We Can All Learn From Emily
Using reader response criticism, the reader can analyze William Faulkner’s A Rose for Emily through character, moral, and anthropology. A Rose for Emily is a short story that tells the aftermath of the death of Miss Emily Grierson.
The events of her life and death are reflected on by the anonymous narrator, giving insight to the way the town perceived Emily and the society as a whole. Emily’s loneliness and resistance to change are subjects that everyone can relate to. Meanwhile, the ways race relations are portrayed in the story reflects the attitudes in the South after the Civil War, and remain relevant to this day. A Rose for Emily shows how loneliness can affect a person. According to the story, “After her father’s death she went out very little; after her sweetheart went away, people hardly saw her at all” (2). Emily could not bring herself to accept her father’s death.
She denied that her father was dead for three days and only reluctantly buries him. The townspeople, “…knew that with nothing left, she would have to cling to that which had robbed her, as people will” (4). Emily was very lonely after this. Later, when she meets Homer and falls in love with him, she hopes that’s she will finally have a companion. Homer, however, “…was not a marrying man” (5). Emily desperately wanted to be with Homer, but Homer’s attitude and the townspeople’s constant cross-examining of their relationship but made things difficult.
Emily wanted to marry Homer so she would never be lonely again. Yet she knew that even if he did marry her, he would eventually die and she would have to be without him once more. Emily decided to take matters into her own hands to prevent this from happening. One day, she invited Homer over and poisoned him. She kept his body in her bedroom and convinced herself that no matter what, now they would always be together.
Emily’s intense fear of being alone for the rest of her life drove her to do this drastic act. Emily represents the struggle between change and tradition. She is the last of an aristocratic era in her town. The Griersons were once one of the most prominent families in town and now she was the only one left. Their way of life would die out, replaced by a new, more modern way of living. This is reminiscent of how the aristocratic ways of the South faded away after the Civil War.
The South’s most valuable city’s, Atlanta being a prominent example, were reduced to ashes. The traditional Southern culture was completely swept away. Emily, like the Old South, was slowly decaying, losing the glory she once had. Emily resists the change in her town in the only way that she can. After the death of the old mayor, Colonel Sartoris, she continues to refuse to pay her taxes.
She clings to the old agreement that she had with the Colonel, even though there was no official paperwork to prove their tax arrangement. She tells the aldermen that came to collect her taxes, “See Colonel Sartoris. I have no taxes in Jefferson.” (2). This shows that Emily strongly values the old ways of the town.
Another example of this is when she refuses to accept the town’s new postal system and does not allow her house to be numbered. “When the town got free postal delivery, Miss Emily alone refused to let them fasten the metal numbers above her door and attach a mailbox to it” (7). The South similarly resisted the new ways as best as they could. Some resisted the change peacefully, while others took more drastic measures. Eventually, however, both of these efforts failed to restore the Old South. Like Miss Emily, they faded away.
Culturally, the story shows the way race was viewed in the South. At the beginning of the story, the narrator tells how the mayor “…fathered the edict that no Negro woman should appear on the streets without an apron” (1). This reflects the way blacks were viewed in the South. After the Civil War, many Southern States passed Jim Crow laws that made it difficult, if not impossible for the newly emancipated slaves to vote. Some did this to slow down the growing power of the Republican Party in the South. Freed Blacks voted in droves for the Republican Party and some Southerners felt that the Republicans were only intent on revenge on the former Confederacy.
Others denied blacks the right to vote simply because they wanted to maintain the white’s presumed racial superiority. Whatever the reasons for these laws, African Americans were viewed as second class. This is further shown when the town’s aldermen refer to Emily’s servant, Tobe, as, “that n***** of hers.” (3). Unfortunately, this view towards race would remain dominant in the South for an indefinite period of time.
A Rose for Emily provides the reader with insight on the social conditions in the South following the Civil War. The culture of the South was completely changed; meanwhile, racial tensions would remain for a long time. The story also shows that humans are social creatures. The fear of being alone for the rest of a lifetime can drive a person into depression, and can even drive them to do drastic things.