A ROSE FOR EMILY
A Rose for Emily takes place after the Civil War and into the 1900?s in the town of Jefferson,
Mississippi?a town very similar to the one in which William Faulkner spent most of his life. It is a story
of the conflict between the old and the new South, the past and the present?with Emily and the things
around her steadfastly representing the dying old traditions and the present expressed mostly through the
words of the narrator but also through Homer Barron and the new board of aldermen. The issue of racism
also runs throughout the story.
In part I, Faulkner refers to Emily as a "fallen monument", a monument to the southern gentility
that existed before the Civil War. Her house is described as having once been white?the color of youth,
innocence and purity, and also of the white society?but decayed now and smelling of dust and disuse. It
stands between the cotton wagons (the past) and the gasoline pumps (the present)--an "eyesore among
eyesores". Emily comes from an upper class family and grew up privileged and protected by her father.
An agreement between her father and Colonel Sartoris?a character we assume was a veteran of the Civil
War and who also represented the old South with his edict that no Negro woman should appear on the
streets without an apron--exempted her from paying taxes. The authorities decide to pay Emily a visit to
try to collect the taxes due the town. When we are introduced to Emily, she is described as being in
black?the color of death?and her eyes are lifeless?"two small pieces!
of coal". The description of Emily is not unlike that of her house, and I thought of a corpse when reading
that "she looked bloated, like a body long submerged in motionless water, and of that pallid hue."--the
dying old traditions. The tarnished gold head on her black cane is the one reminder of her affluent, upper
class position of years ago. And the invisible watch hanging from her neck but hidden under her belt is
symbolic of her living in the past--time at a standstill in the Grierson house. When asked if she got the tax
notice from the sheriff, Emily claims she has no taxes to pay and refers them to Colonel Sartoris who has
been dead for ten years--another indication of Emily?s living in the past. Referring to the sheriff, she says,
"Perhaps he considers himself the sheriff?I have no taxes in Jefferson." This implies that Emily still
considers herself superior to the rest of the town.
Emily has difficulty accepting the death of her father, and she hangs onto him and the past for
three days after he dies until she finally allows the body to be taken away for burial. Her father had
overprotected her throughout her life, chasing suitors away because they weren?t good enough for her. And
when her sweetheart deserts her, she becomes a virtual recluse. The "only sign of life" is the young Negro
servant who gardens and cooks for her. In fact, it is apparent that Emily would have died years earlier if he
had not taken care of her. To me, Faulkner is suggesting that the South will die, or certainly not progress,
unless its culture changes and it accepts the Negro as a vital part of society. I wonder if the smell of
Homer?s rotting corpse represents racial prejudice: the 80 year old mayor refuses to directly confront
Emily about the odor?just as he would not deal with the immorality of racial repression--and after several
complaints, four aldermen take it up!
on themselves to do something about it. Three of them are "graybeards" representing the old South; one of
them is a "younger man, a member of the rising generation". I think the three older men helped to find the
source of the stench, but they didn?t really do anything to stop it?I believe it is the young alderman who
spreads the lime in a "sowing motion" in an effort to get rid of the smell?the lime perhaps representing
tolerance.
After her father dies, Emily disappears within the house for some time; but when a construction
company comes into Jefferson to pave the sidewalks, the crew foreman begins courting her. He is Homer
Barron, a Yankee, described as a big, dark man (could he be part Negro?) who drank with the