The Dilemma of Losing
Accepting loss or saying goodbye is sometimes the hardest thing a person can do. There are times when people would not be able to cope with the loss, making them crippled and unable to continue with life. “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner is a classic story that mirrors how a character deals with the dilemma of accepting loss and finding love in a society that neither understands nor sympathizes with her but regards her with respect and importance. Narrated in the first person (Freewrite 1), the author uses a three-stage historical perspective to expose the different angles in the life of the character.
The first perspective the author uses is the remote past, where Emily is pictured as a girl with strong attachment and dependence on her father (Freewrite 1). With her father around, Emily’s life is well constructed, and fits the aristocracy of her society. However, this stops when her father dies, and she is left alone, confused with no one to turn to (Freewrite 2). Through the remote past, the author is able to present the root cause of Emily’s behavior. Taken care by her father, Emily is made to believe that she is different from others, and that no man truly deserves her (Freewrite 1). Her father’s restriction on her, which is mainly dominated by the social roles they play, affects the way Miss Emily views life (Freewrite 1). Later, as she loses her father, she resorts to killing the man she loves, Homer Baron, in order to confine him within her world (Freewrite 2).
The narrator describes Miss Emily as “a tradition, a duty, and a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town” (710). This perspective further suggests the use of a timeline to establish characterization. As the narrator reveals, the townspeople considers Miss Emily a tradition (Freewrite 1) for she has been part of the town although she isolates herself from the people. In saying that she is a “duty,” the author also employs social construction to effect more realizations based on the character. Thus, through the remote past, the author establishes characterization side by side with a picture of the society at the time of change and industrialization (Kriwald 2003; Freewrite 1).
In addition to the remote past, the author also uses the nearby past to further develop characterization. This covers the death of her father, her abandonment by Homer Baron, and the struggle she faces as she is required to pay land taxes. First, her father’s death instigates her lonesome refusal to live as an active part of society. Along with the death of her father is the loss of social credence, thus she lives life in reclusion. However, Emily’s dilemma does not end in being a recluse because as she chooses to relinquish the past and isolate herself, the world around her changes, and the people, especially the authorities of the town, aspire for modernization. Consequently, this causes conflict between the character and society, as she refuses to pay her tax duties to the town.
Events occurring in the nearby past further establish aspects of the main character. Two years after her father’s death and shortly after her boyfriend deserts her, an old woman complains about a foul smell in the Grierson’s place. Although the people want to do something about it, the respect they have for Miss Emily controls them from doing so (Freewrite 2). Thus, even the judge expresses hesitation and says, “will you accuse a lady to her face of smelling bad?” Indeed, while there is enough reason to search the house, the society’s respect for tradition disallows it. This respect extends to the failure of the tax collectors to charge Miss Emily of her taxes (Freewrites 1 & 2). Although they send her notifications, she refuses to pay them and says, "I have no taxes in Jefferson. Colonel Sartoris explained it to me.” Her clinging to the past is too obvious as she refers to Col. Sartoris who has been dead for about ten years that time.
In sum, the nearby past shows the people’s indolence to apprehend Miss Emily of the peculiarity of her situation. No one seems to be concerned enough to tell her that her behavior disturbs the whole community to the point of creating different negative interpretations (Freewrite 1). As Caesar (3) puts it, their willingness to ignore “Emily’s strange behavior at her father’s death, the rat poison, Homer’s disappearance and the smell emanating from her house were in order to maintain their illusion.” (Freewrite 1)
The last perspective that the author uses is the present-day perspective. This is evident in the story’s introduction and conclusion. The introduction of the story shows a picture of Miss Emily’s funeral, to which the whole town attends as a sort of paying last tribute to Miss Emily. While the first scene shows the people’s care, the last scene, though, contrasts this. The last scene where the people search the house to find things of significance reveals the real nature of the main character. As the people get into the house of the Griersons, they are confronted with the gothic and horrific life (Freewrite 1) that the character has lived, sleeping side by side with the cadaver of her former boyfriend, Homer Baron. The “long strand of iron-gray hair” which belonged to Miss Emily proves this. This only says that thirty years ago, Miss Emily’s boyfriend did not really leave her, but she poisoned him with the drug she bought from the drugstore. For thirty years, she hid the crime, and got away from persecution through the status she held in society (Freewrite 2).
Finding out the secret Miss Emily has kept through the years, the narrator thus creates a clear picture of the character. The woman, whom they regard with care and respect, is after all, a mad recluse (Freewrite) who deserves to be in jail. Killing Homer Baron to prevent being completely isolated makes Emily a murderer who should be sent to prison or to the mental hospital in view of her madness. However, as the author intends, convicting Miss Emily of her crime becomes impossible due to the high regard that the people have for her family and their tradition (Freewrites 1 & 2).
In sum, the three historical perspectives in the life of Miss Emily help in giving a full analysis of the character. The remote past where she is seen as a girl of bureaucracy and tradition, brought up by fatherly care and love, establishes Emily’s reputation in society. This serves as the foundation to the respect that society gives her. Moreover, the nearby past where she tries to cope with reality after the loss of her father presents a more vivid characterization, this time revealing not only the strengths but also her weaknesses. Furthermore, with the present-day perspective, the author finally shows the malevolent and deconstructed view of the character.
Taking these perspectives, the readers form a complete picture not just of Miss Emily but also of the society she is in. To note, the perspective of the remote past guides readers to view the character with the same respect and sympathy that the townspeople once gave her. However, as the story revolves, the nearby past moves them to be puzzled by her actions of buying some poison, and keeping a stinky house. As such, the high esteem that the author establishes at first gradually changes, and is combined with curiosity and suspicion. Finally, as the present-day perspective is laid, the readers are aroused to feel condemnation. The horrific murder that Miss Emily has kept moves the readers to abhor the character, and disregard her past credibility. As this is achieved at the end, the author similarly convinces the readers to look at Miss Emily’s society with disdain, considering their failure to implement equality and justice.
Caesar, Judith. "’Miss Leonora When Last Seen’: Why Americans Run Away From Home“. Studies in Short Fiction, (34), 1997; p.6.
Faulkner, William. “A Rose for Emily.” N.d. 17 July 2009 <http://www.rose-for-emily.com/>.
Kriwald, Gary. “The Widow of Windsor and the Spinster of Jefferson: A Possible Source for Faulkner’s Emily Grierson.” The Faulkner Journal, 2003 p.3.