily” is a short story written in a way that sort of reminds me of O’Henry–whose brilliance, may I say, is incomparable to that of Faulkner–in that the ending comes as a little bit of a shock. The story follows Emily posthumously as the townspeople recall her life, how she was part of a well-respected family and lost both her father (to death) and the man who she thought could be her future husband in a short time which caused her to become a sort of recluse. Her slow fade into isolation follows her relationship with a man named Homer Barron. Their relationship was seen as odd at the time because Barron is black and Emily is part of a high-class white family. The combination of buying poison, a funny smell, and the disappearance of Mr. Homer all lead to the last scene of the story when, following Emily’s death, some of the townspeople barge into her house, break down a door, and find the man lying dead in bed.

One aspect of the story that I didn’t pay quite so much attention to the first time around was the narrator of the story. The story is written in first person plural, a detail that slipped past me. The role of the narrator is sort of weird in the story, while they’re outsiders to the events, they know too much to be entirely removed from the story they’re telling. I like Faulkner’s choice of narration because it gives the reader a more complete and complex view of Emily’s situation. I looked up some criticism and apparently, there are some discrepancies as to whose voice the narrator really is. Some critics make the same assertion about the identity of the narrator that I just did, but others seem to think that the voice is “distinct from…the voices of the town.” One critic even states the narrator is the “most important character, but also the villain of the story.” This conclusion is perplexing to me, but I think he could be on to something.

Another thing I noticed in the story was that Emily is referred to twice as idol-like which can’t be just a coincidence–nothing is in literature, is it? Is Emily some weird representation of God? Especially in the context of Faulkner describing Emily as “with a vague resemblance to those angels in colored church windows,” yet, to me this seems a little unlikely. I found some other criticism that has an opinion on the idol matter, arguing that the circumstance of each time Emily is classified as such is majorly significant to the meaning of the classification. The critic argues, “the upstairs connotes private life as opposed to public life displayed downstairs. Emily has shut off the top floor–or her private life–and allows the townspeople to view only her public image. Just as an idol occupies its nook in a wall, Emily continues to occupy her niche as the last Grierson.” I like this take on the text because it’s cohesive in the scope of the text and it explains the weird usage of ‘idol.’

The bigger question about the story, for me at least, is what happened? Why did Emily kill Homer? This question lacks a real, concrete answer. The critics are confused too; there’s no real conclusion on why she did the deed. I suppose there could be more than one right answer because of the lack of explicitness on the part of the story. Maybe that’s what makes “A Rose for Emily” so profound. Without question, it craves analysis; a trait so very Faulkner.

Having read three of Faulkner’s novels since my first look at this story, it easy to see how stylistically this one is so similar to his other works. For one, There’s the unmistakable Faulknerian trinity. This can be seen in the way he describes Emily’s house, ” decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies” (1). Then there the meticulous detail in word choice like in this beautiful sentence that also describes the house: “It smelled of dust and disuse;” it’s also seen in this description of Emily: “Her skeleton was small and spare” (2). Then he uses the juxtaposition of opposites like when he writes that the house has a “back-flung front door” (4).

Even in terms of the content of the story itself, I am reminded of other Faulkner pieces. Firstly, I find the connection between Emily and her house eerily similar to that of Joanna Burden in Light in August. In general, Emily and Joanna are similar characters. Both have relationships with black men, both are upper-class white women, and both are outsiders in their communities. Also, I don’t know what it is with characters that are into arts and crafts, but between Emily’s “lessons in china-painting” and Hightower with his “art pupils and…hand-painted X-mas cards,” Faulkner must have a thing for artsy characters (7, 26). Perhaps he indulged in making popsicle stick houses in his free time.

It’s crazy how re-reading a text can yield so many new insights. My second look at “A Rose for Emily” makes me curious at what a second look at The Sound and The Fury or Light in August could impart to me; however, I am not prepared to fight those battles again just yet. With the end of school nearing, I’ll have all the more free time to indulge any and all of my English-related whims (which I’m sure will include a fair few Faulkner novels). I’m incredibly sad to be losing my English class. In some sense, I’d like to believe that these (1 2 3) quotes have at least a little truth in them; it’d make moving forward a little easier. On that note, I think I’ll end this post. I’m not one for all the sad stuff that comes with endings. I am one for Faulkner, however.

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