Is Emily a Character Worthy of Sympathy?
In “A Rose for Emily”, the namesake character is the focus of both an entire short story and an entire town. Over the course of the story, Miss Emily is painted by many broad strokes as a character who is worthy of many different emotions. Depending upon who is doing the talking at the town, there are varying opinions on her, though the narrator tends to give the overall community feeling on her at times.
At times, Miss Emily is painted as a character that is vindictive and snooty. At other times, she is someone who is viewed by the town with a sense of anger. Still, at other points within the story, there are folks in the town that actually feel sorry for her. That brings up the question of sympathy in regards to her. Is Emily actually a character that is worthy of the sympathy of the townspeople? Above that, is Emily a character that the readers can find as a sympathetic one?
Early on in the story, the first indications of sympathy are seen from the townspeople.
The people feel sorry for her for a number of reasons. On one hand, they feel that Emily has really had a difficult life to lead thus far. She never really had a chance in their eyes. Her father held her back at an early age and even though the family was not the best one in the town, they liked to act that way. Some people in the town like to blame Miss Emily for that even into her old age, while others see it as a clear reason to cut her some slack. Which should the reader choose when reading this part of the story? Most people can relate to a person like Emily. Most people know someone in their town or at their school that grew up in that way. After all, when a girl’s father tells her that no guy is ever good enough, she will obviously grow up thinking that this is true. That is something that Miss Emily had no control over, though there is always the chance that she could have made her own decisions. That is why some of the people of that town did not have a great deal of sympathy for her. In fact, they felt like it was somewhat fitting that she ended up alone after being so choosy through her early years. In this way, the people of the town and the readers not similar at all. The people of the town have been wronged by Miss Emily and her family, while the readers have no vested interest in the entire ordeal. To them, Emily is a purely sympathetic figure because her plight was caused by something that was ultimately out of her control. The key here is perspective. When considering the perspective of those people who live in the town, personal feelings and emotions come into play. That has a way of affecting a person’s overall perspective on a matter, while the readers of this story have no such vested interest in the entire ordeal. This primary difference in perspective is something that William Faulkner intentionally put into the story. He wrote the story in a way that would depict the perspective of many different groups in regards to how they viewed Miss Emily and her plight.
The development of Miss Emily is an important theme throughout the story. She starts out early on in the story as a highly sympathetic figure because the opening of the story paints her as a daughter who has lost her father. In addition to that, she is later described as a woman who has been abandoned by the only man that was deemed good enough to be worthy of her love. That is not where the story of Miss Emily stops, though. Interestingly, Faulkner goes on to describe her and depict her as a bitter old hag. She goes from being highly sympathetic to being a somewhat cold, clammy character that is hard to support. Still, she is an old lady, so that gives her a leg to stand on when it comes to sympathy during certain parts of the short story. What is the reader to do when they go through the story of Miss Emily? How are they to process what is being given to them by Faulkner? Over time, Emily goes from being a highly sympathetic figure to being one that brings lots of complicated thought to the party. Sympathy wanes for her as the story progresses, but it does not go away completely. This is an important theme in the story. Were Miss Emily to just stay the same and sit in her house until she died, readers would have no reason to be moved by her activities and change how they feel about her. Miss Emily’s development is much more like a personal evolution in the way that she uses different events and different people to help her cope with the loss of her father and the challenges with the people of the town.
Miss Emily puts off the town members and she gets things that the town members could never dream of getting. Who could possibly feel sorry for a person who does not have to pay taxes when that time of the year rolls around? That is the decision that readers and the town people have to make as the story progresses. The short story is ultimately interesting because the reader is put into the driver’s seat. They are made to be just like the people who live in the town, though they do not actually take an active roll in the action. Over the course of time, the reader’s opinion of Miss Emily is bound to change, because she goes through so many changes. In one section, she is presented to readers as the old lady who had to live her life alone because her father made her that way. Then, only a few lines later, the story turns and Miss Emily is once again on top of the town. She is kicking people out of her house and making them live in the smell that her house produces. Then, just when the reader has a reason not to like her anymore, they find out that she is once again back to living life and she is spending her time with a new guy in town. That is when readers have a difficult time getting a grasp on their feelings. Miss Emily is a complicated figure in the story because readers and the people of the town have absolutely no idea what motivates her. She stays private, so they ultimately have no clue what to make of her situation. This mystery is something that Faulkner used to create intrigue and ultimately produce the character of Miss Emily. If too much was known about Emily by the people of the town, then it would have been difficult to keep her as a sympathetic figure. Because people have to guess at what she is doing and why she is doing things, they are able to come up with their own conclusions as to why she is such a sad character. In the end, it is the human imagination of the readers that turns Miss Emily into a sympathetic figure at the end of the story.
Ultimately, Miss Emily is an extremely sympathetic figure in this story for a few different reasons. She spends the majority of her time of seclusion, which is fairly sad. No matter where one goes or who one asks, an old lady who lives by herself is a character worthy of significant sympathy. Her growth as a person takes her from place to place during the story, but she can never really get away from her father. He left her with a legacy of not having to pay taxes, which put the attention of the town squarely on her. He left her with an empty, smelly house that she could never get away from. Above all else, he left her with a legacy that she could not escape. Though she repeatedly attempts to get away from her old life, Miss Emily is never able to get away from her childhood, and that makes her a truly sympathetic character in this story during the entirety of her tale.
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