“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner divulges the reader into a story of tragedy brought on by a prideful southern society whose ability to cope with their new lifestyle is restricted. Faulkner carefully crafts his piece with meaning that begs the reader to dig deeper and unveil the message concealed between the lines. His main focal point is the protagonist Emily Grierson, who is implied to be a mysterious individual. Her story along with the townspeople’s is told from an unnamed, genderless narrator.
The narrator’s voice shifts back and forth from the collective view of the townspeople to that of an individual person. Faulkner’s nonlinear style of narration provides additional evidence towards the overall theme of misguided morals ending in tragedy with its synthetic translocation in history. The unconventional method of storytelling found in “A Rose for Emily” is not only unique within the history of all literature, but it also constructs the reader’s mindset into one congruous with an analytical historian.
Faulkner’s deliberate juxtaposition of the scenes within “A Rose for Emily” is done to ensure his reader will be persuaded to see the South’s historical transition the way he did. Faulkner lays out a complex map to follow, which leads his reader along a journey through the ideologies of the Pre and Post Civil War generations and sends an overwhelming message that the new South was not developing easily. Before understanding how Faulkner’s overall intention is related to his choice in narration, one must first understand where his message is coming from within the narration.
A Rose for Emily” begins with Emily’s funeral and ends just after her funeral. The story leaves the reader where he or she started, but provides additional backdrop from a series of flashbacks that do not consistently move in time. Emily’s death represents her life at an end and the story being frozen at that moment exemplifies how realities time is frozen in this setting. In the article “In Search of Dead Time” written by Paul Harris, he believes Faulkner’s choice is not related to the South’s attested tussle with change, however he is in agreement with the story having a time stoppage when he says, “The holistic effect of the discourse – n both its rearrangement of events and manner of marking them – is to render the story a sequence of discrete episodes that do not constitute a coherent series, as if they were left unmoored, afloat in time”(Harris, 173). With this said, Faulkner has chosen the period of time where the South was beginning to cope with the realization that their previous lifestyle had been evil. Faulkner reveals how the Old South’s lifestyle is damaging and does so perfectly when he blends the before and after Civil War eras into one time frame. The Old South was a corrupt society.
African Americans were owned and treated like dogs. In fact one third of all white families owned slaves. Even whites were discriminated against, specifically women. The common southern belle stereotype is far from true. These women had more kids, married younger, had a shorter education, and were more likely to die young than the women in the North. They also lived isolated not only because they had less access to other women, but also because husbands and fathers generally controlled them. Faulkner takes his character Emily Grierson and presents her as overly sheltered in one timespan.
He develops a backdrop of how Miss Emily’s misguided upbringing is the kind that leads to harsh conclusions, especially if those around are dealing with their own struggles in this developing time. Emily’s life along with the townspeople’s is showcased through a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards within the flashbacks. Emily is portrayed from the opinions of the townspeople and it is made clear that a one-dimensional father, who is very selfish and controlling, raised her in a society that praises that sort of behavior. The narrator in a way agreed with this attitude.
A few representatives of the narrator’s voice had caught wind of Emily’s joyous moments with Homer Barron, a northerner, and said, “it was a disgrace to the town and a bad example to the young people”(Faulkner, 313). This demonstrates how one would be uncomfortable to grow morally with the younger generation during that time or even for the younger generation to follow in the path of the North, since all their parents and elders would frown upon it. Faulkner’s narrations comes into play in this example because he started off at the funeral where the whole own is in attendance, and shifts gradually back into time where “the next generation with its more modern ideas, became mayors and aldermen”(Faulkner 309). By the time Emily started to develop she was drown back into her old ways. She began to see a northerner but the generation of people who would have assisted her transition did not see her struggle, rather they were more concerned that she had gotten away with not paying taxes. The story begins to slowly move forward in time during scene two when it is disclosed that Miss Emily is getting away with not maintaining her home.
The townspeople never asked, why is she acting this way, is she in need of help? Instead she was lost in the progression of time and left behind. The town dealt with their concerns by sneaking around her home and gossiping. The events, which take place during Emily’s life, are manipulated to distort the reader’s original story like view of the civil war era. For example, in scene two when the people of the town continue to complain about the smell coming from Miss Emily’s house, Judge Stevens ignorantly defends her lack of homecare by saying, “It’s probably just a snake or rat that nigger of hers killed in the yard.
I’ll talk to him about it”(Faulkner, 310). At this moment the time being portrayed is that of the Old South. The significance of the Judge’s action is that in today’s reality a claim would not be immediately dismissed and worse, pawned off on the black man. This is also evidence of how the town’s younger generation looked to protect her. In the previous section where the narrator is present at Miss Emily’s funeral the narrator flashes back to the events, which took place when her father had passed.
When doing so the narrator speaks of the townspeople’s view of Emily and states, “Miss Emily had been a duty, a care; a sort of hereditary obligation upon the town, dating from that day in 1894 when Colonel Sartoris – he who fathered the edict that no Negro women should appear on the streets without an apron – remitted her taxes, the dispensation dating from the death of her father on into perpetuity”(Faulkner, 308). This quote looks back and provides insight into why the Judge may have been so keen on looking after her.
Emily was the face of the past and because of her father’s wealth and prestige her isolated upbringing would not allow her to grow as comfortable with the times. At the same instant this line allows the reader to obtain a historical reference point to compare the lifestyles of today and yesterday. When Judge Stevens talks poorly about African Americans and presupposes with his tone that they are beneath him and foolish, the Old South’s behavior prior to the Civil War was portrayed to Faulkner’s audience.
She needed to be taken care of. The radical event placement takes the focus off history moving forward and leaves the reader free to evaluate the decades of history without being naturally inclined to view the events in the A, leads to B, leads to C fashion. Paul A Harris wrote, “the narrative voice conveys the story of Emily, and hence Emily only takes on existence by virtue of the tale being told”. I am inclined to agree with Harris since Emily is described after she has died.
Do to this the reader infers that she is a mysterious figure, a character that holds all the significance. Emily’s life story is a symbol of the South’s punishing historical transition and the discovery of Homer’s death after Emily’s is the representation of the inner tragedy this transition inflicted. Homer Barron’s death ending the story is interesting since Faulkner told his story completely out of order. Why would Faulkner end his nonlinear drama at the end of his chosen time period? He did so to keep his readers attention throughout the text.
If he were to of disclosed the South’s socially aggressive amendment and its negative effects with the idea of necrophilia earlier in the story his audience would not have seen his message clearly even if they looked for it. Instead of seeing the back and forth struggle of those in need before and after the revolution and its ramifications the reader would be disgusted. It would be appalling to here of a woman who killed and afterwards find out she used to teach kids how to paint in her home. Equally as interesting is Faulkner’s decision to have the suspected homosexual to be the one who is murdered by the women who was victim of isolation.
The death, which ends “A Rose for Emily” is not the main significance. Faulkner ends his tale so dramatically that further interpretation reveals that there are still people who are suffering. Paul Harris believes Faulkner’s narration to fall between life and death. The narration is like the deduction of the mind. When people reckon with the past it is often that their memories are in disarray, just like Faulkner’s narration. Just like the townspeople or person thinking back on Miss Emily’s life at the funeral.
What falls between life and death is the thoughts that leave some and haunt others. There are individuals in the South who hurt, an internal struggle of sorts that readers of the time would identify with along with readers of all history. Harris describes this when he says, “Although death lurks about the innermost chamber and internal depths of “A Rose for Emily,” the essence of time revealed at the heart of Faulkner’s story is not that of death per se. Ultimately, all attempts to decipher Emily find themselves confronted with a grey zone between life and death”(Harris, 181).